Tracey Vieira, CEO Screen Queensland is a remarkable and very humble leader who has been instrumental in attracting film production of massive international blockbusters totalling $1.5 billion in production investment in Australia. While she is focussed on bringing economic benefits and international profile to the region, Tracey is also dedicated to shaping the future of the screen industry to ensure greater diversity. She introduced Screen Queensland’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategic Plan and a Gender Equity Policy to drive change both behind and in front of the screen.
Tracey is a Non-Executive Director of RSPCA QLD, The Arts Centre Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast Arts Advisory Board and MediaRing. She is an external Advisor to US based Australians in Film and The Queensland College of Art and a previous Director with QMusic.
She has led a high profile career in the screen industry, formerly as Executive Vice President International Production of Ausfilm, based in Los Angeles, and before that Executive Manager Locations and International Productions for the Pacific Film and Television Commission.
Tracey was the 2016 Telstra Business Women’s Awards Corporate and Private Award Winner.
In your role of CEO of Screen Queensland, you have been able to attract international blockbusters including Aquaman, Pacific Rim 2, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Thor: Ragnarok, Kong: Skull Island and The Shallows to be filmed in Queensland. You’ve achieved these amazing results over just 3 years. How have you gone about this?
Queensland is a compelling location for international production as we have a vast array of landscapes all within close proximity to the Village Roadshow Studios. This includes oceans, beaches, rainforest, desert and urban cities. Queensland also has world class technicians and vendors who can do productions of all scales right through to blockbusters.
I spent the ten years prior to Screen Queensland working in Los Angeles with the Studios and brought those relationships with me. Those relationships have enabled Queensland to leverage opportunities early. Additionally, and very importantly, the Queensland Government has really understood where jobs of the future are headed and understand the value of screen culture. That understanding and their support has made Queensland a very strong contender for attracting production.
Your contract renewal for a further 3 years as CEO Screen Queensland has recently been announced. What’s your vision for the next 3 years, and what legacy would you like to leave?
The first three years in the role provided an opportunity to reset the vision for the organisation and open doors to new content creators. We moved from being very traditional in our view of film and television to being completely screen agnostic and understanding that audiences now find the content they want to watch on all kinds of devices. This was a period of change and foundation building. The next three years will really see us catapult from that foundation into consistent growth of new ways of storytelling and continuing to build the local industry for the future.
You are a passionate advocate for gender equality in the screen industry. What initiatives are dear to your heart?
There are so many reasons that gender is my agenda at Screen Queensland. It’s about increasing women in key positions, such as writers, directors and producers, and as crew. But also having more females on screen, which will happen when we have more female writers, directors and producers.
When you think about how we are influenced in our behaviours in all kinds of ways from screen content and you know the numbers, it really punches you in the gut in terms of how we reinforce that females have less value through screen content. We sit our children in front of screens very early with no consciousness about what they are absorbing. I want to influence everyone I come across to become a conscious viewer and start talking about what is missing on screen.
2016 is a great example of what I am referring to. If you look at the top 10 grossing films, in a year that was considered the year of the woman on screen, women only said 27% of the dialogue.
This is the year of Rogue One, Finding Dory, Zootopia and Suicide Squad.
Whilst many were celebrating having Jyn as the lead character being a woman in the Star Wars film Rogue One, the film actually only had 9% female speaking characters. Of those 10 characters, 1 was a computer voice, 1 appeared on screen for no more than 5 seconds, and 1 was a CGI cameo that said 1 word.
I am also very proud of the work we are doing in diversity. In many ways the conversation about females being missing on screen has also highlighted who else is not being represented in our screen stories. This will continue to be a huge focus for us going forward.
Currently you’re a Board Director on 5 different boards across the film industry, music, arts, and RSPCA, and have previously served on numerous others. How did you obtain your first Director role, and what advice you would give to women considering joining a Board?
My first director role actually came after a meeting with Australians in Film whom we were sponsoring through Ausfilm, whom I was working for. I had ideas about how they could increase funding and increase sponsors. After a number of conversations they actually asked me to join the Board.
What they saw, I believe, was that I had value that could elevate the organisation. I wasn’t angling to get on their Board but it was a great lesson early in my career. Boards exist to provide governance and develop strategy for organisations. I believe that it’s a combination of building those skills (which can be done through courses on company directorships) but also understanding clearly what you can offer and how you can have an impact.
During your time living in Los Angeles, you were instrumental in founding and building a school. Tell us why and how you did it.
City Language Immersion Charter (CLIC) is a Spanish language immersion elementary school located in West Adams, which is where my husband and I owned our home in Los Angeles. We worked with 50 families to raise $250,000 over 6 months and develop our dream school, which our son would have attended had we stayed in LA. What I absolutely love about this school is its commitment to diversity and community. The neighbourhood had 8 failing public schools. And Charter Schools are an opportunity to have a public school but where the charter is created by the founding partners.
We looked at the most successful charter schools in Los Angeles, but also at what has the most impact for learning, including the teaching approach. At CLIC it’s a constructionist approach. This means that you don’t do maths, then English, then science. You do things like make a rocket to go to the moon, and through that you are learning maths, science and language really utilising children’s natural curiosity.
The dual language immersion model integrates the best of bilingual education for all students. Native Spanish speakers develop literacy in their first language before acquiring their second, resulting in higher proficiency in both. Non-Spanish speakers are immersed in learning Spanish beginning in Kindergarten, when their brains are most suited to learn a second language.
Teachers adjust instruction for children at different levels of language fluency and literacy. All students emerge from 5th grade fully bilingual and bi-literate in Spanish and English. Research has consistently shown that students who develop two languages early on exhibit elevated levels of academic and cognitive functioning, including enhanced problem solving, reasoning, and communication.
We use a “90/10” immersion model. Meaning that in Kindergarten 90% of the day is taught in Spanish by a highly qualified, credentialed teacher, fluent in both Spanish and English. The children may speak or respond in either language, but the teacher will speak only Spanish 90% of the day. The teacher guides students to correct vocabulary, pronunciation, and sentence structure by modelling and creating authentic opportunities for students to use the target language. Spanish instruction decreases and English instruction increases by 10% percent each year, until the program is 50-50 by 4th grade.
This creates truly bilingual children and has proven to be an incredible model of success. I’m so passionate about this and wish we could look at models like this for Australian schools.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Challenges come in many shapes and forms daily. I think my greatest challenge is that I need to slow down to take people on the journey with me. I can see the finish line clearly when others are still trying to figure out the race. It’s something I have to continually work at to ensure that I empower others to take ownership of the journey and outcomes.
What are you most proud of?
On a work level, I am extremely humbled when I hear from people who tell me that I have impacted them in a life changing way. I was recently approached at a Women in Media event by a young woman who had heard me talk a year earlier about women in screen. She said that my words had significantly impacted her and made her change her career direction and decide to become a filmmaker. She had made a short documentary and was in the process of developing her first feature film. That blew me away.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Stick your hand up early. Especially when you don’t think you have enough experience. If you have enough experience, you are probably overqualified for the role. If something makes me excited and terrified at the same time, it’s probably the right thing to do.