Rosemary Reed: ‘I am revolutionising the way the TV and film industries treat women’

Next in our Women Who Win series is Rosemary Reed, award-winning director and producer. Emily Maddick sat down with Rosemary to hear how she's changing the status quo for women in film and television

It still defies belief that at this year’s Golden Globes, BAFTA’s and Oscars there was not one female nominee for Best Director. Not one. Meet Rosemary Reed, the award-winning director and producer on a mission to change this.

‘I work with so many cool women in the industry, who agree that it’s very hard for women to get their work commissioned,’ says Rosemary. ‘To this day the industry still doesn’t invest in women. But I am going to change this, it is my job to change it.’

Our Women Who Win interview series celebrates strong and inspirational female trailblazers, shaping the future for us all, and Rosemary is most certainly one of them. Her phenomenal ability to connect the planet’s most powerful and inspirational female leaders on her Sky Arts show, The Power of Women, and her refusal to let anyone or anything stand in her way is nothing short of extraordinary.

Rose McGowan, Laura Dern, Jane Goodall, Baroness Helena Kennedy, Mel C, Ruby Wax, Joanna Lumley, Gloria Allred, Gina Miller, Sharleen Spiteri and Twiggy are just some of the incredible women Rosemary has directed on her show.

Emily Maddick sat down with Rosemary to discover how tough you have to be to be one of the current, shocking, 8% of female directors to get their work commissioned and how she’s changing the status quo for women in film and television through her production company, POW TV, and mentorship schemes with Aston Martin, Soho House and The Ned.

Talk us through your journey 

I’ve done so many things! After leaving school at 15 in London with no qualifications, I started off working with horses, training to be a stunt rider. But I’ve run clothing boutiques, I’ve owned a pub, worked in nightclubs and consulted governments. Before becoming a TV director and producer in 2012, I had been running my own management agency, representing some really great, high-end, diverse talent, from Bill Wyman to Emilia Clarke.  With most management agencies nowadays, because of the talent they have on their books, they often get approached to do production too, which is what happened. But it was my friend Stephen Fry who helped me create my very first TV show, by appearing in Living the Life. It was an idea I’d had for years: two powerful, high-profile figures having a one-to-one conversation with no editorial intervention. We did two pilots, took it to Sky and they wanted it.

We got big talent, household names from all round the world and it ran for four seasons. But then a few years ago, I was running another company specialising in virtual reality, with my daughter and we went through something really bad with a firm who invested in us. They turned out to not be pro-women at all and I took them to the High Court. I am passionate about women in business and mentorship and the way we were treated made me think about women’s stories and the fact that we are just simply not given the same recognition as men.I wanted to know more about the women who are at the very top of their game and how they got there, which is how The Power of Women and my production company, POW TV came about.

What is the boldest thing you’ve ever done?

Going on set and directing for the first time, never having directed before! I was directing Robin Gibb and Leslie Phillips, Stephen Fry and Bill Wyman for my first show Living the Life. It was all about the bluster!

What decision changed your life?

To become a director and producer. It changed my whole life for the better. I had no money, but I believed in it. We got the funding, but in the early days I would spend more on an episode than I would on a whole series now! Nobody teaches you in production, so you have to learn from your mistakes. So, imagine facing that as a woman? It was an unbelievable journey, but it toughened me right up.

What has been your proudest moment?

Having my daughter Corrina when I was 20. Work-wise it was getting copies of The TimesThe TelegraphThe Guardian and The Radio Times and every one of them reviewing my first show, Living the Life, and saying it was one of the best shows on TV.

What do you refuse to compromise on?

I don’t compromise on friendship and my loyalty to friends. And I never forget people who have been good to me along the way. 

What has stopped you from progressing further?

Nothing. Even when I came up against real bullies. I agree with what the attorney Gloria Allred always says: ‘power only understands power’.

What is your superpower?

The ability to keep going under pressure.

What is your mantra?

Be positive and don’t think you can’t achieve what you want.

When was the last time you felt discriminated against?

When selling my show, The Power of Women to commissioners. I really had to go hardball, even when a couple of them were my friends. But because I went that extra mile and made sure I got in front of people and had eyeball conversations, I got that deal done. It’s very hard for women, but we are going to change this.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

To listen. Which is something I have learnt to do more through directing.

What’s been your biggest mistake?

Caring too much what people think. When I started out, I was very insecure in my own skin and about my background. I felt inadequate because I didn’t speak properly, but over time I grew in confidence and now I think ‘f*** that!’

How can we all ask for more?

Have confidence in your self-worth. If someone’s not prepared to give you what you ask for and you’ve worked hard for it and deserve it – then they’re never going to give it to you, so leave.

How do you celebrate success?

I always want more. So, I just think about what I could achieve next. But I also think success is just being happy and having my friends and family with me.

What should women always do?

Stick together and help each other out. If everybody helped each other a little bit more, wouldn’t everything just be so much easier?

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