Women at Work – Westpac Ruby Connection
By Louise Upton
Growing up in Newcastle, New South Wales, playing teacher when she was young, her toys making perfect pupils for an only child, Genevieve admits she appeared in more amateur theatre than she dares remember and received two nominations in the City of Newcastle Dramatic Art Awards.
That awards event is “like the Oscars of Newcastle”, she explains with good humour, “and I was on a roll to be an ‘Actor’, when I found myself called to lay it down and go behind the camera.”
It’s been a career change that’s provided great satisfaction.
“When people ask me what should they do to become a director,” says Genevieve, “My answer is, ‘learn to act’. If you’re going to direct actors being able to understand whom you’re working with is important. It’s the best training.”
It interests her to find that her youthful pursuits – make-believe, directing and teaching – continue to play out in her adult life in various ways.
The co-founder and co-owner of Taste Media, a successful creative agency working across digital, print, film and animation mediums with high-end corporate and not-for-profit clients, Genevieve is also the co-founder and creative director of Bus Stop Films, a not-for-profit organisation with its ATO (Australian Tax Office) endorsed DGR (Deductible Gift Recipient) status in place.
Bus Stop Films’ mission is to create inclusion within the film industry by bringing people with a disability and the film industry (in its entirety) together in a supportive working relationship to produce films. At present, Genevieve’s focus is on running workshops for people with a mild to moderate intellectual disability, teaching them how the film industry works and providing a taste in a supported environment of what it is to work in the industry in production, acting, make-up, sound, editing, directing, costume, etc.
Genevieve’s 2009 short film Be My Brother, about a young man’s disarming charisma and charm winning over a stranger at a bus stop, played a large part in the genesis of Bus Stop Films and its mission.
Be My Brother received the top gong at Tropfest in 2009, launching Genevieve’s career and providing a platform from which she has been able to successfully broadcast a message about the need for creating greater diversity and ‘inclusion’ in the entertainment industry and wider community for people with disabilities.
The film also launched the career of its leading man, Gerard O’Dwyer, a young man living with Down syndrome who won best actor for his part in Be My Brother.
The Interviewer, Genevieve’s fourth inclusive film, again enlists the talents of O’Dwyer, as well as a number of other people with disabilities in production and behind-the-scenes roles, and continues Bus Stop Films ‘inclusion’ mission. The film played at this year’s prestigious Flickerfest, a festival backed by its credential as Australia’s only Academy Award accredited short film event.
Late in 2012 following a nerve-wracking wait, Genevieve received the welcome news of her acceptance into AFTRS to do her Master of Screen Arts. The news has made mapping out 2013 a whole lot easier.
“Not that my journey’s been that planned. I don’t believe in having expectations but I do believe in having a go, so it doesn’t surprise me to walk along some path and end up somewhere completely different,” explains Genevieve of her progression.
Mentors, networks and faith also play their part in her journey.
In 2010, when Genevieve with her now husband and a mutual friend, made the decision to begin their creative agency business, she risked it all financially. She left her full time position with the ABC – the career path and guaranteed salary that came with it – to step out into the unknown world of business.
“I had no existing role models in business,” she explains. “So, I started a business course with my husband. I wanted to do my best and be a success story. That was my focus. The first 6-9 months were very difficult – but with formal and informal guidance, as well as listening to the wisdom of others we’ve met along the way, it’s worked.
“We were lucky enough to find an investor, interested in supporting us to get Taste going, who contributed resources. We had clients and cash flow and built from there and we were presented with opportunities, including doing contra design work for the use of office space, and we took those opportunities.
“The big revelation for me is there’s no way anyone can do life on their own. People are everything. People make things happen. The challenge is to stay connected, and to have the faith to reach out for support when you need it and the courage not to worry about appearing vulnerable because of that action.”
Taste Media’s ongoing success continues to benefit from both that connectivity and courage: enough for her to step away from working in the business to do her Masters at AFTRS.
“I’m up-skilling my directing abilities with the aim of bringing that back into Taste – where I’ll work at board level this year – and eventually expand overseas. I’m assuming this year will also free me up to generate more momentum behind Bus Stop, which to date has moved along without the need for borrowing money. At the moment we do weekly film-making workshops for participants and small film projects,” explains Genevieve, who’s hoping AFTRS will offer Bus Stop all sorts of opportunities but is not entirely sure what that looks like yet.
“We have a wide range of students from 18 to 45, all of whom are people with a mild to moderate intellectual disability. I’m looking to expand the organisation’s reach but that will take time. I need to find the right people and resources to successfully push Bus Stop into that direction and that means getting the timing right,” explains Genevieve.
In a place where she can develop her skill set, Genevieve’s personal aim is to build the “auteur” inside her, to define her work with an unmistakable stamp: “When people watch one of my film’s they’ll know it’s mine.”
Buoyant determination, youth and talent coalesce to make this someone to watch.
Genevieve Clay-Smith is a 2014 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence awardee