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‘Find your passion and be brave’: Kojonup’s Bec Bignell shares her story from farm to film festivals

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
Kojonup film producer Bec Bignell with her Year 2 music teacher Sheena House, who Ms Bignell said was one of the teachers who inspired her to follow her passion.
Camera IconKojonup film producer Bec Bignell with her Year 2 music teacher Sheena House, who Ms Bignell said was one of the teachers who inspired her to follow her passion. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Countryman

Ever since she was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” Kojonup’s Bec Bignell knew she wanted to be in the film and television industry.

From her early days coming up with poems while “helping” her Dad rock pick on school holidays and making her brothers act in plays she imagined up, to picking up international film awards, it has been an incredible journey.

One carved from blood, sweat and tears, as well as laughter, excitement and joy.

Her passion to tell the story of regional WA, coupled with the support from family, friends and country people has driven her forward, however many obstacles came her way.

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Keynote speaker Bec Bignell.
Camera IconKeynote speaker Bec Bignell. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman/Countryman

Speaking at the Women In Farming annual seminar in Cranbrook last week, the film producer, actor and director recalled the hefty serve of “humble pie” she ate when she and her best friend packed their lives into a suitcase and moved to Sydney.

“I thought, ‘I’m gonna go over to Sydney where the big bright lights are, and I’m really going to give this a crack,’” she said.

As soon as they landed, the global financial crisis hit and all of the work, degrees and internships they had done in preparation “didn’t seem to matter anymore”.

“It was a really difficult time,” Bec said.

“It was really savage city, coming from WA where everyone’s warm and supportive.

“Everywhere we went, we seemed to get doors slammed in our face, we couldn’t even really cut through in the social setting. So we were super lonely and isolated.”

Working in retail and hospitality by day, by night Bec was writing scripts and upskilling so she could keep her dream alive, buoyed by the fact her family pushed her to stick it out despite the challenges.

She eventually landed a gig with the ABC, before breaking out on her own.

Ever since, she has followed her passion to share the stories of regional WA and Australia, from a local’s point of view.

“A lot of . . . the people making the decisions were all urban or city people,” she said.

“And I started to say, ‘well, that’s a bit problematic, because particularly with fiction, all of these dominant representations that we were seeing from the regions had basically been curated and created through the lens of city people.

“So they were missing a lot of nuance and a lot of the detail and it was becoming very generic and non-specific and didn’t really represent the experience that I knew to be of the regions.”

It spurred her to create her highly acclaimed seven-episode fictional series Homespun, filmed in regional WA using real farmers and country people as the cast.

The premise of the series — which will be released later this year — is to “bridge the gap” between city and country and through comedy, understand the unique way of life in the regions.

“Also I kind of just got a bit sick of city people getting to take the piss out of the country and I thought it’s time we get to take a piss out of them,” Bec laughed.

“So in Homespun that’s essentially what I do, I compare the culture of a city organisation with the culture of a shearing shed.

“Shearing sheds can be really dirty, messy and have bad language, but often there’s a real sense of camaraderie . . . whereas the city world can be really clinical, clean and professional, but (there is) often skullduggery that I saw existed underneath and lack of loyalty . . . friendships were pretty transactional.”

Her boots-on-the-ground perspective has seen her career go from strength to strength, with Homespun’s screenings a huge hit, her docuseries Visible Farmer claiming 13 international awards and her short series 600 Bottles of Wine streaming on multiple platforms.

Come New Years’ Day, a multi-million-dollar feature film she worked on in Bremer Bay and Boxwood Hill — up until a week before she gave birth — will also be released.

While her passion drove her, the champion for regional WA said the support she had from those around her had played a huge role in her journey.

“The sense of family that you get from these kinds of communities, where people support you from the time that you’re really young, the whole way through,” she said.

“At Homespun screenings I keep seeing people from my childhood popping up. . . it means so much.”

She said she was lucky to have been surrounded by passionate people herself, thanking a couple of her teachers — including local farmer Sheena House — for their role.

“Fostering other people’s passion is really important,” Bec said.

“It really is often just one person who can say something to you at a time that you need it that really helps you believe that you can keep going on that journey.

“Mrs House used to play the guitar for the class, and it was just little things like that that made me realise that school wasn’t just maths and science, it could be creative.”

The film producer — who is also the founder of online creative hub Rural Room and co-founder of production company Cockatoo Co-Lab — said as a woman, it was not always easy to have a voice, but it was important to be heard.

While it may seem daunting, she encouraged women to “be brave,” find their voice, work out what they wanted to say and tell the world.

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