The Making of Online Heroines
Louise Hutt is a New Zealand filmmaker and creator of Online Heroines, an online documentary web series that gives us a view into the ambitions, struggles, and triumphs of being a New Zealand woman creating video content online. Read my interview with Louise to learn more about the project and hear about how it all began.
Gal: Thanks so much, Louise, for taking the time to be interviewed. To those that do not know, what is your project “Online Heroines” in a nutshell?
Louise: Online Heroines is a documentary web series, featuring interviews with NZ women filmmakers who create content for online platforms: YouTubers, web series creators, and short filmmakers.
Gal: What inspired the project?
Louise: After I graduated with my Bachelor in Media & Creative Technologies, I didn’t know where to go or how to start doing what I wanted. I was frustrated with the culture I saw coming through film school - male lectures, letting male students run wild, and only teaching films directed by men. I also had not been given any opportunities or introductions to the New Zealand film industry and knew the stats weren’t good for a young woman wanting to be a director. So I decided to do my Master’s; where the classes were much smaller, and harder to get into, and where I could explore what other young women were doing, and how they were succeeding, despite the roadblock I was experiencing. So Online Heroines isn’t just a web series, but also the creative component to my thesis. There’s a lot of quantitative analysis out there on stats, but not much actually asking women directly about their experiences, so it also served to fill a gap in the academic narrative too.
Gal: High five on getting your Masters! I did as well after my BA degree in film. I’m so glad that your Master’s program gave you a great structure to then pursue and produce your own digital film project. How did you find and select the women to be interviewed? Did you meet with them before the interview. Tell me about your production process.
Louise: So before I could even select my participants, I had to get ethics approval from the university, which involved a lot more jumping through hoops than you normally would for a low-budget web series! It took nine months of back and forwards, and while I did that, I drew up a giant spreadsheet of women I knew about, projects I knew about, googled my butt off, tweeted asking for suggestions, sent out press releases, and approached Facebook groups. Once the ethics board had approved the project, I went through and applied some unofficial restrictions to the participants; I prioritised contacting those who had made more, had more subscribers, and would therefore have more to reflect on and talk about. Then I emailed them all and waited! Ultimately ethics changed my process for the better - using a feminist methodology meant that I need to keep my participants safety at the forefront of my research, so I had all the participants sign informed consent forms, as well as legal agreements so I could use the intellectual property they were sharing with me. I also went back to the participants multiple times ensuring they were comfortable with how they were being portrayed, and if any of their feelings on the topics had changed since recording, as our industry moves pretty quickly. It can also be easy for things to be taken out of context in the editing process, especially when you’re chopping an hour interview down to just ten minutes!
Gal: Getting the ethics approval does take long time. Not many people know how much effort it takes just to get a thesis project approved! What type of camera and editing software do you use? (I hope it is Premiere Pro!) jk, you can use whatever works for you! ;)
Louise: I filmed it all on my Canon 7D with a Rode smartLav+ mic and Rode Video Mic, and edited it all on my custom built desktop using Premiere Pro CS6. My equipment isn’t exactly state of the art (I bought my 7D back in 2011!), but that’s what happens when you’re a student. All my scholarship money went on travel costs to get to get to my participants.
Gal: Hey! There is nothing wrong with shooting with a Canon 7D from 2011. It’s a great camera! From my own experience and what I’ve seen, you don’t need the best equipment to be an excellent filmmaker :) What are some of the moments and quotes that really stuck with you from your interviews with women?
Louise: Because I’m also a filmmaker myself, the quotes that stuck out to me were the ones which put into words things I’d been seeing and feeling for a long time but didn’t know how to phrase it or I didn't know that other people were also experiencing it. Hazel Gibson said “you deal with a lot of old school people who are set in their ways and aren’t open to new ideas ...it’s really frustrating not being respected by them if you’re younger or you’re female. Personality-wise we get along, but I know you think that I’m lesser.” And I was just like yes! You can be working with people who are really lovely, but you can’t quite put your finger on why they make you frustrated or uneasy - and it’s simply that lack of respect, and often there’s very little you can do to change that. Another moment was when I asked Britney Hazeldine, who is the same age as me, whether she’d studied any indigenous or women filmmakers, and she said no, and she’d never realized that before. This was right off the back of her (and other filmmakers in the series as well), saying that she didn’t feel confident to make things within the industry, and that she was exhausted by the sexism she’d seen as well. How can you be confident as a filmmaker, when you’ve never seen anyone who looks like you, or sounds like you, or tells the stories you want to tell?
Gal: That’s very true, indeed. I was lucky that in my Film and Media studies program at UC Santa Barbara, we had very strong women professors and filmmakers teaching our classes, which was very empowering! What is your favorite Online Heroine story? Why?
Louise: Oh my gosh, you can’t ask me to play favorites! I love them all for very different reasons. I think some of the ones I was most excited to share was The Candle Wasters and Kimberley McManus because they give such interesting insights into the motivations for being filmmakers and how your process can change over time. Kimberley started as a beauty blogger, but is now vlogging her life as a young solo mum, and how it’s made her more confident as a parent. The Candle Wasters have built this amazing community around their work and proved that young women can be incredibly successful just by being enthusiastic young women, and I was so honored to interview them.
Gal: I read your Black post on the Online Heroines website. Thanks for doing that. I think a lot of people do not acknowledge their process and why sometimes there is a lack of desired representation. What led you write it?
Louise: Having followed the film industry discourse for the past four years, and examining it from an intersectional feminist perspective really inspired me to make sure I learnt from those mistakes within my own project. You can’t say that a project is about New Zealand women if you don’t try to represent the different New Zealand women who exist. Online Heroines wasn’t as diverse as I would have liked, in part because of the constraints I had, but I can still be open about it, and find other ways to amend it - like doing a second round of interviews. I was hugely disappointed that there are gaps in my own representation, but not addressing it, to me, is lazy, and a cop-out. It’d make me a hypocrite for criticizing our funding bodies for not releasing the statistics about Māori women, women with disabilities, queer, and trans women, as well as finding methods to amend their stats, if that wasn’t something I also addressed myself.
Gal: True. And not every project can include everyone, that would be impossible. But I think what you did, being upfront with your process is the ethical and right thing to do! Talking about representation, I found that most of the time when I would Googled technical/video related questions the search would, 99% of the time, result in male tutorialists and that’s part of the reason why I created my Gal channel. Why do you think some women who start on YouTube think they have to fit in a certain female “genre” like make-up/lifestyle to be successful?
Louise: That’s definitely been a huge trend I saw with the YouTubers I interviewed; there’s this cognitive dissonance where people, including women, hate on makeup YouTubers for being frivolous, or stupid, but also try to fit into that mould because it’s also where the most successful women YouTubers are (certainly in New Zealand, at least). Make-up is fun and who cares if it’s something a whole heap of women enjoy? Just because it’s considered a “women’s” thing, doesn’t mean it lacks value, but we should also be encouraging women to succeed in other genres, especially ones which might be considered traditionally “male” things. I’ve noticed that too, in my own googling, as well as when I recommend resources for the students I tutor at the university, and I was SO EXCITED when you emailed me. I was really stoked to be able to interview Charli Prangley, because she’s a design YouTuber, and the content she creates is amazing, while also showing women that they don’t have to fit into that beauty-guru mold. There are women out there, and we need to champion them when we find them.
Gal: And I’m so glad that you responded to my email! :) Apparently, I love everyone from New Zealand. I’ve worked with Wipster (HQ in NZ) and with Film Convert, also a New Zealand based company. So How has Online Heroines been received in New Zealand and abroad?
Louise: So far the response has been really positive, and people are interested in it. I’ve quite a few male directors contact me, asking to grab a coffee sometime, which was unexpected. I invited some of my students to the launch, including male students, and they were also really supportive and said they learnt a lot from the series. A lot of things have changed in the year since I recorded the interviews, so I do wish I had been able to release it earlier, but I think it can create more of a dialogue surrounding the videos, about how things change and grow from here.
Gal: That’s fantastic, Louise. And congrats on getting it out there! So how can people become involved with Online Heroines? What can they do to support?
Louise: Watch the videos, leave comments, share them with your friends. Ask your local funding boards, guilds, and studios about who they’re supporting and why. Listen to the women around you when they speak about their experiences, their successes, and their plans for the future. Support Kickstarters, and just women in general on the internet.
Gal: What’s the future for Online Heroines? Are there plans to edit a larger documentary on all the stories? Or are you planning to keep them individual YouTube stories?
Louise: I’d like to do a second round of interviews, including more short film and web series directors, as well as writers. I’m currently thinking about doing an edit of the videos together, to enter in documentary festivals, but it depends on how much time I have. I’d also like to make up educational resources for media studies teachers, lecturers and tutors, on how they can improve their practice to make education a more inclusive place as well.
Gal: Those are wonderful goals. Educational resources on inclusion are definitely needed! Thank you for everything that you do, Louise!
Follow Louise Hutt!
Twitter: @SayCheeseLouise Use #OnlineHeroines in your tweet!