ADG Commercial & Content Directing Mentoree Profile: Stef Smith

ADG Commercial & Content Directing Mentoree Profile: Stef Smith

Guess what! Our annual Women in Media Awards are in less than a month! We’re getting super excited, and you should be too – because what’s better than taking some time to celebrate the inspiring women in this industry?

But to get you even more excited, we’ve decided to profile the recipients of the Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG) Commercial & Content Directing Mentorship program – which supports the promotion of female directors in a male-dominated industry by pairing them up with mentor companies!

This program perfectly aligns with what the Women in Media Awards is all about; making sure women in this industry get recognised for their efforts, as well as a fair shot, and a seat at the table.

This year, eight up-and-coming female directors were paired with top commercial production companies. Read more on that here.

Our first mentoree profile is on the amazing Stef Smith! She’s been paired up with Photoplay, and is pretty damn excited about it.

How did you become involved with the program?

I heard about the initiative in 2017 when they announced the recipients and made it my goal to at least do enough work to be in consideration for the 2018 round.

When the time came to apply I had no existing relationships with any of the production companies involved so I made my silly application video that showed how much of a weirdo I am and how much I swear and crossed my fingers.

Which company/who have you been mentored with?

When time came to interview I researched every production company, their directors and their work to make sure I would fit in and thankfully the one that I felt I aligned with most was the one I got! Bloody love Photoplay.

They’ve been so welcoming and generous, the people that work there are incredibly kind and talented and I feel genuinely really grateful.

And they took two of us so I’ve made a brilliant new friend in the other recipient Aimee-Lee X Curran. That’s not even a lie. She’s friggen great.

What are you most looking forward to about the mentoring program?

Learning. As much as I can. There is so much to gain and I hope I can give some back too.

Seeing the good and the bad of the ad world. Seeing difficult moments and how to navigate them. Seeing new techniques I’ve never had the budget to explore.

Watching different directors approaches to a concept. Building a relationship with a production company I one day hope to work for.

Exploring different products so I can build my knowledge and skill to become diverse and not just be pigeon-holed as the funny director but be able to be the car ad director, the drama director, the fashion director AND the pet condoms director (not a product?).

What are you excited to gain from having a mentor?

Mentoring to me is a really vital, precious and rare relationship. It currently happens all too infrequently, particularly in Australia, but I’m hopeful that things will change and people will see the benefit in opening up more.

I had my first mentor when I was 18 and she committed suicide three months after I relocated from Wagga Wagga, NSW to Sydney. Losing her broke my heart. With her support I felt like even the shit parts were worth persisting through and I was adrift for some time after her passing. Having someone who believes in you and is invested in your progress is an incredibly fortifying thing and I’ve longed for it since I lost her.

By chipping away and working relentlessly hard I’ve been lucky to have had career support from people I admire so much and never thought I’d even exist to. So far everyone that I’ve encountered in the Photoplay family has shown me great support and kindness and I’m so excited to build on that with them.

Do you think the program will help your career? Why?

It already has. It has already opened up doors to me that were typically closed.

It’s given me a weird feeling of belonging in the market and a confidence to keep persisting. It’s given me skills and insights I would never have ordinarily had, and it’s given me supporters who I can text when I’m in the edit-assembly doom spiral, drowning myself in chocolate.

The Australian Directors’ Guild, The Communications Council, and the Commercial Producers Council with the support of Screen Aus have given all of the recipients of the Commercial & Content Directing Mentorship 2018 the rare opportunity to take the ad-world by the coconuts and join in. Luckily I really do like coconuts.

What was the best advice you’ve ever received?

Even when you think you’ve got it, go for one more.

That was the pre-shoot three am Facebook advice I got from one of my first supporters who is a successful feature director when I was on the eve of directing my first film.

Of course there are times when one shot is all you get. But giving my performers a chance to feel supported and alive in the moment, then once they’ve nailed it giving them a chance to feel free to play, that can be when you get the unexpected magic.

What advice would you give to young, aspiring women?

Do it, Darling. If you love it, and it’s in your guts, and if this is what makes your heart happy… if even at the absolute shittest moments you still can’t imagine being happy doing anything else. Do it.

Work hard. Be kind. Believe in yourself. Don’t worry about being perfect just be open to learning and not needing to know all of the answers; your cast and crew are the ones you should be open to collaborating with to find those.

You should ALWAYS be learning. Be brave and do it, Darling. We need you.

B&T‘s Women in Media Awards 2018 will be held on Friday 17 August 2018 at Doltone House – Jones Bay Wharf. Grab early bird tickets to the event here and find all other info on the website


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