PR Profile: Teri Calder, Media & Public Affairs Manager at Screen Australia

In this ongoing series, we highlight the skills and expertise of publicists within our AACTA membership as part of the Media & PR Chapter.* We invite them to share tips, tricks and insights borne of long experience in our particular industry.  You can read our past posts on publicists here and here.

In this instalment, we turn the spotlight onto Teri Calder, Media & Public Affairs Manager at Screen Australia, the key Federal Government direct funding body for the Australian screen production industry. As well as funding film and television, Screen Australia also supports and promotes the industry through various other programs and initiatives.

In this Q&A, Teri Calder talks about her training and experience, and gives us a glimpse into her day to day work. At the time of the interview (in early September), Teri’s work with Screen Australia focused on highlighting the great achievements of Australia’s Indigenous filmmakers – holding a parliamentary screening of The Sapphires, launching an Indigenous screen employment program, and celebrating the news that a new Indigenous film, Satellite Boy, had been accepted into a major festival.

AFI | AACTA: Can you tell us how you arrived at the role of Media & Public Affairs Manager at Screen Australia – your past experience and training?

Teri Calder

Teri Calder: I studied journalism and one of my first full-time jobs was at the FFC (Film Finance Corporation), employed as the policy and public relations assistant. That was way back in 1994. I was there for two years and then left the film industry and went to the Non Government Organisation sector working in communications, advocacy, project management and fundraising. During that time I completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Communications and Social Inquiry from UTS (University of Technology, Sydney). I then returned to the film industry about seven years ago and worked on a couple of documentaries in development and as an associate producer. I worked freelance for a couple of distributors across the business in distribution, publicity and marketing. During that time I also worked as a senior communications consultant for a PR agency that serviced the AFC (Australian Film Commission), so I had experience across a few tiers of the industry before arriving at Screen Australia.

What are your key duties and responsibilities? Can you describe what an average week looks like in your job at Screen Australia?

My job is to implement communications that assist the agency in implementing its programs and strategic agenda. It is also to reinforce a shared understanding of the agency’s activities, purpose and functions across our key stakeholder groups. There are no average weeks in this job! For example, [at the time of this interview in October] last week involved working on a press conference in Canberra announcing the Media RING Indigenous Employment strategy, which was followed by a parliamentary screening of The Sapphires with some of the key cast and crew.

Jessica Mauboy, Simon Crean, Deborah Mailman, Julie Collins and Wayne Blair, at the parliamentary screening of THE SAPPHIRES.

We also showcased the extraordinary talent of Indigenous Australians working both in front of and behind the camera and the work of Screen Australia’s Indigenous department to Parliamentarians with this inspiring reel:

On top of that, last week involved writing and issuing several media releases announcing our latest documentary investments and announcing Catriona McKenzie’s wonderful film Satellite Boy had been accepted into Toronto International Film Festival. We’re always thrilled when a film gets into a major A-list festival. This is a huge achievement for the filmmaker and a great launch pad for the film into the North American Market.

Then there’s all the follow up involved with those releases – talking to journalists, lining up interviews, answering emails, etc. I haven’t even mentioned the day to day stuff. Let’s just say I keep very busy in the job.

Who are the key groups you are communicating with? 

SATELLITE BOY, written and directed by Catriona McKenzie, and produced by David Jowsey and Julie Ryan, had its world premiere at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, in the Discovery program of works by Directors to Watch.

The most important key group I’m communicating with is the screen industry. It’s crucial that our programs and initiatives are clearly communicated and promoted to Australian screen practitioners. Of course we’re also communicating to government, media and other groups depending on the issue.

Screen Australia is the key Federal Government direct funding body for the Australian screen production industry. How does this affect the kind of PR you do and the sorts of information you share?

As the Federal Government’s key screen agency our job is to implement the policy of the government and part of my job is to ensure that these policies and programs are clearly communicated to all our stakeholders.

What are the most satisfying aspects of your work, and the most challenging or frustrating? 

I take great satisfaction from seeing the programs we fund achieve success and being able to promote that widely. The challenge of the job is always to present the human face of the screen agency and to make sure filmmakers understand that we’re open for business and that our business is supporting filmmakers.

One of the services we find most useful about the Screen Australia online media room is its up-to-date coverage of Australian film and television successes abroad (festival wins, awards, etc). Is it a challenge to update these in a timely manner, especially given time and language differences of a lot of the international festivals?

We have very good relationships with the festivals and are in close contact with them around film announcements so it’s relatively easy for us to coordinate issuing these communications quickly, although time differences can be a pain. Everything is so immediate now so you have to be on top of it.

As a member of the new Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts within the Media and PR Chapter, what would you like to see your chapter achieve through AACTA?

Repositioning the discussion around the success of Australian films beyond the local box office share.

Thanks for your time Teri, and we look forward, as always, to receiving your press releases!

You may also be interested in:

Screen Australia’s Media Releases.

What I wish you knew… Australian publicists give their top tips: Sarah Finney

What I wish you knew… Australian publicists give their top tips: Louise Helseltine

*The Media and PR chapter of AACTA is one of the 15 chapters of accredited screen professionals which constitute the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts. This Media and PR chapter encompasses A-list agents, film writers, critics, marketing specialists and publicists. It’s this latter group of publicists that we’re showcasing in this new blog series.

Alan Finney’s Cannes Report #2

View from Screen Australia office at Cannes

The view from the Screen Australia office at Cannes

AFI Chair Alan Finney,  is currently attending the 2011 Cannes Film Festival (11 – 22 May) as a producer and member of the Australian film contingent. As an industry insider since the 1960s, as a filmmaker, distributor and exhibitor, Finney has been to Cannes many times before. This year Alan is sending back snapshots, impressions and memories. In this second report, he catches up with some old friends and attends a forum debating the merits of Video on Demand (VOD) versus a traditional windows approach to distribution. You can catch the previous Cannes Report here or read on for the latest…

My favourite memory of Cannes is probably the launch of Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, back in 1994, and it was the exposure they got here, followed by terrific screenings back home that really kicked off their success.

Now there are so many Australians here which is terrific – producers, distributors and government film body representatives and a lot of “veteran friends” who still come to the festival to stay in touch with the worldwide industry. And of course, there are icons such as David Stratton and Margaret Pomeranz who are stars in their own right. It was also great to bump into Anthony LaPaglia in the street as we hadn’t worked together since Brilliant Lies, directed by the late and great Richard Franklin and based on the David Williamson play.

The place for Aussies to congregate is naturally at the Screen Australia office, perched high up and with great views of Cannes. Screen Australia CEO Ruth Harley and her team are most hospitable, and as well as being a spot to catch up with friends and business contacts, there are many functions to which filmmakers from other countries are invited and the communication opportunities are most beneficial. What also pleased me was the number of young Australian filmmakers who I met in this office, most at the Festival for the first time. Some of them are here with short film experience, while others are attending, just with plans to make features and using the experience to sound out possible opportunities and strategies.

Overall there’s a really positive attitude to our home-grown product, and this is appropriate and necessary if we are to continue encouraging and supporting our filmmakers, both established and those preparing to get into the rough and tumble world of getting projects up onto the big or small screen.

The American Pavillion

The American Pavillion - a place to eat, drink, connect to Wifi and attend industry panels and seminars

There is a really interesting venue called The American Pavillion, and by registering for a not too heavy fee, you can mingle, buy things to eat and drink, use free Wifi and also attend information sessions such as one I did. The subject matter was ‘Indie Film Innovators: Keeping up with the New Thinking in Distribution’ (See participants below*). A wide range of topics were discussed including (naturally) the issue of day and date theatrical and Video on Demand (VOD) release strategies.

The panel were in fact split on this question, some seeing keeping [separate theatrical and DVD] windows as a necessary way to recoup the production investment and value the theatrical publicity which helps VOD and gives the release high profile.

Those in favour of day and date release argue that they have to be where their customers are and that their film should be on as many ‘monetised’ (the new buzzword) channels as possible. They believe that consumers are platform agnostic. They also see the impact of piracy which is encouraged if a film plays in limited locations in its theatrical life. The most sensible view seemed to be that the question of a window approach depends on the movie itself, and that this decision should be on a title by title basis.

A related subject discussed, of course, was social networking and the way it has changed how audiences learn about and become excited about films.

*Indie Film Innovators: Keeping up with New Thinking in Distribution. Participants: Jon Fougner (Facebook), Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse), Shawn Bercuson (PreScreen), David Fenkel (Oscilloscope), Berry Meyerowitz (Phase Four). Moderated by: Scott Macaulay (Editor-in-chief, Filmmaker Magazine).

Below: Alan’s Snapshots from The American Pavillion at Cannes