‘We’ve seen how men can behave’

It was just a normal business meeting.

Tracey Vieira sat down at the table with her male counterpart, ready to discuss details of a new deal over dinner.

Except, after just a few minutes, she discovered he was looking less for a business connection and more for a personal hook-up. The fact they were both married to other people bothered him not in the slightest.

Welcome to the wonderful world of women in the film industry.

For Tracey, the outgoing head of Screen Queensland, this business is always personal - as a woman in power she has used her position to put girls in their place - on screen, behind cameras and in production.

Tracey Vieira is leaving Screen Queensland in rude health. Picture: AAP.
Tracey Vieira is leaving Screen Queensland in rude health. Picture: AAP.

And while she may be leaving at the end of this month after a five-year tenure, during which she resurrected our dying industry by wooing such projects as the Gold Coast-based Thor and Dora blockbusters - and making our city the centre of the state's industry, it's only because her work here is done.

Instead, she's about to bring her girl power to a whole new audience.

"One of my greatest passions in Screen Queensland was working on gender equity. The lopsided representation in this industry is huge - in Hollywood and over here," says Tracey.

"The truth is that 80 per cent of writers in drama in Australia are male; only 15 per cent of directors are female. Those figures are really not great, we've worked in that space to support our women in the film industry.

"We negotiated the first feature film for Stan - and it was with a female director. She had released a short film seven years ago that made it to Cannes - which is amazing - but then nothing ever happened beyond that moment. That's the story for many females in the industry.

"It's so important to focus on female representation when it comes to writers, directors and producers because then that is reflected on screen. Even when you look at a film like Frozen, which was celebrated for having two female leads, yet the actual talk time was still dominated by male characters. There is so much work still to be done if we want to show our daughters true representation on-screen.

"I'm leaving at a time where I feel like we've got our ducks in a row. Screen Queensland is in a position of strength and we have some great policies to promote both women and indigenous representation. I feel like I need to take that fight to the next level - and that's what my next step will be about.

"I want to move away from the government side of the industry and back into the commercial side. I am so passionate about diversity and inclusivity and I think I can continue to make a difference … in a different way."

Tracey Vieira says women in the film business can face an uphill battle. Picture: AAP.
Tracey Vieira says women in the film business can face an uphill battle. Picture: AAP.


Tracey understands the uphill battle for women in film because she's lived it.

As well as the disastrous business "date", she's been belittled even by other women in the industry. She says many women still feel that there is only one seat at the table for their gender - and that they have to fight for their place.

"There was a period in my life where I thought 'I can't wait until I'm 30 and they take me seriously'. Then I turned 30 and that didn't happen. So I thought, 'right, when I'm 35 they'll take me seriously'. And then I eventually realised it had nothing to do with age and everything to do with gender.

"I'm blonde and not unattractive and the narrative says that means I'm not smart. I feel like I have to be the hardest-working person in every room.

"Having said that, I have never tried to not be me. I am unapologetically a woman. I cry. And I say to my team that if they have tears, there is nothing to be sorry about. I am a leader and I lead as a woman - I am kind, I don't yell and I don't need to behave like a man to assert myself.

"As well as being the CEO of Screen Queensland, I sit on a number of boards as well - and I am often one of the only women. Men think nothing of reaching out to friends and recommending them; whereas I think many women, especially in the generation above me, feel that you have to earn your place. You don't just get invited.

"We need to change our mindset from clawing our way up, to bringing each other up. We need to mentor each other and understand there can be more than one woman in power. We don't have to fight for that one place.

"Even in this position, during a time when I was being celebrated for being a woman who had achieved success not just for herself but for the industry in this state, I had pushback from other women.

"There was one woman who was my boss - she's not here anymore - and we hosted a day around female empowerment and helping women rise and she said to me: 'I think your profile is too high - you need to stay in the office'. I honestly didn't know what to say. I actually thought I might leave then. But then I decided I was not going to sacrifice myself, I went through so much trauma reinvigorating Screen Queensland and I was not going to leave on those terms. That person is gone now - and I'm leaving on my own terms.

"It was a lesson though that female leadership can still be perceived as threatening."

Last year was a record year for Screen Queensland. Picture: AAP.
Last year was a record year for Screen Queensland. Picture: AAP.


However, Tracey says overall her time in Queensland has been a positive, powerful experience.

Announcing her resignation, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk thanked Tracey for her leadership, noting last year was a record year for Queensland with 32 screen productions generating $262 million and creating 2600 jobs.

Tracey says in the five years before her arrival, the total state expenditure on film was $374 million. In the five years she's been in charge it's soared to a staggering $1.1 billion.

She says while she is still weighing up her job prospects, she is uncertain whether she will be staying in the state, or even the country.

With her husband Joey a successful American actor, she says they are torn between the two continents.

"Actually, if Joey could have his choice he'd live at Burleigh Heads," she laughs.

"We lived in America for 10 years before this job came up - and it happened literally almost overnight.

"It was a huge change and we had a young son to consider as well - although, personally, I gave up on the motherhood guilt a long time ago. I may not make it to every sports carnival but my son gets some fantastic opportunities and experiences because of our work, so I choose to celebrate that.

"Still, this is such a wonderful part of the world to bring up a family. After so many years in LA, it took us a long time to remember how to relax, to not be on guard when you're walking to your car at night."

But Tracey says no matter where her next job takes her, she will never completely drop her guard as a woman in the industry.

She says she experienced her own "Harvey Weinstein-type" episode as a teenager and recognises that, even in a leadership position, the balance of power still rests with the men.

"When I was 17 I had an experience with a professional basketball player that was very much like a Harvey Weinstein situation," she says.

"As a result, I have always been very careful. Let me be really clear, that does not mean the women affected were not careful.

"When I'm in these meetings or at social events for the industry, I always talk about my husband, I don't have too many drinks, I always keep that professional front. It's very deliberate because of what happened to me when I was young.

"I'm alert as to how easily that can happen. My husband understands it as well, he's in the same industry. We've seen how men can behave. These are people with a lot of power and influence and there are people who are really hungry to get a break and that puts them in a vulnerable situation.

"It's not just film, you see it in sports and the media. You have to stay diligent and professional. Whenever people want to kick on after a meeting or function, I always call it. I know the safest place to be is not there."

The set of Thor: Ragnarok at Village Roadshow Studios. Picture: Supplied courtesy Village Roadshow Studios.
The set of Thor: Ragnarok at Village Roadshow Studios. Picture: Supplied courtesy Village Roadshow Studios.


Tracey says while there may still be work to do in creating equality for women in the industry, she is proud of how far Queensland has come in the battle for film supremacy.

She says the Gold Coast itself is now considered a go-to destination for Hollywood filmmakers.

"There are so many highlights over the past five years. When I started Screen Queensland was really in a shambles but I had a plan - three years repairing the damage and two years ensuring stability and putting in place a successful culture.

"I'm so proud of the RIDE film fund we established, the development deals we negotiated with Netflix and Stan, the promotion of new talent, our creative hubs, the fact that we finally got a superstage at Village Roadshow - the list goes on.

"But I think securing Thor: Ragnarok and Pirates were the real gamechangers.

"You go over to LA now and you actually hear people in those meetings saying that the Gold Coast is the only place to make movies. Look at the Elvis pic we've got coming our way. It's just such a different environment now.

"We've really done things differently - it's not just deals around straight economics, we've leveraged into other industries too.

"When we were filming Dora, (star) Isabela Moner was up in Cairns promoting the tourism industry. And with Thor we had the director doing a masterclass with our indigenous practitioners. We've invited high school teachers on-set to learn about film and media - there is a whole new generation growing up with YouTube who are going to be the future of this industry and we need educators who understand that. We've really moved beyond straight deals and created a culture of filmmaking in Queensland, and I'm proud of that legacy."

Dora the Explorer star Isabela Moner at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Dora the Explorer star Isabela Moner at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.


In fact, in one of her final projects, Tracey has been developing the growing gaming industry, which also falls under Screen Queensland's jurisdiction.

And, of course, her focus is firmly on females.

"In our last funding round for gaming, I was sent the media release of the 10 people selected - and eight of them had beards. That to me was the perfect moment to reflect on gender.

"We ran a session called the Anti-Challenge - we brainstormed all the ways to keep women out of the gaming industry - most of which are already happening … ads inviting applications for funding are appearing in male-dominated media, databases are male-heavy - and then we flipped the script.

"We focused on advertising in media consumed by women, we sourced women for our database, we changed the way we advertised. Initially, we had a pair of hands on a game control - but I knew we needed to be more forthright.

"So I tied back my hair and picked up a controller and it's a photo of me gaming - a blonde woman.

"It's the littlest things that create those barriers - and we need to knock them down.

"It's not to the detriment of men, but to their betterment. The more female creators, the more female gamers.

"It's the same with film - you grow the number of females behind the scenes, you grow the female audience."

As the credits roll on Tracey's time directing Screen Queensland, there's only one song for the soundtrack: Girls on Film.

But make no mistake, this is no lesson in objectification, it's all about bringing the picture of girl power to the people.