Vanessa and Ruth from Useful Media



Vanessa and Ruth are two ladies doing amazing things in the film industry (and everything else besides). As well as working on the feature film How to Meet Girls From a Distance together, they run a production company called Useful Media.

Beginning with the basics: Names and what you say you do when you first meet someone?

Vanessa: Vanessa, I’m a sociable person, but I try to tone my  personality down a bit when I first met people, because once  people get to know me they realize I’m into weird things, like  face mashing.

Ruth: I’m Ruth, named after my Great-Grandmother. I usually  start with hello when I first meet people. I’m fairly pragmatic.

The two of you have just started a production company in Wellington, can you tell us a little bit about your roles  within it and what you want to be achieving?

V: Originally we started it to run our various projects  through, our next big project is a premier short (90k budget) short film called Judgment Tavern written by Dean Hewison. We both have production backgrounds and are particularly interested in larger production projects, not just in video,  but in other creative projects, photography, web-based events and visitor experience projects.

R: This is why I like working with Vanessa – she has  already written what I’d say. We made a low budget feature film together two years ago – How to Meet Girls From a Distance which I co-produced and Ness production managed and we got pretty used to each other’s working style and we realised how much we complement each other so it made sense to set up something to keep on working together and make the creative projects we’d like to do happen.

The two of you are based in Wellington but doing projects for people all over New Zealand – why stay in Wellington?

V: Wellington is home for me, I grew up in west Auckland but I’ve been living in Wellington for over 13 years. We have a great network here of talented friends and established working relationships. It takes a lot of time to build up these connections and they are so invaluable once you have them.

R: I love Wellington, every time I get a bit bored of it some new exciting thing shows up and I realise how much of a supportive creative community there is here. There isn’t a lot of funding for film and the arts and so having connections and collaborators to do things with is important and when you find them you kind of want to stick with them. I think the other thing is that technology means that distance doesn’t matter so much now. I can be working with people in multiple places using Skype, email, Dropbox etc and it makes no difference that we’re not in the same room.

As two women working in the film industry which has sometimes had the reputation for being male dominated, what would you say to women looking for a way in?

V: The production side of film making doesn’t seem to be male dominated. For women looking for a way in, there are so many ways in, and it would depend on their interests and skills. My personal practical introduction to film-making was through the 48 Hours Film Competition, and I am still working with many of the crew now.

R: That’s an interesting one. I have to say it depends a bit on which part of the industry. I do find that there are a lot more women involved in production, while I often find that roles like camera or editing seem to be more male-dominated. I’ve always loved playing with toys myself even though I do a lot of production and I haven’t found it hard to get work shooting or editing. You just need to be keen and know what you’re doing and I guess like anything get as much experience as you can.

Music video shoot for Rhiain and the Utter Strangers - © Tim Kelly

Music video shoot for Rhiain and the Utter Strangers – © Tim Kelly

What would you say the biggest challenges facing filmmakers are at the moment and how would you overcome them?

V: Funding seems to be the big issue facing professional filmmakers. It’s difficult to say how to overcome this issue. I am lucky to have a flexible job who support their employees with their creative ventures, so I was able to production manage a feature film and keep my day job.

R: I think that there are always challenges in creative endeavours, and the biggest hurdle with filmmaking is that it is an expensive thing to do so financing is a massive challenge. Its interesting however that digital technology has made filmmaking so much more accessible for short filmmakers or documentary filmmakers. When I went to film school it cost about $3000 to pay for the film stock and processing for our final year short films. Now I can borrow someone’s 5D and shoot a short for free. So from that end of things its gotten a lot cheaper and easier. And it has also gotten cheaper to make low budget features, but at the same time, there are a lot more filmmakers around competing for funding and the challenge is finding funding, or finance to get your film made.

Worldwide, internet piracy is a pretty massive issue. Filmmakers are still figuring out how to use the internet as an effective way of distributing and getting money direct back to filmmakers and I think that that’s an area where there are challenges but also a lot of opportunity. Ted Hope is great to listen to for that stuff.

Where’s your favourite spot to take visitors to Wellington?

V: My current favourite place is the hills above Ngaio and the skyline walk. It has views of Wellington City and the Rimutaka Ranges and back the other way to the wind farms of Makara and the South Island.

R: The Garage Project keeps people happy. Or Rams Restaurant on Cuba Street. One of my all time favourite places. The chilli oil dumplings and salt and pepper squid are must haves.

You’re both involved in a lot more than just your day jobs, can you tell me a bit about the things that occupy your time?

V: I’m a restless person and I always need to have things on the go. I am passionate about photography and have just finished running the 48 Hours Film Competition live blog. I am also directing a documentary about my local Marae, in Island Bay.

Ruth: Wow – I work part time at an art school, I’m producing a premiere short, I’m working with the How to Meet Girls writers on another feature, I freelance directing, shooting and editing corporate web videos, and this year I’ve done some visitor experience project management, I’m co manager of the Wellington 48 Hours Film Competition, I’m producing and shooting a doco with Vanessa and I also like making music videos and engaging in various craft activities.

I’m also having a baby in two months. Luckily I’ve been practising not sleeping for quite some time now.

What’s the best piece of advice given to you?

V: My most memorable advice was from my dad, who used to tell me to always read lots of books.

R: When I was at art school a director told us that when you’re working with a team they always follow the leader. If the director is stressed and freaking out, the crew will stress out and things will go wrong. If the director smiles amidst total chaos and says its all fine then everyone believes them and keeps going and it works out. I think that’s quite good advice for many different situations.