Today we’d like to introduce you to Victoria Emslie.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I have been working in the Industry for six years as an actor. After graduating with a Masters in French and Arabic, I went on to study MA Acting for Screen at RCSSD and have been fortunate to work on some incredible productions such as Downton Abbey, The Theory of Everything, 12 Monkeys, The Frankenstein Chronicles and The Danish Girl. In the last couple of years, in the wake of various events and facts coming to light, there have been a number of brilliant organizations coming together dedicated to making the Industry a fairer, safer and dignified place for all. The sad fact is that if you speak to anyone in our sector, they will either have a story of harassment, discrimination or micro-aggression happen to them or someone they know. As the Entertainment Industry is by its very nature in the public eye, it falls to us to lead the way to address many of our entrenched issues not limited to gender equality, equal pay, harassment and discrimination in the workplace and yet we still fall short.
As a freelancer, you can often feel on the back foot when it comes to talking about and navigating the work sphere and so it is so important to seek out allies and find your tribe. I became heavily involved with ERA 5050, a powerful sisterhood of incredible actresses, and we campaign for 50/50 representation onstage and onscreen as currently men outnumber women 2:1 and in some genres 3:1. Meeting them was a turning point for me. I was able to apply myself in a way that had not be encouraged before, and that has been truly empowering. At the same time, one of my good friends and tutors from Drama School invited me along to a Time’s Up UK meeting. Being in the same room as many of the women I greatly admire unlocked something within me and it made me want to roll my sleeves up and get involved as much as I could. One of our mottos is that we are all linked but not ranked, and you can never underestimate lighting a fire under someone who has just not known how to use their voice before whilst surrounded by a supportive community.
I have always been fairly outspoken and was overcome by a need to learn more, to help and to be a part of something bigger than myself. Inspired by the actionable points my friends at ERA were working on to improve our Industry, I started to brainstorm ways I might contribute to our work including guerrilla monitoring and trying to put together a mentorship programme between established women and newcomers behind the camera. As we know, to change the conversation onscreen we have to change the conversation behind the screen. I named this ‘Primetime’ as the question I constantly found myself asking was, as women, when are we in our prime? When we are young we are seen as risky, next there are those who want to have families and then you do not see enough women in C-Suite positions, leading to the eye-rolling question we hear all the time: “Where are all the women?” Around the same time, during one of our Time’s Up UK meetings there was a general consensus from the leaders in the room that it would be useful to have database of all the female writers and directors within the Industry. At this moment, I started thinking, well this is what Primetime could be and why not try to help as many women as possible. This is where the idea of creating a centralized database of all the women above and below the line behind the camera came from.
So I went away and tried to learn how to become an entrepreneur, luckily I speak French so that was one term I didn’t have to learn. And yes, I may or may not have watched all 77 episodes of Shark Tank on Netflix in under a week and, armed with this HBS Lite intel, I started to make a plan. This took a number of months and then once I had a firm idea of what Primetime should be, I needed to find a tech team who could execute these ideas. It was very important to me, especially as someone independent of a larger corporation that the process was as legitimate and legally tied up as possible. I hired a tech and legal team and put all my savings into it; six months later we launched at Cannes Film Festival and went global.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The life of the freelancer is always paved with obstacles, most of which cannot be planned for. I will say this has been one of the most brilliant and challenging professional learning experiences so far. If you would have told me this time last year that I would have launched a global company which the aim of addressing the gender imbalance within the Entertainment Industry I’m not sure I would have had any words for you. Now you can’t shut me up about it. This is a passion project and I’m sure many startup and business owners can relate to the challenges of trying to find the right work-life balance. There was a period that I was working 20 hours a day so I am very glad that is now over. Having said that, I have had about four days off in the last six months so still find myself baiting my house with bottles of alcohol so that friends come over and keep me company. It seems to work.
I cannot praise the go-get-it attitude of my American friends enough. The number of people who will just pick up the phone and make things happen blows my mind, whereas things can be a little slower moving over here. Luckily the business premise doesn’t allow for much pushback; we are a visibility platform and advocate for meritocracy. Thanks to the increasing number of studies in recent years revealing the Industry’s most systemic problems, no one can deny that there are problems and imbalances; the numbers are there in black and white. There are of course those who are not ready to change. I do not believe in naming and shaming and will always try to hold best practice up to encourage others that working together towards a more representative Industry is the way forward. I’ve been very lucky and most people have been very supportive. When things don’t move as quickly as I hope, I just have to remind myself that people have a list of 100 other things to do that day and even though this project is my baby, everyone else has their own battles to fight and so it’s ok if it takes some time. That is why I try to celebrate all the small victories. We are moving in the right direction, wheels have been set in motion and yes there will be more bumps along the way but we will look back and be able to say we were there and we were part of changing the conversation. And that makes all the struggles worthwhile.
Primetime – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Primetime is a centralized global database of all the women, and by women we mean anyone who identifies as a woman or non-binary, working above and below the line behind the camera within the Entertainment Industry. We are a visibility platform to provide a simple tool to answer one of the Industry’s most frequently asked questions, “where are all the women?” We know that unconscious bias plays a role in job offers and to that end our members do not have profile pictures; I wanted their work to speak for itself. Since launching, we have had over 1000 brilliant women join worldwide, including multi-BAFTA and Emmy winners and our first Oscar-nominated Director. I think that has been one of the most affirming parts of setting the business up is seeing the caliber of the professionals signing up and realizing that there really is a need for a platform like this in the Industry no matter what level you are at. The site is free to join and as we know there are so many barriers to entry to work for women, all the features in this first MVP (minimal viable product) stage will always be free for both individuals and those companies looking to hire them. We’ve got big plans for the next wave of features and are always looking for new champions to come onboard. We are stronger together.
It’s hard to say what I’m most proud of as we have only been live for three months now, but perhaps just getting it done. In the words of Peep Show, “I did a thing”. I remember going in to see Hactar, my incredible 50/50 tech team who are dedicated to social good projects, saying “I think we need this feature, that feature, magic beans” and they were so good at reigning me back in and focusing the project on just getting the essentials done, i.e., to prove the concept works and that it has value. Now I’m working to raise funds and connect with organizations to be able to fully explore all the ideas and potential I believe this platform has and we have a lot of exciting news in the pipeline with some brilliant Industry Partnerships to be announced soon. I will never take for granted the generosity of those who have helped make this a reality even if it has been as simple as taking a meeting to talk or some kind words of encouragement. We have had such brilliant organizations such as Time’s Up UK, ERA 5050, The Geena Davis Institute, Collectif 5050, many Guilds and Agencies come onboard and help us, and we are growing everyday. One of the partnerships I’m most excited about is with Spot, the online AI harassment and reporting bot. There is often little to no HR in Film and TV and as a freelancer you might not know who to talk to. This anonymous reporting tool provides a safe space for the women on our site to voice their concerns and be heard; we want our members to get more work but we also want them to stay in work safely and Spot helps with that.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I honestly believe this changes everyday. Sometimes it’s the small victories, the day-to-day, and something deeply personal that someone else might just take for granted. I try as much as possible not to compare my journey to anyone else’s and am trying to focus on a mantra that has come into my life recently: “You are in competition with no one, except with who you were yesterday.” Yes, we have all had those drunken 2am Instagram sessions trying to guess which one of the many talented and beautiful people booked one of the jobs we just auditioned for or who our exes are now hanging out with, but the futility of this action luckily snaps you back into reality pretty quickly. Focusing your time and energy on why someone else might be perceived as “better” than you is time that you are taking away from investing in yourself and those who love you for who you are and what you have accomplished. A couple of moments of success I have enjoyed recently were seeing Primetime listed as a resource on the BFI Diversity Standards page alongside my agents at IAG and also now when you google ‘Primetime’, my business is the first site to come up. I had to pinch myself. When we really start to make a difference to the numbers of women on set and in creative positions of power and when this shift has made an impact on the stories being told and distributed widely, to know that we played a small part in making this happen, that is when I will feel that Primetime has been a success. If we can do that I will be able to get some quality sleep too: something that figures highly on my personal success chart. It is all a work in progress.
All I can account for are my experiences and my own personal moments of success and I try to make sure that they are not all defined by work. Guaranteed I’m not posting about these on social media, perhaps I should but maybe some things are better lived in the moment than shared publicly. Thanks to all these online platforms we are constantly surrounded by other people’s successes and it is important to remember that just because others have success this does not lessen your own achievements. No one is publishing their failures so take your time and enjoy the journey. As you look up to others, I can guarantee there are others who look up to you. I think being a freelancer and more specifically an actor, you can constantly feel like you are in need of something from someone else, be that validation, or more literally, work. I have found so much inner calm getting involved with ERA 5050 and Time’s Up UK as it turns the focus from being something inward to doing something that benefits huge numbers of other people. And if you ever have moments of doubt that those around you seem endlessly busy I have always found it useful to know that by having successful friends you are by definition successful. There it is, I’ve figured it out: I believe my definition of success is being truly happy for those who succeed around you and surround yourself with those who want the same for you. Once you’ve found that tribe stick to them, they’re a rare breed.
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Jonathan Ford (main photo – @jonathan_ford_1), Heather Newman @changedmyfoodtochangemymood, Charlotte Harwood @flossyfaluvia