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March 29, 2023

Screenworks’ new CEO hits the ground running

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Screenworks CEO Lisa O’Meara. Photo David Lowe.

Lisa O’Meara is the new CEO of Screenworks, the Ballina-based screen organisation with an increasingly national outlook. She sat down with The Echo to talk about where Screenworks is heading.

Coming from her role as National Manager for Careers and Enterprise at SAE, Ms O’Meara recently took over at head office from previous Screenworks CEO Ken Crouch (she did a week’s comprehensive handover to ‘download his brain’). Mr Crouch has moved to a new role at Screen Australia.

Ms O’Meara paid tribute to her predecessor’s financial and organisational acuity, which has helped the not-for-profit charity grow from its Northern Rivers origins to assist screen creatives right across regional Australia.

In the past, Lisa O’Meara was involved with Screenworks as an Events and Marketing Communications Manager, following marketing roles involving the Nine Network, SBS and the games industry.

She said her recent experience at SAE means she’s well-placed to build connections between regional film-makers and creative industry leaders.

Screenworks CEO Lisa O’Meara. Photo David Lowe.

Did the new Screenworks job come as a surprise?

‘Yes, it was a complete surprise,’ said Ms O’Meara.

‘I’ve loved Screenworks from the day I started working here, I really believed in what they do. I love working with creative people. And I understand the challenges of living in regional areas, and how important it is for people to be supported in their creative practice, but also to be connected to an industry and to opportunities.

‘Right from its inception, that’s what Screenworks has been doing.’

While she was working in the education sector, Lisa O’Meara also started a Masters in Business Administration. ‘That’s given me a much stronger understanding of how to operate a business, which I think is really important now with Screenworks operating at the level that it does,’ she said.

Ms O’Meara says good business principles are important for any organisation, including charities and not-for-profits. ‘That way you’re going to have much better outcomes for everyone involved; for your key stakeholders, and for the charitable work that you’re doing for your members; it just makes so much more sense to be able to bring a business understanding and a business perspective to the organization.’


Screenworks has strong connections with Ballina shire in 2023. Its office is in River Street and its major annual event, the Regional to Global Screen Forum, is becoming an institution at the Lennox Head Cultural Centre.

Lisa O’Meara said Ballina Shire Council has been ‘really supportive’ of Screenworks as it continued to grow, and is one of the sponsors of the regional to global conference. ‘Our roots are very much in the Northern Rivers community,’ she said. ‘That’s where we started. That’s where our founders are.

Regional to Global Screen Forum. Photo supplied.

‘But yes, we are national. We’re taking what we’ve done effectively here and rolling it out for other people and other opportunities around NSW and Australia.’

Speaking about the Regional to Global Screen Forum (which is happening from 30 March-1 April), Ms O’Meara said Screenworks would once again be using the event to bring together key screen industry decision makers and people who are doing ‘really interesting and progressive things within the industry’ to create connections and opportunities for regional film makers who attend the event, both in person and online.

Ms O’Meara said the Lennox Head event would include a series of panel discussions, workshops, roundtables, one on one meetings, case studies and networking events to help attendees grow their careers and projects.

What about screen production around Ballina and the Northern Rivers? That seems to have slowed down a lot since the pandemic?

‘Yes, there was a huge growth in screen production over COVID. The region set a really good standard and had a good infrastructure of support for production,’ she said.

‘At one point there were two big international productions and three strong national productions happening simultaneously in the region. We were struggling to find crew accommodation and support everything that happened with those productions.

‘But that has quietened down a bit post-COVID. The restrictions around travel have been removed. Production has spread out and is happening more in the metropolitan centres as well.’

Ms O’Meara said she would like to see Screenworks’ membership continue to grow. ‘That’s what helps support Screenworks to deliver the programs; the more people that we have as members, the more we are able to cater to the needs of those diverse communities.

‘Building up our membership helps with our stability, it helps with our relevance,’ she said. ‘I love how strong the team here at Screenworks is. We’re very fortunate to have so many great people supporting the programs that we do, caring about our members and supporting them.’

Screenworks CEO Lisa O’Meara. Photo David Lowe.

New direction

With six staff, as well as casuals, Screenworks is now also offering an attachment program, funded through Netflix.

‘Screenworks traditionally has been very supportive with above the line screen practitioners and creatives,’ said Ms O’Meara. ‘So we’ve got career pathway programs that support directors, writers and producers. But when those big productions came to this region, it just highlighted to us how much we need to support that skills gap in terms of below the line workers.’

‘Below the line’ workers are the people who actually do most of the nuts and bolts work of screen production – the long list of names you see at the end of every film. There aren’t enough skilled people to do many of these jobs around Australia and globally.

‘These are the real jobs that exist now,’ Ms O’Meara explained, ‘working in production offices, the people who do lighting, sound, costumes, hair and makeup, art department; all those jobs, camera assistants, post-production…

Multi-award-winning screen directors Daina Reid (The Handmaid’s Tale, Romper Stomper) and Kay Pavlou (Race to London, Who Do You Think You Are) were the special guest presenters for Screenworks’ 2020 Online Directing Intensive. Image: Screenworks

‘When I first started at Screenworks, we were focusing on how do we support our region to generate its own stories? That’s a really long journey. And in my time here, I’ve probably seen hundreds of people go through our programs, and maybe 10 of them go to that next level where they’ve generated their own stories that have had large audiences.

‘So there’s a big step between emerging creatives and where all the jobs exist, which are below the line,’ she said.

‘What Screenworks needs to do is find that balance, where we continue to support those key creatives and help nurture those stories from regional areas, but also set up skills within people in regional areas, so that they can help fill that jobs shortage, and have greater employment opportunities.’

Ms O’Meara says a greater focus on attachments and other opportunities, such as the Career Pathways Program, will provide all-important on the job training.

She said there are also large numbers of skilled people needed to fill animation and visual effects roles, both in Australia and around the world, including the Ballina-based visual effects company Cumulus VFX, who are doing ‘incredible work’.

Screenworks CEO Lisa O’Meara in front of a photo of the creek below Protesters Falls, by Dallas Nock. Photo David Lowe.

Regional to Global

Lisa O’Meara is looking forward to seeing many established screen workers and newcomers to the industry at the Regional to Global Screen Forum at Lennox Head later this month. This will be her first major event as CEO.

The event will be streamed, as for previous years, including online interactive sessions, but she urges people to attend in person if possible, because ‘screen content is all about collaboration. And it’s those incidental moments that happen when you meet with someone and you make that connection, or you find there’s an area of common interest, that make the difference.

‘There’s so much that can be uncovered in a face to face conversation or engagement,’ said Ms O’Meara, ‘and we’ve seen some really fabulous things come out of that in the past.’

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