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Addressing Global Issues Locally: Compass Rose’s Approach to Diversity and Inclusion

Production Services
New York, USA
LBB learns how Compass Rose, Stillking Cape Town, and The SA FILM Academy are making a tangible contribution to diversity and inclusion in South Africa, and their plan for the future

Diversity and inclusion continue to be a topic of conversation for many in the industry as getting the balance right for production crews is still trailing behind the positive efforts that can now be seen in front of the camera. For Compass Rose and one of their partner companies, Stillking Cape Town, being part of the solution, not the problem, is vital. “We take issues of addressing diversity and inclusivity very seriously and we’re aware that it’s a global problem,” says Pavla Burgetova Callegari, MD and executive producer, adding: “I believe that generally everyone in the industry wants to do the right thing. For us, doing the right thing in this context means looking at diversity and inclusion through a local lens. In other words, addressing a global issue locally. And it’s not for the sake of ticking a box. What we want is to make a real difference to underrepresented groups in the countries we’re working in.”

By taking a nuanced approach to diversity and inclusion, the companies are doing just that and using their positive influence for the communities that need it most. Pavla says that while production companies want to champion diversity on set, they don’t always have the best information, as diversity will mean very different things depending on the shoot’s country. “To us, diversity and inclusion need to actually help underrepresented and minority groups within specific regions. For example, in Spain, people from Morocco need to be better represented and in Eastern Europe, it’s the Roma community.”


Learning skills, not making tea

In South Africa, Charlie Hey, Stillking Cape Town’s MD and executive producer, is turning talk into tangible action and leading by example. Through an on-going partnership with The SA FILM Academy, Stillking Cape Town is giving young people from historically disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to break into the world of advertising and film. “The SA FILM Academy has been around since 2007. They have quite a stringent intake process to ensure that all the people entering the programme are really committed to a career in the industry. The students start with an induction course and go through a range of programmes. There are masterclasses available in camera, hair, make up, pitching, production amongst other departments. Currently, about 1000 people are on their books with around 200 active trainees,” explains Charlie. The varied programme allows students to focus on their chosen skill set and department and find something they’re passionate about, before moving onto developing more advanced skills and in-service training, which sees them placed on sets as fully fledged crew and ultimately, through The SA FILM Academy ACE programme, emerging management and heads of departments.

With decades of on-set experience under his belt, James Hatcher, Compass Rose’s EP, has been privy to a lot of “tokenism” that can sometimes be used in place of real learning opportunities. “The young people on set who are making tea are not learning a skill. That’s what I’ve thought any time I’ve spotted someone like that on set while also questioning what exactly they’re being paid. Realistically, if the role is not paid properly then it’s not an opportunity - it’s only for people that can afford to come and work for very little because they have other sources of support. And that way you’re not reaching the ones who need it most, who have the most talent.”

In South Africa, where unemployment is at a record high of 34.4%, with the figure even higher among ethnic groups, pay is a subject no one can afford to keep quiet about. That’s why each on-set trainee gets paid a fair wage, with no cost to the client. For Stillking, this is a no-brainer: “When you place one of the people from The SA FILM Academy on set, they’re not an extra - they’re fulfilling a specific line function in a production department. They’re very much embedded in their department, doing a job, and getting paid for it too,” says Charlie.


Opportunities that turn into careers

The partnership is a great success. One trainee’s story, Tumelo, stands out in particular: “He joined as a camera assistant for a Famous Footwear shoot. Within six months, he was on the set of the Ridley Scott-produced Raised by Wolves as part of the camera department. That’s the kind of story we love and are actively facilitating within the industry,” says Charlie. “While we help create the window of opportunity, providing access to the industry, the future of every trainee is entirely in their own hands. What they put in, they will get out. As someone who gives his all, Tumelo Chere graduating to crew, is a prime example. Our ultimate goal is a diverse representative - globally competitive and internationally respected - local and international crew, and HoD human resource pool,” adds Seton Bailey, The SA FILM Academy’s CEO.

“The biggest reward for us as producers and company owners is seeing stories like this unfold. Helping people who wouldn’t otherwise get an opportunity to join this industry is reward enough in itself,” says Pavla. “It’s also a talent resource,” offers James, explaining that “when the trainees complete their studies and placements, it translates into more excellent crew members that are available to us. It’s nice to have a diverse set of talent to call on and know they’re well qualified for the job.”

While the work Compass Rose does with Stillking Cape Town and The SA FILM Academy is the most advanced to date, there are like-minded organisations popping up in other territories where Compass Rose’s service group operates. “Taking the example of The SA FILM Academy and using our network to inspire some of these younger organisations in other countries is what is currently on our agenda. We want to help and be part of the change.” concludes Pavla.

The industry still has a long way to go when it comes to meaningful representation of diversity in front of and behind the camera. Compass Rose and Stillking Cape Town, however, are proving that no changes will be made if we’re to shy away from uncomfortable conversations or engage in empty box-ticking exercises. Instead, armed with local knowledge and the ability to give people an opportunity to join the industry, they’re leading the change, one production at a time.

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