Emerging Producer Jessica Giacco is chasing her screen dreams working on Ladies in Black
Jessica Giacco is a recent recipient of the Emerging Producer Placement Fund a mentoring scheme for emerging Australian producers. She’s recently been blazing a trail with short films, and has dived into the festival circuit, working as a Festival Manager for WOW Film Festival; next week Jessica starts her producer attachment on Ladies in Black with Bruce Beresford.
You started in television, doing all kinds of jobs across SBS, FOXTEL and FAIRFAX MEDIA. At what point did you decide to return to your true passion?
I had made a film for my HSC and then completed a BFA with Honours majoring in Film and Video Installation at UNSW COFA (School of Art & Design), where I had written and directed several short films. I wanted to be a director at the time, then life got in the way. I needed work and ended up working at FOXTEL and the jobs just kept coming over many years in various areas of television, and in particular, current affairs and the news. This was never my intended trajectory, and one day I decided I had to get back to my true passion, which is when I quit everything and took a year off after producing a friend’s short film. This kicked the passion back in to high gear, and I knew I had to get back to film, before it was too late.
Your pathway back to film included studying a graduate diploma in producing at AFTRS. Why did you choose that course and how has it benefited you?
I had always wanted to apply to AFTRS and just thought why not? I applied and got in to a Graduate Diploma in Producing in 2014. It was a very steep learning curve being a mature age student, but it was totally worth it. The practical experience you get there, with industry professionals and being surrounded by people who just love filmmaking, is amazing.
After you graduated you went on to produce several short films including short film, Driftwood Dustmites, that was selected for the Berlinale in 2015 and went on to win several accolades at WOW Film Festival and St. Kilda Film Festival. Do you feel like short films have helped with your career pathway?
Driftwood Dustmites, written and directed by Malina Maria Mackiewicz, is definitely what helped put me on this path. Malina and I were able to attend the Berlinale. I had never experienced anything like it before. I was very wide eyed being in the company of so many filmmakers I had read about and admired.
I think short films are incredibly important for emerging filmmakers in all disciplines. It is where you get that on the ground practical training that you need to get comfortable on set. Make a great short and it can get you noticed.
You’ve also had a lot of experience behind the scenes on the festival circuit most recently with the For Film’s Sake film festival. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I was the Festival Manager for the 2016 World of Women (WOW) Film Festival and the 2017 For Film’s Sake Festival, which was a new incarnation of WOW. This entailed a steep and exhilarating learning curve, working with ridiculously smart and savvy women. Both were international festivals for female content makers and the quality of work that came through was of an extraordinarily high standard. Putting on a festival is very much like producing a film: it’s very fast paced work with so many unknown elements, you just have to keep up.
Working on these festivals also made me see a lot of the gaps in the industry for women and I realised I wanted to work towards making a change. This in turn led to my involvement with Women in Film & Television NSW (WIFT NSW).
Can you tell us about your time with WIFT NSW?
During my time on the WIFT Committee, with a group of highly driven women, we relaunched the new WIFT at an event, organised by Screen NSW, with Bruna Papandrea (producer of Big Little Lies, Gone Girl and Milk) as the featured guest. We increased WIFT membership tenfold, staged a Sausage Party protest at the 2016 AACTA Awards and held a Picnic at Fremantle. We managed to highlight the inequity across the screen industry of women in key creative roles. We actually enacted a change with the Picnic at Fremantle by having Fremantle Media hire an Australian female director to direct an episode of the TV adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock. We achieved a goal of creating actual employment for a female practitioner – which is essentially what this industry needs – to give more women real opportunities by hiring them.
I’m excited to see where WIFT goes next under strong new committee leadership.
Recently you’ve been working with Samantha Lang, creating a television series and have completed several short films and a web series. Can you share with us what’s on your slate?
Yes, I’ve been working as Samantha Lang’s assistant the past few months. Being one of Australia’s leading female filmmakers, she is so experienced and knowledgeable, so it has been a privilege working with her.
I also work with a highly creative and talented director, Luke Marsden. We’ve made a few shorts together, and one we made last year called Infidels, will have an exciting festival announcement shortly.
A youth based web series called Blind is in the final stages of post-production. It is written by and co-produced with James Cripps and directed by Andre Muller.
Most recently I discovered my many greats, great grandmother, was perhaps the first Australian feminist. Her life and her story is insanely interesting on so many levels. I’ve just started working on a television drama about her, with the über talented scriptwriter Becca Johnstone. I am so excited about this project, and I think it could actually create a change in the Australian television drama landscape, as it is so unique.
I have a few other things in the works as well ,and I’m super excited about the future, who knows what else it will bring!
In 2016 you were also successful in your application to the EPP fund– can you tell us why you applied?
I was looking for the next step to take in my producing career and reading through the application I realised that there were some things in particular I wanted to enhance and learn. I thought that applying for the placement would be the ideal step towards this. It turns out it was!
And how did you make your application stand out?
I think it was very much knowing my strengths and weaknesses and what I wanted to really focus on. I was very clear on what I wanted to get out of the placement and out of my career and I stated this in my application.
As part of the EPP you spent time at Create NSW. Tell us what that was like.
Earlier this year I spent 3 months with the Development and Production team at Create NSW as part of the EPP. I was given the opportunity to sit in on development meetings and access to the development and production executives. This really taught me so much about the process of funding and how a development or production funding application is assessed. I learned things I would never have been able to anywhere else and essentially had an insider’s view of the process.
As the second part of the EPP you will be working as producer attachment on Ladies in Black with Bruce Beresford. Did you ever imagine this career trajectory, and has this opened any doors?
I never for one second imagined this trajectory, I wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted the practical side of the placement to be when I started at Create NSW. I originally considered distribution due to the lack of female distributors in the industry, until Sophia Zachariou, Create NSW Director of Sector Investment, convinced me to work on a feature production from start to finish instead.
I knew if I was going to work on a feature I wanted it to be a big budget Australian film with highly experienced and successful producers. Create NSW had just funded Ladies in Black, which was going into production this year. After researching the producers, Sue Milliken and Allanah Zitserman, I knew I had to learn from the best of the best. In particular I wanted to learn from Allanah as I knew she had a highly successful track record in getting private investment for films and film festivals in different ways to the norm. I decided I had to learn from her and I’ve been working with her over the past few months before even starting pre-production. Already I have learned so so much.
The possibility of working with Bruce Beresford is not something I would have ever imagined at all. He is a legend of Australian cinema.
What other tips do you have for emerging producers?
A lot of filmmakers are doing things differently these days, such as making features on short film budgets, which is exciting as feature making is becoming so much more attainable. You just have to do what you can to get it done – just go out and make stuff, that is what it’s all about really.
Know your worth, work hard, work with the most talented people you can find, and really think about what kind of career you want. Stay focused and positive and don’t wait for opportunities to knock on your door. If a project falls through find another one. Go out and create your own opportunities because no one else is going to do it for you.
More on Jessica Giacco
Could you be the next EPP?
Applications are now open for 2017 Create NSW Emerging Producer Placement which will reward two applicants with customised six-month paid internships in industry.
Applications are now open and close at midnight Friday 1 September 2017
For guidelines and applications: http://bit.ly/2ugDFWN