Erin White is just what the Doctor Doctor ordered

Erin White. Photo by Vicki Jones.

Erin White. Photo by Vicki Jones.

Erin White is a multi-award-winning writer and director, whose work is characterised by nuanced and emotionally truthful performances, arresting visuals, and seamless storytelling. Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we caught up with Erin to talk about her pathway in the industry, and her recent directing work on Doctor Doctor Season 4.

It’s still hard for females to crack into the big director roles in TV. Can you tell us about your career pathway and how you’ve been successful?

Like a lot of women, I didn’t think I could be successful until I had ‘learnt’ it, so I went to film school, and then I kept going to film school. Nine years in total. I made a bunch of short films that I’m still really proud of, and some were successful on the festival circuit, and from there I was lucky to get my first gig on Rush for Network 10.

After that I was spotted for comedy as my last short film had been comedic, and I ended up being hired for comedy work over the next 8 years. Then I found myself pigeonholed as a female comedy director, which was amazing, but it wasn’t all I could do. And it’s only with Doctor Doctor that I’ve managed to put a foot into hour long drama, despite starting out that way. It helps that Doctor Doctor has a comedic tone, but I also loved getting my teeth into the dramatic part of the characters’ stories.

You mentioned you just directed two episodes of the new series of Doctor Doctor. How did you bring your own vision to the two episodes?

That’s difficult to answer because essentially you get hired to maintain the vision already established over many episodes. With that in mind, I do like my work to feel seamless when the audience watches it – emotional, and in the case of Doctor Doctor, often funny.

For me it’s about directing to those strengths, but within the confines of a pre-established house style, working with actors to uncover the emotion in a scene; or using the camera to tell a visual joke; or finding the right piece of music in the edit. I take the following approach; do I believe it? Do I feel something? Is it funny if it’s meant to be funny? I let my instinct lead me to find those elements, but I always ask myself – does it fit? If it’s too distracting or outside the style, then you’ve got to let it go.

What advice would you give emerging female directors wanting to break into the industry?

The key thing is learning to have confidence in yourself and in what you know. It took me a long time to learn that. Women in general struggle with this in daily life and it can transfer into your professional life, especially when you’re directing on set, or in front of network executives in the edit suite. These can be really scary situations sometimes and as women we often naturally doubt ourselves and our abilities. But you can overcome it if you do a lot of work on yourself.

Imposter syndrome is a dirty dog, it’s always there, but you have to fight it. People don’t want to work with someone who appears unconfident, especially when so much money is involved. So do the work on yourself, know what you know.

What do you think needs to be done in order to make it a more level playing field for female directors in the industry?

At the end of the day it’s just about people’s attitudes towards female directors. I suspect sometimes there is an unconscious lack of faith in women’s abilities, which is crazy. Women and men can do this job equally. No wonder women often feel a lack of confidence if they’re used to being met with distrust before they even start. And I’d add that it takes more than one job to make a career.

Early career female directors should be given a chance to direct again. Inevitably you’re going to make a few mistakes in your first couple of jobs, which makes you a better director anyway, and if networks and producers recognised that, and could be more open to giving women another shot, it would make a huge difference.

I have to say that producers in Australia are so much more aware of hiring female directors now, and it’s really fantastic to see. On this series of Doctor Doctor there were more women directing than men. High fives to Lisa Matthews and Julietta Boscolo! And a shout out to producers Ian Collie and Ally Henville.

You are the founding partner of the production company Hardy White Pictures, which you created with producer, Michelle Hardy. Can you tell us a bit about how you started the company and why it is important for you to create your own work?

Mich and I started the company because we both had been hired guns for many years and we wanted to have more creative input. The only way to do that is to create your own work, so it was a no brainer.

Collectively we’d been sitting on a lot of exciting ideas. It was then a natural progression to form a company. Our attitude was show excitement and see if we could make the projects happen. Things have been going really well for us recently…watch this space!

This year the theme for International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual – what do you think we can do collectively, to help create a gender equal world?

The only real answer I have is to practice kindness. Practice kindness by being unafraid to be a voice where you see inequality; practice kindness in how you treat your female identifying partner; practice kindness by considering female identifying applicants for employment opportunities; and practice kindness by opening opportunities for female identifying mentees and trainees where you see gaps in the workplace. Don’t exploit, don’t rape, don’t bully, don’t exclude. Just be kind.

Catch Doctor Doctor Season 4 on 9Now.

Image: Erin White. Photo by Vicki Jones.
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Published: 6 March 2020