Interview: Jess Scully teases VIVID Ideas 2016 lineup and talks House of Cards and Jenji Kohan

This year’s upcoming VIVID is set to be Sydney’s biggest yet. For VIVID Ideas, in particular, it’s hard not to call this year’s lineup their most ambitious effort with over planned 180 events and over 400 unique speakers including the House of Cards writer Beau Willimon and Orange is the New Black showrunner Jenji Kohan. 

We caught up with the curator of VIVID IdeasJess Scully, to talk about bringing the festival’s impressive roster together.

This year’s VIVID has a huge lineup. What are you most excited for yourself about it? 

I’m really excited about Beau Willimon.  Beau is a really interesting guy. He was a playwright, he worked on political campaigns and then he was tagged by David Fincher (whose work I love) to adapt House of Cards. There was an 80s, British version and they “Americanized” it. Beau really made it his own, you know. I think he really changed the dynamic of the show and turned Claire into a true equal and partner for Frank.

I think he’s created some of the most compelling – some might say terrifying – characters on TV so I’m really excited and the kind-of big upside for me is that conversation is gonna be hosted by Leigh SalesThat [one] I’m really excited about but I could go on and on. How many do you want?

Alright, well, let’s jump over to Jocelyn Moorhouse then. Her addition to the lineup to sort of put Australian film to front and center of this year’s event. Do you feel like it’s been a big couple of years for the local film industry?

I think it has. I mean when you look at a film, you know. The Dressmaker is a beautiful film and obviously in a totally different to something like Fury Road but I think, you know, the past few years have been remarkable because I think we’ve seen the craft of Australian film being honed and we’re seeing interesting work coming out of all different sorts of flavors and scales so it’s not just blockbusters. It’s not indie urban dramas, which we’re very good at, but it’s also kind-of this other genre of storytelling as well.

So yeah, I think it’s an interesting time in Australian film. I think we don’t make as many films as we used to in Australia but we have also still got some of the most highly-skilled film workers and craftspeople in the world so it’s a question of how can people ply their trade here and everywhere [else] in the world? 

What can we do about building art and supporting a local content industry – whether it’s in music or film or television – and I think you’re also seeing [that] in addition to Australian film there’s also Australian TV in the moment as well. So I think it’ll be an interesting discussion about all of those things.

Absolutely. A more general question, what’s it like being the curator and organiser of the event on the scale of VIVID Ideas?

What I curate is about 180 events that are all about tapping into Australia’s creativity and and I mean, that’s where the creativity you see on display VIVID lights and VIVID music so we’re all about the business and the craft and the discipline and the passion behind actually making creative work and making it into a career or a business.

So it’s exciting to work on an event that I know reaches a really big audience and I hope changes the conversations about creativity in Australia and helps us realize that we’re an incredibly creative country and we have very high-skilled people, we’ve got great opportunities here and we need to start to recognize those as much as we do some of other areas so it’s exciting.

I mean it does [involve] working with an incredible number of people – not in our team, I do wish there were more people in our team – but we work with at-least 150 different event owners. People come to us and say, ‘Look I wanna put on an event in or for my sector’ which might be the design sector or filmmakers who want to put on an event or educators or buisnesses.

So the process involved having conversations with all of those people. We have a call for expressions of interest in August and September of every year then between September and December I go through all of those applications as well as having conversations with a whole bunch of other people and that’s how the program is developed in addition to the events I curate directly as well.

Beyond those expressions of interest, were there any additions to this year’s program that you’re really proud to make happen?

There’s a bunch of events that are about creative education and creativity and education that I’m really proud of and glad that we’re able to have in the program. For example, there’s an event called The Creative Careers Day on June 4 which is all about giving students and people of all ages who are considering creative areas (or shifting their careers or developing creative skills) an opportunity to go somewhere and ask questions from those people in those fields.

I think that’s going to be really interesting. Then, in the more fun and kind of entertainment, rather than education side of things there’s an event called Robo Wars which I’m really excited about.

 Nothing wrong with that. It’s a classic

No! Coming together and gonna battle their robots – it’s gonna be great. So I’m interested in that and I’ve collaborated with Sydney University on a really interesting event which is called “Do Good, Be Good”. It’s a conference and also a keynote conversation which is about how artists, designers and creative people are actually making social, political and environmental change – how do you do that?

So that’s something I’m really passionate about as well so I’m really, really pleased to see that one coming to life too.

Is the process of developing these talks and programs is very dynamic or do they often pretty much go hey do you wanna do a keynote or do they say ‘hey we want to do a thing’ and then you talk with them and go back and forth sort of organically?

People come to us with their ideas and then I work with them to refine those ideas to make sure that it’s a really audience-centered offering and something that is really about what the audience going to take away from that. How do we kind of give audience a value for their time and making sure that each event is kind-of standing in its own sort of clear patch and there’s not another event duplicating what they’re doing so trying to cover the field in that way is really important.

Then you kind-of go ‘oh we don’t have enough gaming events’ and then you talk to people who are putting on gaming events and they present themselves or we need more in classical music, for example, so we talk to people on that front so it’s kind-of seeing where the gaps are and then finding the right people to fill them as well as working with those people who come to you with ideas too.

Something I noticed about the VIVID ideas lineup there’s lots of major talent by like female filmmakers, female directors, writers and that sort of thing. Is this something you sort out or something you sort of developed organically?

I mean, it’s something that I’m really conscious of. If we want to see a different sort of industry, whether it’s the broader creative industry or filmmaking, you have to actually kind of seek out those voices that, you know, haven’t been heard properly.

One thing I was fascinated by was a woman like Jenji Kohan, who’s the creator of Orange is the New Black. She was the creator of Weeds and she’s worked on pretty much every iconic TV show. She was a writer for many, many years. Her first gig was on Fresh Prince of Bel Air (which I love) but from there through to Friends through to what she’s doing today.

You know, she is so interesting because the universe that she’s created with Orange is the New Black is one where women, in particularly diverse women of colour and pretty women and trans women, have a voice and they are represented on screen and they have kind-of complex characters, you know.

They’re not a sidekick in a story.  So I wanna hear about how does she get the power to do that? How does she actually build the thought of support network and then the talent she needs around her to make that happen.

So I think the conversation with Jenji and Josh Thomas [will look at that]. He is a young Australian TV creator, having a conversation with this quite established female TV creator who has totally made up her own rules, really. So yeah, I think that’s gonna be [exciting].

Alright, well thanks for your time. Looking forward to the festival.

The VIVID Ideas festival will run from Monday the 23rd to Sunday the 29th of May.  You can find out more on the VIVID Ideas website.