In the face of the #metoo movement and a major push towards equality within the screen industry, there is an entire community of people that don't fall into either of the binaries who, historically, have been overlooked by mass movements of change; gender diverse people.
Although there has been progress in casting, resulting in a occasional representation on larger mainstream productions, these roles are always supporting roles. Rūrangi is a production which tackles the lack of visibility, empowerment and the sharing of power and creative decision making head on.
Passive power dynamics discourage quieter voices from being heard.
We placed gender diverse people within positions of power within the creative and decision-making team. Having a trans co-producer had a significantly positive effect on the production.
The consulting panel also had power of veto at five crucial checkpoints throughout development, production and post-production.
The Rūrangi Internship Program for gender diverse people in creative roles was part of our way of growing the representation of gender-diverse people within the industry, as well as educating our experienced crew on gender-diverse experience; a dyanmic in which our interns were the experts.
This made the internship program more of an exchange of experience than a traditional master-student dynamic.
Interns were also trusted to perform roles beyond simply observing, giving them hands on experience.
Closely related to power dynamics are the traditional hierarchies within film production. We operated on a principal of context not control, ensuring the people directly affected by decisions were in the room contributing while these decisions were being made.
Actively promoting the respect of each team member's position (both within the production and in terms of life experience) meant that on set, gender-diverse people were comfortable and had the means to raise concerns over their department’s approach to a scene, even if they were in traditionally lower ranking crew positions.
We were uncompromising in our insistence that every trans role should be played by a trans actor. Our lead character, Caz Davis, is played by Māori, trans-masc actor, Elz Carrad, who's life experience can be felt in his knock-out performance.
We also cast trans people in roles which are traditionally cis and gender-skewed (eg the role of the tow truck driver in a rural town), just to spice things up and challenge the norm.
Wherever possible we extended roles and the opportunity to participate in the production of Rūrangi to the gender-diverse and queer community.
Roles in the crew not necessarily needing prior experience (eg drivers, runners, assistants), were crewed first from the gender-diverse community.
All background talent was cast from the gender-diverse and allies community.
All of these people were paid no less than a NZ living wage for their contribution.
Throughout the development, production and post-production of Rūrangi, we operated under the guidance of a trans consultation panel. This panel of 5-6 people signed off on the project at five key points:
At each of these stages the consulting panel fed back on the series, raising points of concern (triggers, inappropriate representation, symbology) which needed to be addressed as we moved forward. Concerns were graded by the panel as non-negotiables or nice-to-haves.
It was vital that every employee on the production understood gender and sexual diversity, as well as how to appropriately ask questions.
Prior to principal photography we ran a compulsory gender and sexuality awareness training day for all cast and crew. This interactive workshop was provided by InsideOUT, with an invitation extended to the organisational teams of the New Zealand guilds, as well as to our funders NZ on Air and the NZ Film Commission.
Spear-headed by our Producer Intern was a massive focus on accessibility within the production. From a wheelchair-accessible production office, through to the management of hours on set for people with disabilities, these were all areas of ongoing scrutiny.
We were careful not to discriminate within casting or crewing for people with disabilities; rather finding ways of making it work for all parties (job sharing for example).
Accessibility will be an area of continued focus for future seasons of Rūrangi as there is a lot of work that can be done here.
Throughout making Rūrangi we have documented our learnings so that we can share them and inspire other productions not only to become kinder - but to be more accessible to the incredible talent of marginalised communities.. This has included the capture of hours of behind-the-scenes, as well as journalling from the core production and creative team.
We're also running industry panel discussions on the production process leading up to and following the release of the series.
We hope the above will lead to more ethical representation of marginalised communities.
Supporting a marginalised group is only of long term value if it fosters autonomy. For this reason we have structured Rūrangi to return profit to the gender diverse community, expressly for thesupport of future productions produced by the gender-diverse community. This will ensure our community's ongoing, autonomous voice and representation.
This is why we named our production company "Autonomouse".
Rūrangi takes place in a rural town, and we intend to take the series on a roadshow around New Zealand to reach rural communities.
We plan to undertake this roadshow in association with an LGBTIQ+ organisation, bringing education around diversity to rural communities and connecting isolated people within these towns to the broader NZ queer community.