Woman Chapman, Jan


Film Producer and Television Producer

Written by Kathryn Mcleod, National Film and Sound Archive

Jan Chapman is one of Australia's leading independent producers. Her impressive body of work includes highly acclaimed feature films The Piano, Lantana, Somersault and Bright Star. She has also had a successful career as a television producer at the ABC, producing cult TV series Sweet and Sour and multi-award winning TV series Come In Spinner.

Born in Newcastle on the 28th of March 1950, she relocated with her family to Sydney when she was three years old. Chapman's introduction to independent short films began while she was studying English and Fine Arts at the University of Sydney. She soon became involved with the Sydney Filmmakers Co-Operative and it was there that she met filmmakers Phillip Noyce, who was her first husband, as well as Albie Thoms, Aggie Read and Sandra Levy. Chapman was also involved with the Sydney Women's Film Group, a collective of women who made experimental films, provoked discussion and aimed to demystify the technical aspects of filmmaking. Reflecting on her involvement with this group, Chapman has said, 'Without the influence and political lobbying of these women I don't believe I would have had the subconscious conviction … that I could make films, and that what I wanted to say, even if intimate, domestic and personal in scale, was just as interesting as the mythic male legends' (Chapman interview, 2002).

Many of the films that have attracted Chapman feature strong female characters, and over the course of her career she has also developed strong working relationships with ground-breaking directors Gillian Armstrong and Jane Campion. Chapman has said that while she doesn't consider herself a feminist, she has inadvertently had a lot to do with feminism (Chapman interview, 2009). One of the early short films she directed was entitled I Happened to be a Girl, evoking the idea that 'the fact that you happened to be a girl shouldn't hold you back in any way' (Chapman interview, 2009). Fortunately, this has certainly not been the case for Chapman, who began her career in teaching before moving to the ABC's Young People's Department as a researcher. She then won a position in the ABC's Education Department and went on to produce a number of television series', including Sweet and Sour, Dancing Daze, Hunger, Two Friends, The Last Resort and Come in Spinner.

Part of Chapman's success can be attributed to her innate ability to recognise the potential of others and the potential of good scripts. During her time at the ABC, Chapman offered a directing role to recent film graduate Jane Campion. She had seen Campion's short films at film school and had like many others 'sat bolt upright and said "oh my god, here is someone who has the most incredible original vision"' (Chapman interview, 2009). While Campion's short films had been widely praised, no one had offered to give her a job. When Chapman read the eight page treatment of The Piano, she told Campion 'I will die if I cannot make this film' (Chapman interview, 2009).

Chapman has supported and nurtured the careers of many others, by collaborating with less experienced producers and directors, and by mentoring participants of Screen NSW's inaugural Aurora script development scheme. In 2004, she collaborated with first-time feature film director Cate Shortland on the film Somersault, which resulted in a near clean sweep of the 2004 Australian Film Institute Awards. In the same year, Chapman was a recipient of the Officer of the Order of Australia for her contributions to the Australian film industry. While Chapman is one of Australia's most successful film producers, she admits she has 'always had a lot of self-doubt. I think it's good for people to know that. I kept going despite my self-doubt' (Chapman interview, 2009). It is this kind of refreshing honesty and her genuine desire to help and inspire others that sets Chapman apart as a leader in her field.

Archival Resources

National Film and Sound Archive

  • Chapman, Jan: Interviewed By Wendy Charell: Oral History, 2009, 797988; National Film and Sound Archive. Details

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Chapman, Jan, 'Powerful Ideas, Passionately Put', in Blonski, Annette (ed.), Shared Visions: Women in Television, Australian Film Commission, Sydney, New South Wales, 1999, pp. 69 - 72. Details

Online Resources

See also