Horse’s Mouth: Kate Roydhouse

In June, news came that Curious Film had achieved a gender-balanced directorial roster which got us thinking, is it worthy of a headline? We sat down with former managing director and executive producer Kate Roydhouse to talk about why the achievement is newsworthy, her hopes for the future and the importance of mentors, honesty and openness.

Roydhouse is now a co-executive producer of Sweetshop New Zealand.

On its balanced roster

When I started at Curious, about a year and a half ago, Matt Noonan [founder and executive producer]mentioned to me that it would be really rad if we could just look at evening out our roster. 

There are some amazing women out there and I really want to be representing them but, that entire process does take quite a long time.

My response to that was, obviously, ‘I’m really down and I really want to do that’.

My biggest consideration around the roster, is to make sure that we’re not signing a whole lot of people or a whole lot of women that just tick a box and don’t necessarily sit within our style.

We sign directors who want to direct commercial, so one of the biggest things is: are we actually finding cool talent that wants to be in the commercial landscape or are they just wanting to be in long-form?

Another is that we don’t want to necessarily get a whole lot of fresh blood that’s straight out of tertiary that don’t necessarily understand the landscape yet, because that to me still has a form of tokenism behind it.

To me [the roster]is a personal achievement in the sense that we’ve worked so hard to try and find really rad, interesting, completely different, out of the box female directors that are doing cool things. And that’s something that we can proudly back and stand by.

On gender balance making headlines

We shouldn’t need to be talking about this… I would love for there to be a day where we don’t have to be talking about this and it’s not saying anything about us – it’s just the way that things go. But the truth is, we’re not there yet so we do need to actually look at these changes as achievements until they no longer become relevant.

For me, if we don’t say anything about it, we’re essentially allowing all other production companies to go on as is. You know, some of them are as bad as 95 percent male and we’re allowing that to be the norm. I’ve talked a lot with a lot of senior agency producers and creators about this as well because in my opinion the advertising industry is still pretty male-dominated in many ways — and definitely in many powerful or higher up positions. Their support was really awesome and it gave me a lot of pride and respect for what we as a company have done.

But, we were all saying, ‘wouldn’t it be great if we just never had to mention this. If it wasn’t a conversation that we had every time we sit down’.

On diversity and authenticity

Over the past few years I’ve seen a lot of change in terms of advertising and the way we are advertising to people – who we’re advertising to – and the buzzwords of ‘diversity’ and ‘authenticity’ and these sorts of things. But I haven’t seen that sort of drastic change behind the scenes. If I walk into an office, I naturally now just wonder how many men and women are in here? And I wonder who does what job, and it’s really interesting watching those dynamics.

I’ve seen many meetings where there’s a boardroom of men and maybe one or two females and they’re all gunning to sell a product that is completely unrelated to them and they keep using these words like, ‘let’s be authentic’ and ‘let’s tell real-life stories’, and I’m thinking, ‘you guys have no idea because you haven’t even tried to put yourself in those positions and haven’t got the right team on board for this thing’. Those sorts of considerations haven’t been taken into account.

On respecting roles

[Diversity] is not just the gender thing, it’s an age thing as well. My saying is that you need to respect the role of the person because that sort of does everything in one for me. What that does is remove any personality clashes because you need to just respect that role. That role is higher than you. There is definitely a hierarchy in production. If that role is higher than you, you need to respect what that person’s asking you to do. It also means that you remove any age, gender, race, or any sort of discrimination that you have against that type of person from the situation.

On her mentors

Especially when you’re young you get told: ‘fake it till you make it.’ But I don’t know why everyone tells you that — if I don’t know something, I will say ‘I don’t know, could you please explain it to me?’.

That’s how I’ve ended up having people I can call on and say, ‘hey, what are your thoughts on this?’ Having someone who’s not judgmental, who can help and give advice and has the time is super important to me.

I think Matt Noonan is 100 percent one of my mentors. Like I said, it was his initiative to start looking at changing our roster and it was also his initiative to give me this role – which is huge because he’s obviously of a different generation to me and he has a lot more experience than me. His production company has in the past been very much a boy’s club, and for him to then go, ‘here are the keys, go for it’ is massive. And he is an amazing mentor on a day-to-day level as well.

Jen Storey, who is head of production at Colenso, is also one. I often call her if I’m lost or confused and talk to her as well. She’s amazing.

And then without a doubt, my father and my grandmother. My dad knows the industry extremely well and has always been an advisor of mine. He’s very pragmatic, that man.

My grandmother has for decades now run an extremely successful business with her husband and they are very much an equal team. Just watching her do what she does is pretty outstanding.

On New Zealand

The one thing I have always loved about New Zealand is that there are very few times you will meet characters that won’t allow you to be on the same level as them no matter who you are.

I have many crew members and they’re often older than me and nine times out of ten they’re men—which I’m trying to work on at the moment as well—but they will always have time for you. You’ll always be able to ‘bro-down’ and have like a good conversation with them and they’re very open and used to women being very much their equal.

It’s not until you get to a more professional perspective that those things change a little bit.

On her advice to others

Put it this way, I don’t have a coined phrase that I use with people but I have a real need for honesty and openness — especially in our industry because there’s historically been and always will be — though it’s getting better — a sort of ‘the secrets behind the curtain’.

That’s everything from what budgets you have, to what the client really wants, to things that just pop up in the middle of shoots. All in a professional sense but there used to be a lot of things that weren’t necessarily shared.

I’ve always said just be open and honest. When I talk to anyone, from an agency producer, to a client, to a director, to a crew member, and they ask me for things and we don’t have the budget for it, then I personally don’t think it’s a negative to say, ‘we don’t have the budget for that, but let’s try and figure out a way to make it work.’

I also believe, and this is a bit nerdy, in everyone being a team player. Our industry is hard enough that we don’t need to have people pitting people against others or gossip going on. There’s so much of that and I’m like, ‘mate it’s just not worth it’. And it’s just a much nicer, cooler way to work if you ask me.

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