Small Screen Sirens: Behind the Lens with Sarah Lennon Galavan

“I believe that one way of changing people’s perceptions and views is by influencing what they watch and see in the media.”

Mary Hartnett talks to Trinity Film Studies graduate Sarah Lennon Galavan about the realities of working in the Irish TV industry and her aim to create programming with “a feminist drive”.


I sat down with former Tn2 Film Editor of and chair of DU Film, Sarah Lennon Galavan, to discuss gender roles in television and her take as a woman working within the industry. Having completed a TSM degree in English Literature and Spanish in 2011, Galavan continued on in Trinity to do a Masters in Film Studies, finishing up in August of 2016. A job as a production assistant in the independent Irish television production company Red Shoe Ltd was Galavan’s next step of her career path, a job which has enabled her to see behind the lens of the television industry and gain an insight into what the inner workings of this, sometimes impenetrable industry is really like.  

With this insight, Galavan has noticed aspects of the industry where there are gender specific divides – sometimes with a bias towards women and sometimes against. Galavan and I discussed whether this bias is the fault of the industry, or if the blame lies on our society, which encourages men and women to develop specific skills and talents in accordance with their gender-identification.


On a day to day basis, what does your role as a Production Assistant entail?

As a production assistant, there are two types of roles you can have; you can either be somebody who is on set or you can be someone who is in the office. However, as I am in a small company I have found myself getting the best of both worlds. On some days you go out and shoot and assist the producers as well as the camera crew on set. I have travelled around the country, shooting in various different locations for an Irish language programme called Imeall, which allowed me meet some interesting characters. I have also done production work in the office which includes scheduling, talking to people in the PR world, managing social media and doing development work for new projects.  In other countries, such as America the roles are much more defined, however as Ireland has such a tiny scene you have a lot more freedom to learn a more things. Working in a small company has given me the best experience I could get; you are not putting all your eggs in the one basket.


Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh  and Tristan Rosenstock, co-presenters of Imeall
Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh and Tristan Rosenstock, co-presenters of Imeall.

Do you see any gender specific divide in the television industry?

The interesting thing about production is that generally, production staff are mainly women and crew staff are mainly men.  I believe women are often streamlined into certain roles, with men being encouraged from an earlier age to try out the more technical side of things. In my experience, there are a lot of women editing, however, when it comes to filming and sound engineering, men are definitely in the majority.

A lot of skills that would be valued in production roles would be things that women are ‘traditionally’ good at. Thing like being personable, being organised. That is not to say there aren’t men who possess these traits, but when you are dealing with actors, the press, and PR companies you need to come across as very ‘nice’ – and women are stereotypically viewed as fitting this role.


As a woman going for a technical role, would there be a bias present?

I’m not sure if there would be a bias from employers themselves. However, there isn’t the same support and encouragement from the beginning for women to get involved with the technical aspects of production. When I went to college, a lot of guys in the class had been making films from a very young age, and I did not see the same with my female friends. The bias comes from a grassroots level, beginning with parents encouraging their sons to grab a camera. It’s also true that women don’t have the same role models or confidence as men; I know a lot of men that would have the confidence to think that the things they produce are excellent; they believe in their talent. A lot of girls who are equally talented would not have that confidence. As a society we need to support female film makers and provide more encouragement for women in this industry.

I think men and women also tell very different stories; I love lots of female filmmakers whose stories are very intimately female. There’s definitely space for women filmmakers but we need to see a grassroots change. In my own company, we would love to hire more women for tech-specific roles, but they aren’t applying. You can definitely see that there is a gender divide within roles.


Have you, or any of your colleagues, come across gender discrimination in your career?

I haven’t personally, but I think it is a bit engrained. As a woman you have to work harder. For women in senior roles, it often comes back to the idea that if you’re a man you’re a boss, if you’re a woman you’re a bitch. That idea is significant for women in powerful roles, who often have to look at their language as they strive to not to be considered a bitch. There is a carefulness that women have taken on around how they are perceived.


What are the benefits of being a woman working in the television industry?

Being someone in the production industry means that you can create programmes that have a feminist charge behind them. It gives you a lot of power in influencing minds, and I believe that one way of changing people’s perceptions and views is by influencing what they watch and see in the media.  I think there has been a lot of progress within the industry in recent years, for instance gender blind casting and putting female role models at the top of the pile. However, there’s always room for improvement!


Finally, who is your female TV role model?

Buffy, without a doubt!


Keep an eye out for Red Shoes Productions’ work with TG4, including their current work on Hup! – a previous favourite on Harty’s TV Highlights  – and Imeall – Ireland’s flagship bilingual arts and culture program.

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