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Development Project FAQs

Partially updated July 2014

1. What’s the Development project?

'Development' has many meanings, and the Development project reflects this fluidity. The project has three elements: research, practice, and activism. Autoethnography, 'the study of self in culture', links the three elements. I’m curious. As a woman writer in this culture, how and where can my work flourish on screen, in association with that of other women storytellers? Who can I collaborate with? What does my research and activism contribute to my fiction, and to positive changes in the conditions that affect women filmmakers? Where are the audiences for women's films and how best to reach them?

Development is my post-doctoral project. It builds on my creative writing PhD thesis, DEVELOPMENT: Opening space for New Zealand women’s participation in scriptwriting for feature films?, available here. The thesis explored why women write and direct so few feature films in New Zealand, and included my research into New Zealand Film Commission (NZFC) investment in women screenwriters and directors. I wrote three feature screenplays as part of the work and Chapter 6 of the thesis (not in the online version) includes one of them, Development-the-movie, as the most highly developed fictional component of the project at that time (see below for the latest creative – fictional – elements).  I concluded that because New Zealand has a proud record for giving people a fair go and was the first country in the world where women got the vote, there was a realistic possibility that New Zealand could become the first country in the world to invest half of our state film funding in women who tell stories for film—writers and directors.

Development is now globally oriented, as I explore the differences and similarities between women filmmakers in New Zealand and women's film activism here and elsewhere; and continue to develop ideas about factors that affect women filmmakers and women's filmmaking, within and outside New Zealand. A key conceptual shift is recorded here, in Beyond Career. The best interview about my work is here, on Indiewire. (Many thanks, Matthew Hammett Knott!)

From April-July 2011 I took part in the 16-week Activate course at Grow Wellington, to hone the business model that Erica Duthie and I created to test with Development-the-movie. (Many thanks to Grow Wellington for the scholarship.) This is my latest reference to the business model, now far away from where it started.

2. What’s the relationship of Wellywood Woman to the Development project?

Wellywood Woman both supports and tells the story of Development. Its interviews and analysis contribute to knowledge about women’s screen storytelling and show how my thinking and the project change over time in response to new challenges and ideas. The stories I choose focus on process rather than product and attempt to highlight the diversity and complexity of the issues that face women filmmakers. They include interviews with the directors of every recent woman-directed New Zealand fictional feature.

Like the Development project itself, the blog is now more focused on global issues than it was. Two Pinterest pages, Wellywood Woman and my Marian Evans page, the Development Facebook page and my Twitter feed @devt also participate in the global story. For a while I made podcasts for Wellywood Woman, at Wellington's Access Radio. These provided the opportunity for longer interviews than are possible in print and catered (I hoped) for busy people as they exercised or traveled long distances and people who prefer to listen rather than read, at least some of the time. But the podcast audience was much smaller than for the blog; although I loved the chattiness of interviews, I stopped doing them because it wasn't helpful for those I interviewed.

3. What’s Development-the-movie?

Development-the-movie is a feature film project, about women filmmakers in an imaginary corner of Wellywood. It complements the real-life Wellywood Woman stories and asks: "What would you sacrifice to make a movie? A friendship? Love? Motherhood? Your home? Your life?" It's also a meditation on Jane Campion's challenge: "Women filmmakers must put on their coats of armour and get going, because we need them." You can read script surgeon Linda Voorhees' assessment of the script here.

Nancy Coory inspired the screenplay and I wrote the character 'Emily' for her. When she was a girl, Nancy saw Anna Pavlova dance, on her 1926 visit to New Zealand. She became a performer herself, a broadcaster, an activist, and a teacher. Here she is.

Nancy Coory
(photo: Erica Duthie)
Nancy and I talked regularly while I wrote my thesis. She taught me a lot about the archetypes that appear in the Development script: the golden boy and the golden girl, the queen bee, the black widower. So I was delighted when she agreed to play Emily. Then, two years ago, we spent two days filming and Nancy decided that she couldn’t continue. I also found that I had significantly under-budgeted. So we stopped filming until we had all the money and could find another 'Emily', and made this promo from the footage and some extra footage taken at Nancy's house and at Park Road Post.

(Please note: Some NZFC funding of projects improves from time to time and the 10% mentioned in this clip is not fixed. But the organisation has no gender policy, so any improvement is uneven and dependent on the goodwill of individual decision-makers. My most recent comprehensive analysis of NZFC funding, to the end of 2010, is here, but there are regular updates listed on the Gender & the New Zealand industry page.)

Thanks to a generous sponsor, in September 2010 I went to the Branchage Directors Lab in Jersey. It was a challenging and affirming experience, which continued after I returned home. I also re-learned there that most feature films take 3-5 years of development, and that helped me to relax a little. Just as well, because in effect I was starting from scratch. We simplified the Development website to take account of this.

In Wellywood Woman blog posts, the story of Development-the-movie's development process to date is interwoven with the Development project's research and activist concerns. A collection of relevant posts, in chronological order, is available here.

4. What are you writing now?

I intended to write a new draft of the Development screenplay, to take into account what I learned at Branchage and some additional feedback I sought when I got home. I love Development-the-movie. But in November 2011 a conversation with Madeline McNamara showed me that my commitment to it has changed, because the media world is changing so fast. I still hope that one day soon women will write and direct 50% of all feature films, globally. I still want to tell the Development-the-movie story, onscreen. But I also want to explore the new opportunities for women that media convergence offers, from webseries to podcasts to multi-media e-books, and to experiment with how convergence may affect the stories I tell, and the format(s) and platform(s) I use in my creative practice.

I'm researching the Development themes in other mediums— Throat of These Hours, a stage play and a radio play, inspired by United States writer and activist Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) 'beautiful Muriel, mother of everyone'; the script for an animation, JADE (from a story  by novelist Mandy Hager); Hemingway's, a novella that may become a graphic novel or even a film; and have published 7 Risks for Single Mothers; & The Art of Managing Them, which also addresses some related issues. I also co-wrote Interrogating Tinkerbell, a 48Hour project, with Madeline McNamara and co-directed it with Struan Ashby, as part of the research for Throat of These Hours. Interrogating Tinkerbell is a response to Hinemoana Baker's poem Tinkerbell, too, and was selected for the experimental strand of the only Bechdel Test festival in the world, the Bluestockings Series, as well as Berlin's Zebra Poetry Film Festival.

Remember Leonard Cohen’s lines: “There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in”? Where are the cracks for women in media convergence? How does it offer women like me new opportunities to tell and distribute feature-length work onscreen?  Media convergence, like participation in a wider, global, movement, enriches and nourishes me and the project, including the Development-the-movie story, however it's told. You can keep up with the latest here, or by connecting with me at LinkedIn.

5. Are you being over-ambitious? Wouldn't it be better to focus on being a writer, or being an activist, or being an entrepreneur or a researcher?

Sometimes I'd like to do just one thing. But then I realise, yet again, that I can't disentangle the various Development project elements and don't want to disentangle them. Development is tiny, but has links around the globe, to many individuals and organisations with similar aims. Together, we’ll make change.

I couldn't have done this project, and couldn't keep going, without a LOT of support. Special thanks to Victoria University for my Women in Leadership Scholarship and to the family of the late filmmaker Di Oliver-Zahl for their contribution, in her memory; and to my thesis supervisors Ken Duncum, Lesley Hall and Deborah Jones, to my administrative supervisor Bill Manhire and everyone else at the International Institute of Modern Letters including Katie Hardwick-Smith, Clare Moleta, and the other PhD students, who taught me so much. And to Jane Campion, to Cilla McQueen, to Kerry Prendergast, all of whom have been very generous to the project, in different ways; it helped so much that they understood what Development is attempting to do. And to Erica, who's moved on to other projects but is still there when I need her for particular challenges. I also have advisers and mentors and advocates I can't name here, but deeply appreciate.

I’m forever grateful for the support of the Victoria Foundation as a fiscal sponsor, our funders and other supporters, as well as those who bought virtual tickets, the actors, the crew, Meredith Crowe and Struan Ashby for the website, Buster Flaws at Park Road Post, and Lala Rolls who directed the supplementary shoots at Nancy's house and Park Road Post and edited the clip with Angela Boyd.

I've added the logos below to show something of the mix of organisations which have generously support Development-the-movie. Special thanks to the individuals within these organisations, who helped us work together. There's a list of cast and crew who took part in Development-the-movie filming, and other supporters, here. And an almost full list of supporters is here. My warm thanks to you all.

And finally, a big thank you to all the followers on Twitter and Pinterest, to Facebook friends and emailers, the people who offer help, visitors to our kitchen and garden and to this blog, the phone friends. And to you, as you read this. Always love to hear from you. Your comments and questions are very welcome.