By Liza Dezfouli

Leanne Tonkes, producer of The Second, was drawn to the uncomfortable truths in the film’s central story.  “A lot of women find it hard to be happy about a friend’s success, to not be jealous,” she says. “It’s a thing. It’s an important story to tell. I really felt that this was a story not seen before.” Her role in The Second involved intense collaboration from the project’s early days. “I was creative producer as much as you can be,” she says.

Tonkes has experienced envy on the part of other women in her own working life. “I’ve made more male friends in the industry,” she notes. “At first I asked myself, ‘Am I not a good collaborator?’ But no, in our industry it’s natural for there to be competition for roles, there’s so much competition for women to break into film.” Rather than simply seeing this as how things are, Tonkes is doing something about it. “We accept it, and we help each other to achieve success where we can,” she says. Her production company, Sense and Centsability, focuses on female stories and creates content for female audiences worldwide; her passion. “Gender equality is my great focus throughout my career,” Tonkes continues. “It’s in vogue now and I have a head start.”

Mentorship and support has been a strong focus for MWFF 2019. Tonkes talks about how important getting support, from both women and men, has been in her professional life. “Sue Maslin (producer of The Dressmaker) has been a big support to me,” she says. I can call her, have a coffee. She provides me with assistance. I was able to pay her back: I introduced her to Kate Winslet’s agent, not an easy person to access. I was able to broker that relationship. That was nice. Ian Robertson (President of Film Victoria) has been a wonderful support as well as a good friend.” There have been many others and in turn Tonkes mentors young women producers when time allows.

Tonkes is well aware of how women can hold themselves back. “I’ve been guilty of not embracing every opportunity. I regret not having got into the film industry earlier. Women tend to think ‘I don’t tick all the boxes, therefore I can’t.’ Never look at an opportunity and think ‘I can’t do that.’ Look at it and work out how you can do it.”

The Second was filmed in a remote location with a small cast and the actors stayed with Tonkes during filming. “I relish that opportunity to be involved in that environment, to form long-term friendship with the actors, Susie and Rachael and Vince. We have a relationship now, separate to our involvement in a low budget production.”

The Second was a Screen Queensland (in partnership with STAN) initiative to produce feature films for under a million dollars. Tonkes was quite the asset. “I have a useful combination of skills,” she notes. I have a background in post-production; I bring a technical side to the producing role.” She was called on for more: Tonkes was the designated cast driver for The Second and was able to a step in when the sound producer got food poisoning. “Am I getting too old for low-budget productions?” Tonkes laughs.

And when she fancies a drink after work? “A dry martini. If I’m tired, an espresso martini. But they’re dangerous.”

Catch The Second at MWFF. Tickets here

Whitney Monaghan