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Humans are fascinating. We have this incredible capacity for creativity, resilience, and invention, and have been keen to dabble in technologies that improve our lives since we first started using tools. So, where is technology going to lead us in terms of what makes us human?

Joanna Beveridge is a producer, writer, and director with a background in nuclear medicine. Join us as we speak about attitudes towards trust and failure between STEMM and the creative industries, representation and stealth politics in film and television, and finding a balance with AI tools and the creative process.

About Joanna Beveridge

Joanna Beveridge is a producer, writer, and director based in Western Sydney. She has a double degree in Nuclear Medicine and Digital Media, and has worked as a Creative Producer/Editor for companies such as Network Ten, NBCUniversal, Warner Bros. and ITV Studios.

In 2020, Jo was selected for Screen NSW’s Emerging Producer Placement and Screen Producers Australia ‘Ones to Watch’. She’s produced two Screen Australia funded romcom digital series -- NO ORDINARY LOVE and SHIPPERS. She created the award-winning web series SYDNEY SLEUTHERS. She produced the Screen NSW Screenability funded short film MAGNETIC, which premiered at Sydney Film Festival. And Jo wrote and directed the award-winning short film THE TAKEDOWN OF MELANIE SPROTTLE.

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  • [23:20:00] Joanna's path to nuclear medicine coming from a STEMM family
  • [23:46:40] The almost movie-plot level reason for pivoting (despite actually being good at nuclear medicine)
  • [15:30:00] Finding her space and learning by doing
  • [06:50:00] Trust in STEM vs the creative industries
  • [21:10:00] The incongruity of entry-level positions that require experience with few opportunities for training
  • [00:23:20] The career pipeline problem
  • [13:03:20] The importance of and barriers to networking
  • [16:00:00] The value of proofs of concept - someone has to be first
  • [02:33:20] Bringing back the eight-hour day in the film industry
  • [14:06:40] 'AI in the TV and movie creation value chain'
  • [05:23:20] Segue: What is art? Why is art?
  • [18:13:20] The history and popularity of Schitt's Creek
  • [07:00:00] Stealth politics and audience psychology
  • [09:50:00] The PR of science and STEM in the media
  • [00:43:20] We love tropes (also, I said CSI when I meant NCIS)
  • [03:06:40] The Scully Effect and how the media shows us that we have the capacity for change
  • [06:13:20] What is the nature of the work we are asking AI to replace?
  • [00:20:00] What is scut work and what contributes to making you better at your craft?
  • [18:20:00] Moving the needle for representation and the power of narrative
  • [13:16:40] Our favourite sci-fis
  • [10:43:20] What advice would you give someone who'd like to do what you do, and what advice should they ignore?
Michele Ong

Humans are fascinating. We have this incredible capacity for creativity, resilience, and invention, and have been keen to dabble in technologies that improve our lives since we first started using tools. So where does technology lead us in terms of what makes us human?

Joanna Beveridge is a producer, writer, and director with a background in nuclear medicine. Join us as we speak about the attitudes towards trust and failure between STEM and the creative industries, representation and stealth politics in film and television, and finding a balance between AI tools and the creative process.

I'm Michele Ong, and this is STEAM Powered.

Good morning, Joanna. Thank you for joining me today on STEAM Powered. I'm really looking forward to having our conversation today. Like, there's so much that we're gonna be able to talk about.

Joanna Beveridge

I'm so excited to talk to you again. We had such a great conversation a few weeks ago. I just want to hang out again. It's exciting.

Michele Ong

I know, it's amazing. Like, still thinking all that stuff from the other time and hopefully we'll be covering some of that today. So, getting right into it, what's awesome about you, which is many things, but what's specifically awesome in this case, is that you started out in nuclear medicine before you moved into the creative industries.

Joanna's path to nuclear medicine coming from a STEMM family

Michele Ong

So, I would love to know why nuclear medicine, and you doubled with digital media, so what made you choose that combination?

Joanna Beveridge

They really came one after the other. So, you know, when you're leaving high school and your family is all academic and you think, oh, I've got to do that too. I had a sister doing medicine. I had another sister doing engineering. I was like, well, what am I going to do? The youngest of, of two, or three, sorry.

Michele Ong

Wow. That's a full STEM household.

Joanna Beveridge

Yeah, well, my mum's a doctor, you know, I've uncles who, um, do mathematics at university. Just a bunch of nerds. But we've also got some artists and singers and whatnot in the family, but I just, you know, you're 18, I had fairly good marks, but not doing medicine marks. So I ended up doing nuclear medicine 'cause it was sort of still in that patient sphere. I really liked working with people and I thought, Oh yeah, that could be a great medical job. And I started doing it.

But when I think back to how I was in high school, you know, I did three unit maths, physics, chemistry, all this stuff, 'cause my sisters did it, but it also did drama. So you can already see there's that balance of doing them both. I've always had a foot in both camps. And so I started studying nuclear medicine and it was really-- I was good at it. I actually was. And I won awards at the end of graduating and all that kind of stuff. I was like, Oh, I am good at this.

The almost movie-plot level reason for pivoting (despite actually being good at nuclear medicine)

Joanna Beveridge

What caused the pivot? I was thinking about this. 'Cause I was like, what, what really caused it? And I've thought about this many times because the film industry loves asking you about your life and why you do the things you do. And I feel like my reason was just so human and film-based that it's almost silly. But basically, university, first relationship heartbreak.

At the end of that relationship, I was like, hang on, if I can't even fall back onto the job that I'm working so hard to like do for the rest of my life, if this isn't kind of making me so excited to just be like, well, at least I have this, am I doing the right thing?

And so I look at, I look at that relationship, which is, it's nothing like, it was just first love relationship, you know, it wasn't, it wasn't anything necessarily special about that breakup or anything.

It just, was a really early realisation for me of, Oh, I need to at least have this thing I can control that I can fall back of in love. And I always knew I wanted to probably do filmmaking. So as soon as I graduated, everyone was doing their personal development years, PDY years, and I went and started following people around in film schools.

My friend was doing-- I was at Sydney film school and I went onto their sets and I just started exploring it as an option. I was like, well, could I actually do this? 'Cause I was still only, what, 20, 21 then or 22, I guess. Can't remember, I graduated 2009.

So 2010, I started just doing that. I went traveling as well. I was like, okay, I just need to work out if I'm going to make this pivot, if I'm going to change this, this is actually what I want to do. And after that year of fun, I was like, yeah, it is. And I haven't gone back.

It's, you know, I'm so grateful for that breakup now. I know it's odd, but I'm just like, Oh, thank you. Thank you for teaching me that lesson early because, there's not a lot we can control in life, but that's one thing, what we are doing and our actions and possibly can bring us joy. That is something we can hopefully try to control where possible.

And I was like, This is the rest of your life, girl. Have some fun, like.

Michele Ong

Yeah, no, that is an incredible kind of realisation. And yeah, it feels very filmy narrative sort of like, 'and then I had this pivotal moment.'

Joanna Beveridge

But yeah, that's it. That's basically it. I was just like, just do what you love.

Finding her space and learning by doing

Michele Ong

That's awesome. So when, when you actually did make that shift and you just started tailing people, what were you looking for that would give you that deciding kind of moment?

Joanna Beveridge

I think just purely that I was enjoying it and it excited me. Like, you want to get out of bed to go do the thing. Work isn't a drag. It's not like, Oh gosh, I just have to go do this thing. It's like, Oh, I want to go do this thing. And so finding that 'want' in what you're doing was really important when I was on set.

And I wasn't doing anything profound on set. I was just literally holding an umbrella so an actress didn't get sunburned. Just things like that, really odd things, and I was also doing acting as well. The first time I actually hung out with her on set was as an actress. I was like, okay, I'll just do this for you because it's a film school project and it'll be fun. And that was kind of my first exposure. Oh no, I enjoy this.

And so then I asked a lot of people what they did to get into filmmaking because I had no idea, which is probably why I ended up studying again. I did digital media after that. So, um, I'm definitely a learn by doing person, so, if I did it all over again, I probably would just go make stuff and work instead of doing another degree, if I'm really frank.

But I didn't know that I just gave it a go and I did it. That was, so that was what I was looking for, just that what's going to bring me joy. And it was doing that.

And I thought directing was what it was, it ended up being more writing. I still enjoy directing as well. And I do a lot of producing now. I used to hate editing, but my first job out of the industry was in promos. And I fell in love with editing through that.

And, um,

Michele Ong

Who would have thought?

Joanna Beveridge

It just happens.

You just, I was like, why is the thing I hate, you know, the thing I'm becoming good at? But I think learning all of the aspects that go into making filmmaking makes you a better writer and a better director anyway. So learning sound designing, learning all those things, even just, I'm not saying professional, it's a full job that a human person specialises in, but just getting an understanding of it--

Michele Ong

It informs you and it informs your process, informs the way you write, informs the way you think and imagine the scenes and the way they're going to play out. It's all very interesting for the engineering side of things.

Joanna Beveridge

Yeah. Sometimes just the process is fun. So. Like the art is fun too. But as you know, I do have a bit of a sciencey brain, so I wanna try and work out how it's all made.

Michele Ong

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's part of, you know, why I think I enjoy seeing like-- the film industry is great. But what fascinates me is the process of the creation of the art and how it gets done. And I mean, I had a chat with a stunt guy in Sydney and he was just telling me all about the engineering and the physics of setting up a stunt and it's like, man, just keep talking to me. I can keep listening to you for hours. This is amazing.

Joanna Beveridge

Stunts and pyrotechnics and all of that stuff. I just wanna make fun movies where things blow up and--

Michele Ong

Go boom.

Joanna Beveridge

--and Godzilla takes over the city, and Arwen's being chased by Ring Wraiths, you know? And just talking to those people is my favourite thing. And I'm just like, tell me more. Can we do this? How do we do this? Please?

Michele Ong

Yeah. It's all the cool stuff under the hood that you don't necessarily get the full impact of when you see it in its shiny glory at the end. And yeah, that's the cool bit.

Trust in STEM vs the creative industries

Michele Ong

So, we'll rewind a teeny bit because when we were talking earlier, when you were doing nuclear medicine, one of the big things that you noticed was the matter of trust in terms of the way people treat science and STEM versus filmmaking and the level of trust that you felt between those two things. Could you tell me more about that?

Joanna Beveridge

The industry, the film industry is going through a realisation that there's a lot of jobs that can't be filled. We keep saying there's a shortage of this role, that role, all that sort of stuff. But my exposure to the industry over the last sort of 10 years has been that you're so rarely trusted with a job because you know, there's not a lot of money, budgets are low, stakes are high, deadlines exist, all that kind of stuff.

But when I compare it to how I did nuclear medicine. You know, during, during our second year, I think we did a three-week placement in a hospital and that was very, just, you're just getting exposed, that's it. You're just getting into the environment. It was part of your course. It was part of your credits, all that kind of stuff.

And then in our third year we had three, six-week placements. And that was, you know, you were assessed. It was, again, it was a subject. So it was part of getting your degree and it exposed you to, this is what the job is and this is how you do it. But once again, it was in a learning capacity. So you were very much nurtured through it. But you know, I'm dealing with radiation and human beings. And I felt more trust from those hospitals and those people--

Michele Ong

As a student.

Joanna Beveridge

As a student, I felt more trust, that they were going to trust me to understand that responsibility, than when I've been given a note-taking job in a writers' room, which is an entry-level job. And I'm literally there just to try to like type as fast as I can, what all the human beings in that room are saying.

And that's a great way to get exposed to how a writers' room works, the process, what people talk about, how they develop stories. It's amazing. But if you don't know the right person, or if you don't do it well the first time, or your notes aren't amazing, or whatever it might be, you don't get a second chance.

You really don't.

The incongruity of entry-level positions that require experience with few opportunities for training

Joanna Beveridge

They will only invite back someone who's done amazing notes. Same with, you know, a runner job. Suddenly you have to have three credits on a show to even get an entry-level job. And I think, where's the, where's the learning? Where's the teaching? How are you bringing new people in if you're not even willing at entry-level to induct them in.

No, I had more training at my night-filler job at Woolies than I've ever gotten in the industry, it feels like, sometimes. Probably being a bit dramatic there, but, I felt like there has been no trust and, uh, someone else will only trust you if someone else has first, so finding that first person is so hard. And even the first year out of nuclear medicine is your personal development year. Hospitals and the universities work together to put you out there and get experience for a year.

I don't know what all the different bachelor degrees are doing in terms of filmmaking, but I certainly, to the best of my knowledge, haven't heard of them putting students on set for six weeks, which I think would be amazing.

Michele Ong

Yeah, an internship, some sort of thing. A lot of that seems to be self driven, though. So you have to go out and find a production who's willing to take you on, and take on the overhead of bringing in a person with no experience.

Joanna Beveridge

You wade into the ex-, you know, exploiting people with unpaid volunteer work. And I think the reason I like it from a studying perspective is that it was a credit. It wasn't you doing it for nothing, it's working towards that degree that, if our HECS conversations at the moment are anything to go by, you want to make that degree worth it.

The career pipeline problem

Joanna Beveridge

Um, So yeah, I just think there's a real disconnect between how we're studying film, and how we're getting into film, and the trust once you even get there and the opportunity to fail because we only learn from failures.

In any job, like I think about even just doctors stuffing up in their first years, you know. It happens. And those are human beings.

You know, this happens, but it's a budget, you know, Oh, the Excel line broke at that level. Whoops. Didn't notice. You know, and that's a really small thing. There's way bigger accidents that can happen obviously, but ideally there's still just like in any other place, there should be an infrastructure to work with you.

Michele Ong

Train, support, and it's basically pipeline development, which is a conversation I keep having a lot in several industries about being able to cultivate all that new talent to bring them in, coach them up at an industry standard that you expect.

Because so many times when I've been talking about this, people have been saying, yeah, so say the film industry in WA, I've been hearing, this is anecdotal, that, you know, we have people here who want to do this stuff, but they don't have the skills and experience because the volume of work available is much lower for the number of people looking for work. So you get people from interstate or internationally bring over projects, and they're more prepared to bring people with them than to accept local hires, because for the same price, you're getting a higher standard of product or skill and experience.

It's like, well, then how do we cultivate this? How do we ensure that we can get people skilled up at a world standard that people want to be able to have, and not just have people go away to get skilled up and never come back.

And this applies to so many industries as well, because we don't want brain drain, we don't want talent drain. We want people to be able to grow and cultivate respective industries, no matter which stream you're in. And it's that trust thing. Trying to give people the time and understanding and support to be able to grow their skills.

I dunno. It's a hard one, especially with budgets.

The importance of and barriers to networking

Joanna Beveridge

I mean, look, there's something to be said for apprenticeships and things like that, and actually structuring them into bigger budgets. There's a few that do happen. It feels very few and far between, and there's no, there's not often a call out to be like, hey, apply for this.

It's such a 'if you know someone you get it' kind of thing. So networking as a entrypoint makes it almost more inaccessible to a lot of people.

I don't just mean people who are awkward at networking or things like that, but you know, if someone has to be home 'cause they've got a kid, or they have to work two jobs 'cause life is expensive, or whatever it might be. There's so many barriers to even just being able to network, and even just knowing how to network is a whole other, whole other conversation that we won't get into.

It's a very bizarre world, but you know, you end up gravitating towards people that you click with and then they'll get you onto something and that's just how it ends up happening.

And so, I just don't think that if we're looking at our industry and saying there's a skill shortage, they've just announced some really great programs out of Screen Australia that I hope will help fix it, but you know, I just, we need to see that really proactive work from the whole industry, not just those few production companies that do get it and do an amazing job that are trying to create those entrypoints in and start letting people try and fail a bit more.

Michele Ong

Yeah.

Joanna Beveridge

Just a bit more.

Michele Ong

Just a little bit.

Joanna Beveridge

I wish I was the perfect human.

Michele Ong

I know.

Joanna Beveridge

I don't know what perfect is, but I've learned by failures a lot.

The value of proofs of concept - someone has to be first

Michele Ong

Yes, absolutely.

You have to get those first few in to demonstrate the proof of concept that it works. I mean, it's like the other conversation we're having the other day about budgets and scheduling and making sure that you can keep sensible hours for your cast and crew. And you don't have to work ridiculous hours with terrible cooldowns. And being able to demonstrate that, yeah, we can totally make this work and it can work in budget. Having those demonstrable cases of where it's worked and being able to share that with everyone and go, Look, example, let's do this more often.

Bringing back the eight-hour day in the film industry

Joanna Beveridge

Yeah. a big fan of, um, trying to bring back the eight-hour day in the film industry. I did it on my last project 'cause I was the producer. I thought, Ooh, I don't know if I can do it any other way now.

Just everyone was so much happier. You know, the first week they were like, yeah, the first week they were all really terrified that, Oh gosh, you know, they're planning for eight-hour days. It's going to blow out every day. And that you can just feel the jadedness from previous production and the exhaustion that first week. And in the second week they went, Oh, it can work. We can do this. They were so excited.

They would start talking about it. And they started talking about processes on other productions. And there was just really open conversations at lunchtime about what we can do to just--

Because filmmaking, everyone talks about the passion of it, and it's for the love of the art. But I'm like, yes, but it is, once you start working in it, also a job. And there will always be days where you might stay past that eight-hour day, like in any job. But I think if you start structuring in a more healthy way of what a day should look like, then you won't have 85 percent of the industry saying they almost crashed their car on the drive home or whatever, it was some obscene stat like that. They're like, yeah, cause I was just so tired and I was just shocked by this stat.

I thought, what is this? What are we doing to ourselves? Why?

Budgets and deadlines, but...

Michele Ong

Yeah, budgets and deadlines and people just assume, yeah, we're always going to run over. We're always going to be working longer hours. It's always going to be this way because that's always how it's been.

Joanna Beveridge

It's my least favourite saying, 'It's always been this way.' I'm like, 'So? Change it.' I refuse to believe just because it's always been this way it should be.

Michele Ong

Exactly. And you know, this is kind of leading towards the 'It's always going to be about the money'. 'It's always going to be at the bottom line'. It's always about getting people who are investing a return on their investment and a profit. And talk about how we can't do this within budget because all of these things which are nice and human and compassionate costs money. And they're looking at ways of cutting costs.

'AI in the TV and movie creation value chain'

Michele Ong

And we were in that seminar this morning about, brain. It was called--

Joanna Beveridge

AI in the TV and movie creation value chain'.

Michele Ong

Yeah. And that was a fascinating presentation about the state of the art for AI in this space. And one of the things that I-- one of the take aways I got from that presentation was 'this is how we save money'. And it's like, yay, because you know, we save money, but could we reshuffle some of that money to doing the stuff that you're saying costs too much, like making sure schedules stay on time and

Joanna Beveridge

Yes.

Michele Ong

Aw, such a juggle, but the way that they were talking about technology was effectively in the generative and discriminative AI stuff. And. It's all about the production and you know, this is how we get ideas. This is how we create treatments.

Segue: What is art? Why is art?

Michele Ong

I've got so many ideas and thoughts about this, because if you're using AI to create your treatments based on things that have worked in the past, that's how to make more of the same stuff in the future.

It's like, do we want more of the same? Is this going to create homogenous art? Are we going to be getting things that work, that are formulaic more than we have before when people were rehashing things that have been rehashed a dozen times and--

Joanna Beveridge

I same thoughts. It's just why I'm just giving you my oh my god, yes.

Michele Ong

Oh my god face! Yeah! And, you know, it's kind of making me think of Gattaca.

I don't know if you've seen that movie. Yeah?

Joanna Beveridge

I still haven't watched Gattaca. We talked about Gattaca a few weeks ago and I still haven't watched it. I'm terrible. I need to do it.

Michele Ong

Couldn't remember. Yeah, so Gattaca, it's basically, if they had CRISPR super advanced, and you could discriminate based on genetic traits that you don't want to create perfect human beings. And there was a point where they're in this society of lab-born people who have been genetically altered to perfection.

And before you have a relationship with someone, you can kind of background check them by taking some of their DNA, submitting it to the lab, and it can tell you, what their flaws are genetically and it gives you this profile, right? And part of it is also if you were God-born and not genetically thing in the lab, then you are lesser. And it's that how far do we push this line to using technology to solve all these problems and eliminate that randomness of human creativity and ingenuity, right? Like, this is the philosophical thing. Like, I, I will philosophise about this forever.

Joanna Beveridge

I think we all will.

Michele Ong

But yeah, if we're using AI to do this, yeah, cool. It's a starting point.

But if it's also being used to green light, and to make decisions about how we programmatically decide what's interesting and what's exciting and what plays well to the audience. Who are the audiences that we are using the AI to make these decisions on?

We have already seen that in psychometric testing, a lot of that is biased towards predominantly male, Western societies, ideologies, and psychologies. And all of these things, like if you have anyone who doesn't fit that mold, they automatically will fail or do poorly. And you see that with literacy, in terms of culture, in terms of idiomatic use of language.

So if we start doing that for AI, what does that say for the art that we create at the end? I don't know, different conversation.

Joanna Beveridge

Well, no, but, what, what was interesting from that talk as well, which feeds into exactly what you're just saying, is they were talking about the software that goes through script analysis.

And if you get pitched 10,000 scripts and you pop it through script analysis and it pulls out what's going to work for distribution based on what has worked in the past, it is going to be biased towards what the internet or however it's being fed knows has worked in the past because we know that most things that get made still skew heavily towards white, male experience.

Michele Ong

A specific demographic. Yeah.

Joanna Beveridge

A really specific demographic. We can say that instead. Very specific demographic. And so have you accidentally already knocked out something that won't work because it doesn't fit into what has worked.

The history and popularity of Schitt's Creek

Joanna Beveridge

So Schitt's Creek, they struggled to sell that story anywhere. They really struggled. People that they were pitching to were saying the audience doesn't want this, it doesn't have an audience. And they said the biggest thing they learned from that experience is that we don't know what audiences want at all.

Like, it blew up. They thought, okay, they went to Canada, and they just went and made the pilot episode. And it was a slow buildup. I think people kind of found it, maybe they found it earlier than I knew, but it was like around season three, like people were like, Oh my God, have you watched Schitt's Creek? And then it just sort of, it's blown up. It's a phenomenon now.

Michele Ong

But it has to survive those first three years. Or first four years, if you include pre-prod.

Joanna Beveridge

Don't get me started on canceling a show after one seasons. Okay.

Stealth politics and audience psychology

Joanna Beveridge

This is again, a whole other topic that-- I actually love talking about audiences in film, because it's something that our industry is constantly asking. Who is your audience? Who's your, what is your pathway to audience? And it turns a lot of creatives off.

They're like, no, it's my art. You know, story needs to be told and all that kind of stuff. And that's why quickly feeding into the AI conversation, you know, new stories need to be told. But then when it comes to important stories, one thing you and I talked about was stealth politics. And I just think that--

Michele Ong

Would the AI weed out stealth politics? How can we convey subtle messages? And subversive ideas...

Joanna Beveridge

I listened to this study on understanding voters, voters mentality and why this was specifically, they were talking about the Trump world, but they were trying to understand, you know, why demographics that are usually spoken poorly of by that particular group of people, why would you still vote for him?

And it was just a really interesting understanding of how humans think about their biases and shame and guilt and all that sort of stuff. And just because, this person says bad things about women, he still fed into a bias that they technically still have, and they didn't want to feel guilty about, whether that be racism, sexism, homophobia, whatever it might be.

And so as the second you start to understand audiences, you can actually work out how to feed them a message they might not normally gravitate towards. 'Cause if you're really overt with the message, then suddenly you typically only end up preaching to the choir.

Michele Ong

Yeah. Because no one wants to be beaten over the head about morality or ethics or your biases, but you can slip it in, give them an angle, let them kind of simmer on it for a bit.

Joanna Beveridge

Well, it's a great example I had when I was very, very, very first starting out in the industry. And it was from a queer screenwriter who was doing a class and I was sitting in it and she was talking about, this is back, what, in 2011, they basically had a character who they knew was going to be a lesbian, but they decided not to tell the audience until like episode eight or something.

And they said, the reason being is that we knew that it was sitting on a channel, which had a slightly older semi-conservative demographic, and we wanted to make those people fall in love with her first before we were like, and she's gay.

Michele Ong

And then it becomes okay, or people start going, Oh God, but I liked her.

Joanna Beveridge

Well yeah, and this is it. I feel like we can't easily sway the people who extremely love something or don't love something, you know? Like swinging the pendulum for those people, unless you're amazing at it, isn't going to happen, but you've always got like the swing voter or, or the person who just needed to hear the message in a different way.

The PR of science and STEM in the media

Joanna Beveridge

And I feel like that's where stealth politics kicks into filmmaking, whether it be about underrepresented experiences or even about technology, like bringing it back to science for a second.

I think we talked about this as well, the PR of science, you know.

I love that the film industry explores the morality of what new sciences could do or the ethics or how it could destroy society or whatnot, but I also love when they find ways to explore it and show how it can benefit or just make it a bit like, For All Mankind, does it, I think really well with space exploration. Just like, this is what we could be doing if we invested a bit more in space, if we didn't rely on wars to get us there, you know, like, or disasters or whatever finally makes us go, yeah, it's time to really put some backing into how to get up there.

And so I think there's a really important place for shows like For All Mankind, which manages to be entertaining, but also to the best of my understanding, they've pulled from genuine NASA theoretical technology that they would love to be able to make, but just haven't yet. And I think that's amazing as well.

I'd love to see more stories like that, rather than always the fear ones, the ones that are like, Oh, my god, Terminators are coming. I love the Terminator ones too, don't get me wrong. I love those too, like, give me a disaster movie, but sometimes I want to see what could happen and how it could be amazing and still show failures. Like, there's an episode where the gravity in the space station starts failing, just things like that. It's just, it's cool. I love it.

Michele Ong

It's cool. And it's, yeah, while we're building Skynet, we should be watching more stuff about Skynet, but we should also be seeing the opposite. We should also be seeing about all the cool stuff that we are able to achieve.

And yeah, it's again, back to PR and stealth politics, because a lot of mainstream media is still science is cool, STEM is cool, but then they trot out the trope because they're easy. It's an easy mechanism to convey those ideas.

So for

We love tropes (also, I said CSI when I meant NCIS)

Michele Ong

[00:30:21] [00:30:24] [00:30:27] [00:30:30] [00:30:33] [00:30:36] [00:30:39] [00:30:42] [00:30:45] [00:30:48]

Joanna Beveridge

That's such a good question.

Michele Ong

It's such a great question because, we see all these very cool role models for STEM and science. I mean, Star Trek is the perfect example of life that imitates art as opposed to art that imitates life. And all the inventions and the creations and the way that they go about space based on how Star Trek did it, original and everyone afterwards.

But then you also have like the common trope of deus ex machina of the all-in-one geek girl. Carter in SG1, who is like the scientist hacker engineer, and she can somehow pull out a last minute save with her combined skills of amazing STEM and, you know, CSI and Abby being the goth hacker chick who also happens to do engineering things when needed and all that stuff.

Like it's, it's nice, but it's not necessarily 'good PR for STEM' because it doesn't give you an idea of what the real possibilities are. Only that it is a useful tool to pull out for fancy tricks.

The Scully Effect and how the media shows us that we have the capacity for change

Joanna Beveridge

Oh, that's so interesting. 'Cause I, whenever I think about those characters as well, I think about the Scully Effect a lot and how much that character, in a good way, influenced so many women to get into science. And yes, then you like the realities of what that means hits you when you actually experience it.

But without a character showing it in a positive way, I think that if we constantly showed the struggles that happen within how females experience any workplace really, it would almost become a deterrent again. And so I think sometimes the place for film is to show what could be rather than necessarily always what is. And same with characters like Abby, you know, yeah, I I love them, yeah, but I just think as well, she's absolutely showing you that the person in the lab, doesn't have to be what we typically think a person in the lab is.

And I think there's something really important with that.

And I say this a lot when it comes to, um, people being like, Oh, that character wouldn't change though. And I think, whatever they may be, they maybe they're horrible at something, like they're a horrible bully. There's a great series that I watched called F4: Thailand, which is amazing based on the Boys Over Flowers series.

And everyone's like, that bully would not change. No, he'd still just be a bully. And I think if we keep showing that people can't change, no one will believe that they can. And so what will make them want to try? And I would like to think that we're trying to change.

I'd like to think-- if I think about the first 18 years of my life and the influences I had growing up and how you, how your parents or how your sisters or your, how your school friends act. If that was all that mattered and I couldn't evolve over the last 35 years to then unlearn the stuff that the biases of my environment taught me? If I didn't believe I could change, I would be very disappointed.

Michele Ong

How horrendous..

Joanna Beveridge

Because it was, you grow up with biases from your family, from your siblings, from your friends, from your school.

Michele Ong

Your influences from your immediate environment.

Joanna Beveridge

Yeah. The ignorances and all that kind of stuff. So I think that's why people love redemption arcs so much because we'd like to think that we can change, and if you show that people can change, then--

Michele Ong

People might be more willing to.

Joanna Beveridge

Yeah. You can evolve, you know?

And so I think it's important to show what could be as much as anything else.

So yeah, I don't know what this all comes to, but I just think, I think an important role that film has in, in the science land, is to sometimes frame the world and what they're trying to do in a 'what could happen way' and sometimes that can be positive and sometimes that can be negative.

Michele Ong

Yes, absolutely. And it's being able to come up with ways that are now going to be passing these AI checkers.

What is the nature of the work we are asking AI to replace?

Joanna Beveridge

I mean, back to back to that thing for a sec. We actually haven't debriefed enough about this. Just let me talk about some things. Firstly, I do love that they were differentiating between generative AI and discriminative AI.

One thing I think is interesting in the whole AI discussion, aside from the biases, is how it's sometimes going to take away some of our problem-solving kind of, you know, you, you develop that skill over time and trying to analyse a script, you learn from analysing, and then if we keep taking away those problem-solving elements and we just leave it to a machine to do, will we lose the ability to sort of do that a bit if it becomes second nature to just get a machine to do it.

I do like the idea of AI removing some cognitive load from us.

'Cause I think about, you know, some of the odd problem-solving stresses that we have to put up with, or how someone's doing 18-hour days on that one job, and I'm like, well, why, why, why are you busting yourself this much for a schedule or whatever it might be?

And so I'd love to work out how to remove the cognitive load without destroying our ability to problem-solve or to generate the answer ourselves, because otherwise we lose how to do research, all that sort of stuff. If it's already working out what the audience is, are you finding new audiences along the way, because, you know, sometimes when you start typing stuff into Google, you discover things along the way, and that discovery gets lost when we don't see the working.

So I don't have an answer for that, but that's what I've been thinking about a lot is how it can actually help streamline something without destroying our ability to research, and critically think, and problem-solve.

Michele Ong

Yeah. We wanna be able to do all the high-level stuff still, and get rid of the scut work. Some examples are, let's say, counting craters on a planet or the moon that was a grad student's job, it's like, right. One, two, three, you give them like these high-res images, like counting them.

And that might be a couple of years worth of work that would be contributing to their academic credits, but now computers, they can find them so much faster. These kinds of menial bits of labour can be taken away from the students where, you know, show them how to do it. This is how it used to be done. Awesome. Good to know. Now we can give it to a computer to take care of, and you can go do the stuff that's actually going to help contribute to advancing our knowledge a little bit further. That's cool. This is what we want.

You know, you don't need humans to be doing all this scut work when they could be helping to design other things, or implementing other stuff, or looking into other parts of the project.

And it's the same thing with film and television, and creative industries. It's getting rid of the scut work so that you can actually spend more time on the ideation, on creating those sleeper hits or those cult classics that may not meet the formula, or that might not play to all audiences, creating the next Schitt's Creek, which has a slow warm up and then catches fire like Season 3.

It's being able to have that ability to think outside the box and be able to, as you said, problem-solve and do all these things that aren't formulaic, that aren't homogenised bits of history and information and knowledge, and also understanding that audience is evolving. Audience taste is evolving. Our ideas of what we like to enjoy in different ways, or the way we like to think is evolving.

And we can't just look at the past to predict the future and expect that to change?

I dunno.

What is scut work and what contributes to making you better at your craft?

Joanna Beveridge

No, I don't know either. But I guess it, and then it comes down to defining what is the scut work and what is work that is training you to understand.

So I guess an example is a budget.

If I just put two documents together and be like, assign the price of this person's job from this document into this budget over here, and I never actually sort of sit down and look at the lines of budget, I might lose out on understanding the value of what each role is and all that kind of stuff.

Not that people are a monetary value, but like, just trying to understand where stuff sits and see that really big picture. But now that I've done it so many times, that to me is scut work. I'm like, I know where money moves and all that kind of stuff. I've moved money myself everywhere, and this is just the producer-brain on. So when someone's asking for more money for their department, I'm like, why does this department need this more than this department over here? Everyone wants more money in their department. Why am I prioritising here and here? But if I hadn't done that painfully slow Excel spreadsheet work of manually putting in those numbers, that I now want to be scut work because I don't want to doing it, it's so annoying, and you end up just using your old budgets anyway, to kind of start.

I guess what I'm trying to ask is how do we decide what the scut work is and where is it also learning? I don't know the answer to this. I haven't worked out in my own life what it is, but if I hadn't done a budget, sorry, if I hadn't done a schedule is another example. Just, I'm trying to give like the manual things of like the really formulaic, just time, maths stuff in the film industry that we have to do.

Scheduling is another one where it's like, you have to work out how many days you're filming here and here and all that kind of stuff. And I've done it literally, take a scene heading, paste it, count the number of pages that this is. It's-- we do it in eighths. So it's like one page and two eighths.

So you put that down next to it, and that typically equals this number of hours and blah, blah, blah. I've done that manually, and it takes a while. When you've got like 86 pages or 90 pages or 100 pages of script and you've gone through and you have to have done a script breakdown. Script breakdowns are so boring.

And they're not, but they are. Like you're trying to work out how many props you need. And now I'm like, great, can AI just do that? But what am I missing from my own learning if I hadn't already done it?

I just worry that if no one ever does it, I just don't know. It's too big of a thought. I feel like if no one ever does the learning there, am I just being like, old generation, that's how I did it, you know, at 35.

Is this genuinely a better way to teach people how to understand scheduling if they can just plug it in and check the work that the AI does? Or does it help to learn, what a production looks like if you sit down and do the schedule. So I don't know what scut work is, Michele. I don't know. It's too big of a thought for me.

Michele Ong

And it comes back to pipeline, right? Like, how do you get better people doing these jobs if they don't have an idea about what happens under the hood?

Joanna Beveridge

Yeah. Under the hood. That's it.

Michele Ong

Fine balance. It feels like you go, right, your first one's going to be manual. Have at it. Here are some of the guidelines and rules. Right. Now that you understand why this is a pain in the butt, here's the software.

Joanna Beveridge

No, but it's an interesting part to learn.

And I love that we're sort of thinking about it. I kind of want us to keep, I absolutely want us to keep working out how to use AI. I think it's amazing. If it can lead to more people doing the job that they want to do the way they want to do it, that would be great.

I think jobs evolve throughout history. So like jobs will disappear and other ones will be created because of it.

I'm trying to work out for my own productions where I would want to invest my time into understanding how it can be used effectively.

And it's like, we, we listened to that webinar this morning. I don't have the answer to these questions after three hours since it's happened. So, it's a whole thing you need to research to really come up with some more clarified answers than I've got.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. And everyone's situation is going to be a bit different because the stuff that you've identified is going to be different to the stuff that someone else has identified.

Joanna Beveridge

And then your biases kick in and your experience. Remember, that's the way it's always been done. No! I think that we can, we can do something amazing with it. I just-- we're going to make mistakes.

Michele Ong

And we need to be allowed to make those mistakes. Especially when all this stuff is new and we're trying to figure out how it works and where it doesn't work, we've got to fail a bit to be able to get there.

Joanna Beveridge

I mean, we don't want to like do what social media did to us and just break us. That was, that was one where I think people are talking about AI and not wanting to repeat their mistakes we made with the rollout of social media.

They just wanna kind of roll it out in a in a way that's not going to hurt us quite so badly.

Michele Ong

We're not gonna know until stuff starts breaking. We need case studies.

Joanna Beveridge

Well, isn't that, wait. That's the saying though, isn't it? I've got it written down somewhere cause I don't want to butcher it. I don't know if Oppenheimer said this but he certainly said it in the movie.

' They won't fear it until they understand it and they won't understand it until they've used it.'

Michele Ong

That sums up everything, to be honest.

Joanna Beveridge

I feel like that sums up humans so well. It's like, I don't know if that pot is hot. I'm going to touch it and find out, Oh yes, is. It's just this natural curiosity to try stuff.

But, um, yeah, I just think we just need to talk about the pros and cons, and research it. Critical think it, if you will.

Moving the needle for representation and the power of narrative

Michele Ong

Funny that. And it comes back again to the way that all of this stuff is represented in the media and not only proposing your Oppenheimers and your Skynets and trying to work that PR machine for STEM and the future and innovation. And trying to, I guess, move the needle on changing the way that we convey these ideas of change and tech.

So how do we move that needle?

We talked about how the Scully Effect was really important for our generation to be able to get people coming this way. Do we need another Scully? How would we convey it in this day and age. Would another Scully even work for us now?

Joanna Beveridge

I think we need way more Scullys. I always thought characters like Temperance in Bones was a really, sort of a new Scully as well. I feel like she really got people into forensic science.

Well, I think as well, as we're starting to understand humans a little bit more, we do need significantly more authentic representation of roles like that. You know, even just having the right vocabulary about how to talk about domestic violence or whatever it might be. If the people creating those stories are perpetuating the wrong information still, or not calling it out, then it still becomes very normalised.

And it's impressive how much story permeates into actual society and viewpoints. And sometimes it can be as simple as who's desirable on screen, who is a romantic love interest on screen, who can be framed that way. And it can completely change how a person feels about themselves. And even being able to, like we said, with Scully, being able to see yourself in a role.

I think that's why I love For All Mankind so much, 'cause it's like, well, hang on. Russia put a man on the moon first, maybe we should try and put a woman on the moon first. It's just a really interesting look at how, again, it comes back to what could happen and what could we try and what hasn't been done.

And if we're just focusing on jobs and work and all that kind of stuff for a moment, not even life experiences. Showing people who don't typically exist in that role, whether it be Abby from NCIS or whatever it is. I think it's just a really good way to show anyone can do something if they want to, they just need the hope that it's possible.

Michele Ong

Yeah, the hope that it's possible, and that it's not just TV.

Because a lot of people can still dismiss the fact that, oh, it only happens on television. It's not for real. Real life doesn't work that way. But if we have more of that representation, it's like, oh, well maybe actually it could happen, because they're normalising it, and they only really normalise the things that are normalised, so, maybe again, stealth politics.

Joanna Beveridge

Stealth politics.

And it might take a while. Sometimes change takes 10 years. Sometimes it takes 20. But if you just keep normalising this maybe it can just be okay.

There's always going to be knock back when you try to create change. And so it's just being willing to be the first to do it and to say it and to implement it knowing that you're going to have to suffer through the knockback of, This is how it's always been done though.

Michele Ong

I know.

Joanna Beveridge

Always comes back to that, doesn't it?

Michele Ong

It always does.

Joanna Beveridge

So the short answer is, I don't have the answers, it is fun to think about.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. And yeah, it's going to be cool to see where it all shakes out eventually and what it grows into and how it all kind of connects with everything else, because that's very shiny too.

Yeah, so that conversation went everywhere.

Joanna Beveridge

I know, we've covered a lot of topics.

Michele Ong

We did, editing is going to be fun. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?.

Our favourite sci-fis

Joanna Beveridge

Look, as film people, I feel like we should wrap up on our favourite sci-fis.

Michele Ong

Favourite sci-fis, gosh.

Joanna Beveridge

I don't do favourites. I'm really bad at favourites.

Michele Ong

Favourites are terrible.

Joanna Beveridge

I never have a favourite. I'm like, that was awesome. Like we've talked about, I talked about For All Mankind. At the moment, it's probably, in terms of accuracy, one of my favourites. But Severance was amazing.

Michele Ong

Ooh.

Joanna Beveridge

And I'm watching a time-travel show right now called Lovely Runner that has me in theorising land so strong.

I am just obsessed with this show, obsessed in an unhealthy way. I will watch the, you know, un-subbed livestream at 10pm at night, and then wake up at 3am to watch the subbed version on the streamer, that I can watch it on properly.

Michele Ong

Wow. That's intense.

Joanna Beveridge

I'm just 'give it to me now' So, I love sci-fi stories, even the ones that are more fantasy than sci-fi.

Michele Ong

See, time is an interesting one, like, it hurts, because it depends on how you're playing the rules. And there's so many things, even the way Marvel did it, it's like, yeah, I see where you're going with that, but, so many inconsistencies, we'll just roll with it. But time is hard, like, time is a super hard one to do.

It's fun, but it's hard.

Joanna Beveridge

There's one I watched last year, which had, I think it was more like a causal loop theory. And so there's just no actual starting point because it's like a causal loop. It's like where does a circle start? You can't actually pinpoint where a perfect circle starts and watching the fandom try to get their head around and try to actually solve where it started was the most satisfying.

I did it too. I did whole videos on it. I did like a spreadsheet on a piece of paper with some connector pens of different colors and I'm like, okay, if I had to pinpoint a starting point, this is where I think it is. I spent like five minutes drawing this thing and putting it up on a TikTok and I was like, that's my theory, take it or leave it.

You know, it just, it's just fun though. It's fun watching people nerd out over this stuff. Whenever, if I'm going to post online in that whole sphere it's usually going to try to feed into sort of the more positive, fun angles of things. I don't want to try to feed into negativity. And so I'm going to do nerdy, like, breakdowns of how characters time-traveled in a story.

Michele Ong

Aw.

Joanna Beveridge

And I just love it. It's so-- that's the kind of stuff I want to do. I'm trying to plan a time-travel one right now and I'm like, plotting it and I'm like, oh gosh, I got to come up with the, with the twists and turns--

Michele Ong

And it has to be kind of clever, but you know, not too formulaic, and you want it, I don't know. Like, yeah, I know what I just said about time-travel stuff, but The Arrival I thought was actually really clever in the way they did it.

Joanna Beveridge

That was a cool movie.

Michele Ong

And the way they did the loops and the linguistics, like, Ooh, very nerdy. I like this. This is great.

Joanna Beveridge

I need to rewatch that, that was a great movie.

Michele Ong

I know. It was such a good movie and the way that they approached time and closing the loop, it was just very clever and I really enjoyed that. Let's see what other ones. I know I mentioned Gattaca, Gattaca is one of my favourites because it is talking about, you know, the utopian society, but also why you need that kind of element of uncultivated perfection in order to kind of make things work, to make things more interesting. So that was very cool, I did like that. I think those two are the notable ones at the moment, just in terms of the way they approach science.

Yeah.

Joanna Beveridge

Anyway.

Michele Ong

That was cool.

Joanna Beveridge

Well, thank you. It's fun nerding out about this stuff.

Michele Ong

It is! Always a pleasure to chat with you. But yeah.

So, one last question for you before we go.

What advice would you give someone who'd like to do what you do, and what advice should they ignore?

Michele Ong

What advice would you give someone who'd like to do what you do, and what advice should they ignore?

Joanna Beveridge

In terms of advice of what to do if-- What? How to get into filmmaking. How to get into filmmaking. Oh my gosh. If I knew the answer, I would be successfully doing it very well.

No look, I think that--

Michele Ong

We would have solved those problems.

Joanna Beveridge

I think we've already established that the entrypoints into filmmaking are very obscure and hard to navigate.

One thing I think, if I was doing it over again is I would, I'd probably actually just look at the job before the job I want, as in, oh, I wanna be a writer, look at just working with a production company first. Sort of getting in that way rather than trying to be a writer straight away.

I think as well from the networking side of things, it's really important to be-- okay, this is from my fangirling side of things.

I always say be shameless about what you love because I've gotten so much further in my networking by just talking about the shows I love and, and stopped worrying about what people think in terms of the shows that I love. And I found my people so much faster. 'Cause I used to think that you'd see what film schools do and they're like, Oh, like people, sorry, people at film schools and they're like, Oh, I love-- whoever it might be, Tarantino or Christopher Nolan, all those kinds of people, those people are amazing. But you feel like you have to like those types of movies and those films. And when you kind of love rom-coms and coming of age dramas and all that kind of stuff.

Michele Ong

It's not sophisticated enough.

Joanna Beveridge

Yeah. There's a lot of shame that gets thrown at you when you talk about that sort of thing.

And, the people who shame you aren't your people. And so I always say that my number one rule is to be really shameless about what you love because you find people so much faster.

What advice to ignore? That's a way harder question. I don't know. What advice was I given? I'm going to have to think about this for a moment because I don't know the answer.

Michele Ong

You can't change because we've always done it this way.

Joanna Beveridge

No, no, I know. I trust you. I'm just trying to, I'm just trying to think of what I would ignore...

Michele Ong

No, no, as in like that.

Joanna Beveridge

Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh my gosh, Michele, we're rolling with that. Okay. The number one in all seriousness, the num-- you're right. I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner. The number one piece of advice everyone should ignore is it's always been done this way.

Michele Ong

Nailed it.

Joanna Beveridge

But we've talked about it so much and it's true.

If you're experiencing something negative or something bad and someone says, Oh, but it's always been done this way.

No. No. Ignore that. Maybe don't ignore it. Maybe problem-solve it. Just be like that. 'Cause that's what I did. I did that with Shippers, the web series that I made. And I was like, okay, 10-hour days. It's always been done this way in the film industry. No. Other industries can do eight. Let's see how it's done. Great. Amazing. I'm so glad ignored that information.

Michele Ong

Exactly.

Joanna Beveridge

Thank you.

Michele Ong

You're welcome.

Joanna Beveridge

I'm so glad you reminded me because that is literally it. Oh gosh.

Michele Ong

Absolutely. And you learn so much from ignoring that advice as well. Like you, you have to problem-solve. You have to figure out how to make it work. And how to make it work for you because it's going to work different than everyone else, but at least you can see for your situation what can be done to improve the environment that you're in and the people who are around you.

Joanna Beveridge

So true. It will absolutely work differently for different people.

Michele Ong

Yes, absolutely. Cool.

So thank you so much, Joanna, for joining me today. It's been so amazing speaking to you about your journey, about creative industries, technology, stealth politics, we've covered a lot of ground.

So yeah, it's been really great having you on.

Joanna Beveridge

It's been a lot of fun. Thank you for having me. I love talking about this sort of stuff and trying to figure out what to do with it all.

Michele Ong

Yeah. There's so much that we can work with this and you know, it's not all terrifying. It's not all Skynet. We've got, For All Mankind kind of level good stuff coming, and yeah, looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Joanna Beveridge

Yay!

Michele Ong

Cool. So, Thank you again, and I hope you have an amazing rest of your day.

Joanna Beveridge

Thank you. You too.

Michele Ong

If you enjoyed this conversation, please let me know. Subscribe to this show, leave us a rating, and share this with your geeky or geek-curious friends. You can also support STEAM Powered on Patreon under steampoweredshow, the link for which will also be in the show notes. Thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you next time.

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