From Sydney Film School to Hollywood

by Nicole Newton-Plater

Australian educated filmmakers are highly regarded the world over and no more so than in the centre of global filmmaking, Hollywood. We caught up with a few SFS alumni who are plying their trade in L.A to check out what they are up to and get some insight into how to break into the Hollywood film scene.

2009 Sydney Film School Alumni, Agnes Baginska, won a full scholarship to the David Lynch MA film program at Maharishi University of Management and was mentored by the filmmaker in his studio in Los Angeles. She has continued to work there ever since. Agnes describes the town as the Mecca of filmmaking and a city that revolves around film as a business.

“Statistically speaking, there are approximately 650 movies produced per year in the USA, while in Australia it’s closer to 40…numbers say it all” Baginska says. “Because there are so many productions happening there, people are attracted to it…but it’s a catch 22 because there are thousands of filmmakers arriving in L.A. every year hoping to make it, so the competition is fierce”

Melanie Jayne, who graduated from Sydney Film School’s Advanced Diploma in 2015, is currently working in Los Angeles after winning the 2016 Village Roadshow Entertainment Group and Animal Logic Entertainment Internship. Jayne agrees that there are far greater opportunities in LA than there are in Australia as it has a relatively small industry in comparison.

“Australia nurtures a lot of terrific talent, but unfortunately there aren’t always the opportunities to grow in the field there are here” she says.

But the size of the Australian filmmaking scene is also seen as beneficial to those Australians who are trying to break into the Hollywood glamour.

Lee Launay, graduated from Sydney Film School’s Advanced Diploma in 2010 and now works part-time in the United States in Art Direction. Lee has found that his education and background in Australia and working in the Australian film industry gave him a head start when seeking work in the U.S.

“I started small by landing an Art Director roll on a short film produced by James Franco called City Bus. I felt intimidated at the prospect of working with Franco, but soon realized that everyone was really impressed with my level of dedication and professionalism” Launay explains. “I realised that the Australian work standard is extremely high and also highly valued due to the size and competitive nature of the job market here. That also made me realise that having an Australian training was indeed a privilege”.

Gracie Otto, who graduated from Sydney Film School in 2007 and has gone on to direct several short films as well as the critically acclaimed feature length documentary The Last Impresario, also believes that having worked in the Australian film industry and being educated here is a great positive when working in Los Angeles.

“As far as talent and crew go, Australia can match anything in the States” Otto says. “There are so many Australians doing great work in the States and I think they have a good reputation here”.

Sydney Film School has been recognised by many as one of the top film schools in the world and it will therefore come as no surprise that it has an impressive record of nurturing Australian filmmaking talent to take on the world. The education which students receive at Sydney Film School is a hands-on filmmaking experience with teachers who have worked in the industry. Upon completion of their Diploma or Advanced Diploma, students have been equipped with the right tools to be career ready and feel as though their filmmaking journey has already begun.

Kate Hickey graduated from Sydney Film School in 2006 and moved to the United States straight after to start her career in editing in New York and has since progressed to Los Angeles where she has just finished editing the documentary Roller Dreams and an episode of HBO’s “Girls”. Hickey says that Sydney Film School taught her to love and be passionate about the art form of editing and nurtured this love so that she was able to start her filmmaking journey in the United States straight after graduation. When asked advice for people beginning their filmmaking journey to the United States, she says “It’s easier to get lost in the backwaters if you don’t keep your wits about you. Use your instincts and do what you love”.

Melanie Jayne is also quick to agree that what she learnt at Sydney Film School has helped her make the most of her time in the United States.

“The Advanced Diploma program at Sydney Film School gave me a really great holistic view of the filmmaking process from the development to post-production of a film” she says. “While the work I have been doing at my internship has strictly been in development, it helped me to have such a well-rounded knowledge of the film process”.

When Gracie Otto was asked how Sydney Film School has helped her with her work in the United States, she says “I think the fact that I just hit the ground running at Sydney Film School. I was there only a couple of weeks and I had pitched to direct a film and then I was making it…the immediacy of working that way has given me confidence to tackle any job I am offered”.

There’s no getting away from it, finding your feet in Hollywood is tough. As you step through those glass doors and into our fabulously vintage foyer for the first time, the bright lights of Hollywood may seem a million miles away. However, it may be reassuring to know that many of your predecessors have successfully trodden that exact path and that an SFS education, a supportive alumni group and entry via the Australian Film Industry can certainly provide you with a head start if that is your journey.

 

Kate Hickey Roller Dreams

We talk to SFS grad Kate Hickey about her feature film debut Roller Dreams, premiering at the Sydney Film Festival this June

By Peter Galvin

kate hickeyNot long after Kate Hickey graduated from Sydney Film School she started working in film and TV in the United States.

Originally from Newcastle with a background in advertising, Hickey first went to New York, before settling in Los Angeles, where she established a home base in Venice Beach.

Hickey, who won the award for best editing at the SFS festival in 2005, quickly racked up a series of impressive feature film credits assisting in the editorial departments of pictures like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (2008), Whip It (2009), The Town (2010), The English Teacher (2011) and Paradise (2012).

But, Hickey told the SFS Blog, her career highlight came when she scored a gig as assistant editor on Girls, the celebrated comedy-drama created by its star Lena Dunham in 2012, (who was only 26 at the time.)

“It was so me,” she laughs, “I used to stay up late to watch it, and I just devoured it.”

Hickey began on Girls in season 4 and work through season 5 before being promoted to editor for the sixth and final season, which concluded early in 2017.

“I love editing,” she explains. “It’s a bit like [solving a puzzle]. It’s peaceful and therapeutic. I like to sit with [the footage] and find an order for it and its really rewarding when other people love it.”

Still, as Hickey built up her career in post-production further with credits as principal editor on small but impressive indie pics like Farah Goes Bang (2013) and Oh, Lucy (2017) she was working on her feature debut, Roller Dreams (2017) a documentary that its roots in her childhood.

“When I was a little girl I was obsessed with Xanadu,” she says with a laugh. First released in 1980, the film was a sort-of romantic musical…with the dance numbers performed on roller skates.

Featuring songs by Electric Light Orchestra, Cliff Richard and its big star, Olivia Newton-John, Xanadu was Hickey’s favourite movie so much so she would “dress up as ONJ and roller skate up and down the beaches of Newcastle pretending I was in the movie.”

Hickey was intrigued to discover that Venice had its own roller dance scene with a history that stretched back thirty years, a history that in a very deep way touched the sad, volatile and angry story of how LA’s non-white inhabitants were often marginalised, forgotten and dismissed.

Venice is 23kms west of the centre of LA. In cultural terms, it was, at least in the 80s light-years away from the monied, Guccied world the city is famous for.

roller dreamsHickey explores all this in Roller Dreams, through the eyes of five ‘stars’ of the scene – ‘Mad’, Terrell, Sally, Jimmy and Duval – and notes that not one of these superb performers whose innovative stylings pretty much invented the roller dance form were invited to share their skills in Hollywood.

It’s a smart, and moving film that strikes a fine balance of fun, social insight, and history as it explores the lives of its main characters using some truly stunning archive material, new interviews and a pulsing soundtrack of great tunes including Prince’s Kiss – the scenes signature ‘jam’.

“It took eight years [and many different cuts] to complete,” says Hickey. “I was 26 when I started it, and I’ve definitely grown up making the film.”

She met the cast through what remained of the roller scene in Venice in the early naughties: “I grew very fond of them of them – they were flamboyant, larger than life characters.”

Hickey learned that most of them had come from South Central, a district with a bad rep for gang related violence. “Venice and roller dancing became an Oasis for them,” she says.

Back in Australia in early June for the movies world premiere Hickey was overwhelmed by the films rapturous reception from the sell-out crowd at the Sydney Film Festival: “It’s pretty amazing.”

She remembers her SFS days fondly: “It was a really diverse, liberal culture, that really encouraged creativity and I felt at home straight away.”

The relationships Hickey established then form in her words, ‘a global village’. The SFS grads become like a network, sharing advice, help and assistance no matter where they are in the world or what they are doing, she says. The bonds forged at SFS, remain, after more than a decade, still strong:

“You go out and do your own thing, but if you need to reach out and collaborate,” the support is always there, Hickey believes.

Asked what she took away from her SFS experience that has had the most impact in her professional life Hickey says it was at school where she learned the importance of ‘persistence’.

“Film school is a family,” she says, “but its also a bit of a competitive environment too, and I think I would say to students you have to be willing to work through the night to really make your film great. It’s the same [expectation and demand] in the working world.”

“On Roller Dreams [I persisted] because I just wasn’t willing to let it go till I though it was the best it could be.”

 

 

 

 

à la mémoire de Paris

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SFS Artistic Director Ben Ferris, a filmmaker, has just returned from Paris where he had an opportunity to immerse himself in a creative environment, meet and collaborate with artists from around the world, and produce his new film. He recently talked about the experience with Power Publications.

When I applied for the residency I had a vague idea of what I wanted to develop but my idea evolved as I was there, in Paris, and as the political climate in the world changed. The concept for the project changed significantly in this three-month period, since it evolved rapidly after I watched the inauguration of US President, Donald Trump. I was also influenced by the place and ended up writing the project specifically for locations in Paris, including the river Seine. So, I wrote and directed a video piece currently titled “Orpheus Ascending”. It’s a short film about the end of the world, or at least a final visitation on Earth by the mythological figure, Orpheus.

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The beauty of residencies such as the one at the Cité is that they give you a chance to reconnect with your creative aspirations and ignite your inspiration. My project is not a far cry from my initial ideas but the residency was certainly flexible enough to allow for my project to breath and develop. I imagine that many future candidates will feel the need to apply with a very clear project in mind, but the reality is that the initial framework is malleable and likely to evolve while in Paris.

The Cité also provides an incredibly social environment and, while I was there, I had an invaluable opportunity to meet, collaborate, and get inspired by artists from around the world, and from various disciplines. I ended up collaborating with a Russian film production designer and a Russian costume designer, who were both residents of the Cité, like me. I was also meeting other Paris-based filmmakers and was introduced to a French production company with whom I ended up co-producing the film. If the film goes well this will be a relationship I seek to develop in the future.

Having a block of time dedicated to developing your project and being in a place where everyone around you is in the same creative state of mind is an incredible opportunity, and I can’t thank the Power Institute and the generosity of Terrence and Lynette Fern enough for offering it to me. Don’t think twice about applying.

Ben Ferris
2017 recipient of the Terrence and Lynette Fern Cité Internationale des Arts Residency Fellowship for practicing artists

About Ben Ferris

Ben Ferris is one of the founders of Sydney Film School, where he is currently the Artistic Director and a writing/directing teacher. Ferris, a film writer/director, has screened films and won numerous awards in Paris, New York, Croatia, Italy, Tokyo, Singapore and Amsterdam, as well as having theatrical releases of his works in Tokyo, Croatia, and Australia. His short film ‘The Kitchen’ (2003) won the Grand Prix at the Akira Kurosawa Memorial Short Film Festival in Tokyo in 2005, and his short film ‘Ascension’ (2004) won the Grand Prix at the 4th One Take Film Festival in Croatia in 2004. His debut feature film ‘Penelope’, an Australian–Croatian co-production, screened in National Competition at the 56th Pula Film Festival in Croatia in 2009, and won a Van Gogh Award for Best Fantasy Film at the Amsterdam Film Festival in 2010. In 2016 he completed his second feature film ‘57 Lawson’ which captures daily life within a social housing building in Redfern, under the shadow of impending development. The film is currently on the international festival circuit. In 2015, Ferris was the curator of the Sydney Cinémathèque. His writings on cinema have been published worldwide in both French and English. To see some of his previous work visit https://vimeo.com/bferris.

2018 Terrence and Lynette Fern Cité Internationale des Arts Residency

Applications are now open for the Power Institute 2018 Terrence and Lynette Fern Cité Internationale des Arts Residency Fellowships. The deadline for applications is 20 July 2017. See this page for all the relevant information and to apply.

Dirt Tin – An alumni collaboration

A new short film satirising Sydney’s notorious lock out laws and co-produced by SFS grad Holly Fraser has turned out to be an online hit.

By Peter Galvin

jamesanholly

Sydney nightlife, once alive with music and a huge variety of live venues has taken a hammering since the Baird New South Wales government introduced ‘lock-out’ laws two years ago.

Intended to curb alcohol-fuelled violence the legislation originally demanded that no new patrons can enter venues after 1.30am and that no drinks can be served after 3am.

The laws were confined to traditional ‘clubbing spots’ of the inner-city Eastern suburbs like Kings Cross and Darlinghurst.

Since they were introduced many venues in these neighbourhoods have seen a huge reduction in their business or have even been forced to close.

Searching for a new project Sydney filmmaker James Fraser hit upon the idea of satirising this situation in a comedy which imagines that by 2020 the city’s most prestigious nightclub would be found…in a dumpster…and still impossible to get into!

Shot last November Dirt Tin, was launched online at the end of February. It reached over 10,000+ views within 24 hours.

hollyheadshot.jpgAfter only six days of being live, SFS grad and co-producer Holly Fraser, says nearly 22,000 viewers had seen the film.

“We’ve been offered a Video on Demand (VOD) deal where we share in the profits,” Fraser told the SFS Blog. “But we’re not sure we’ll take it.”

Holly is James’ younger sister and though they have worked on projects before this is the first time that they’ve collaborated so closely. Holly says that after the stress of the shoot they are ‘still talking’. “We’re still friends,” says James, with a laugh.

Produced over four nights the project was ambitious: the script called for a horse, fifty extras, special lighting and makeup effects, and a demanding dusk to dawn schedule.

“There were times when I would look at the monitor and think….’hmmm, did someone turn a light on?’…but nope, that would be the sun!,” James says

Dirt Tin has come out of two local production outfits: Blunt Gorilla and Grand Illusions (the later co-founded by James Fraser and SFS grad Julian Tynan). Holly Fraser’s producing partner on the film was Sharath Ravishankar.

The Fraser siblings drew upon a large community of independent filmmakers to recruit crew for the shoot including many recent SFS students. *

Still, it was James who sought out Scoundrel Theatrics’ Lee Launay.leelaunay

 

An SFS graduate, Launay has built an outstanding reputation in Sydney and LA after launching his ‘Scoundrel’ brand in 2012 only eighteen months after graduating from film school. His imaginative and high impact production design has kept him in constant work.

He said that he was impressed with the skill and professionalism of the SFS cohort on the Dirt Tin team.

“They get really involved,” Launay explains, “they have the energy and vibrancy.” An outstanding feature of the SFS students, he said, was their passion and they did not ‘silo’ their talents to one role or department. Launay observed how “they throw themselves into whatever job is needed even if isn’t what they signed on for.”

“I think this comes from the culture of SFS which is unlike any other film school in Australia,” he says.

“I think a lot of schools have a hand-holding, sterile approach. What’s unique about SFS is the focus on the step by step process how to get something made and then seen by an audience.”

James Fraser agrees: “[I’ve worked with students from other schools] and it’s astounding how different they are to SFS grads.” He says what distinguishes the SFS cohort from others is an unselfish commitment to the film.

It was Launay who assigned current Advanced Diploma producer candidate Tink Hanger to the art department on Dirt Tin. Launay had Hangar work with him on other projects and came away convinced of his ability: “Tink is grounded and whenever I’m in a tight corner I reach out and he’s there.”

“Lee is a great mentor,” Hangar says. “The shoot went well and Lee being a recent SFS graduate understands issues of time management when it comes to working ‘off-slate’ (i.e. accepting work on non-school projects.)

Hangar cauttinkions current SFS students on how they assess the merit of accepting roles that don’t contribute to school productions. Aside from how this time away from their course obligations might impact their course work, students should be thinking about “growth, networking and building a skill set,” he says.

Paid or unpaid students should ask themselves ‘does this project contribute to building my career or is this project just using me as cheap (or free) labour?’” Hangar says.

“Even for paid gigs, there has to be more to it, than money,” Hangar says. “I read the script and I have to connect to it…there’s nothing worse than ending up working on garbage.”

Part of the attraction for getting into the production for Hangar, and Launay was that Dirt Tin was about a situation they and their friends felt passionate about – it was a passion shared amongst the crew. “That energy was fed directly into the work,” says Launay resulting in a film that’s both fun and very well made.

“One of the problems for a filmmaker is working out who your audience is,” Launay says. “James knew who this film was for…and sharing this film with your friends, is I think, a kind of protest [which is accounts partly for its success].”

Holly agrees, even if, as they were making it, they knew the film’s subject brought certain risks to do with how audiences outside of Sydney might understand its theme.

“It’s already dated,” she says now, laughing. “While we were editing Mike Baird resigned as Premier and the lockout laws were extended to 2am.”

Holly says that there were many discussions with James and co-writer and star Sam Glissan about how the film would be ‘a time capsule’ of a certain moment in Sydney life: “We were Ok with that.”

“Because in the end it’s about one guy fighting injustice and that’s a story that never dates,” she says.

It wasn’t only the theme that explains the films impact, Holly argues. Dirt Tin’s immediacy as a story was combined with a highly strategic, well designed and carefully plotted marketing campaign where the social network and digital played a central role.

“In any kind of filmmaking you have to have digital as a way to get your movie to the public,” she says.

“We met with a media consultant Sam Caldwell who designed the Dirt Tin plan and I was personally responsible for rolling it out.”

Holly says that the campaign was precisely mapped with exact timings for when certain assets would drop live on Facebook and other platforms.

Even if the film seems to speak directly to a certain demographic in Sydney, Holly and the team are convinced that Dirt Tin has a future on the destination film festival circuit – comedy film festivals, etc.

“I think what makes the film work is the story, not the politics.”

For Launay, the Dirt Tin production became a model of the SFS community at work at its best.

He says: “Something I learnt after film school was that people would rather surround themselves with people they like and trust rather than attach themselves with someone with a CV a mile long and a total [jerk!].

*Besides those crew mentioned in the body of the story SFS grads and students on Dirt Tin were: Lighting SFX: Gourav Gandhi, Lighting FX: Tauhid Hassan Alamgir, 1AC: Tahsin Rahman, 2AC: Julian Tynan, VFX: Jonathan Wilhelmsson, Runner: Jordan William, Photographer: Kate Cornish, Photographer: Raquel Linde, Photographer: Hari Frohling, Lighting Assis:/BTS videographer: Meredith Williams,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SFS and the Swedish Connection

SFS talks to four of our Swedish graduates who have been building strong careers in Scandinavia.

By Peter Galvin

image1-1Sweden is a long way from Australia. According to Google the distance is 13,796 kms or eight and a half thousand flying miles. For many of SFS’ Scandinavian post-grads electing to study so far from home wasn’t so much a trail or sacrifice but part of the challenge.

“Australia and SFS became this big adventure,” remembers Johan Rosell, “I didn’t know anything about filmmaking and I wanted to be a director but I didn’t know what a director did!”

Rosell, originally from Linköping, says now: “I learned so much.”

He directed a Part II major work, the hilariously original comedy/fairy tale The Forest while at the school. Since returning to Sweden immediately after graduation in 2009 he has made a number of music videos and shorts including the prize-winning First Base.

“I got to meet so many people from so many different places,” he says, “other international students and that’s what makes the school unique and creative.”

Right now Rosell divides his time between studying as a directing major at Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Art and preparing another short drama.

Like most Scandinavians who have come to SFS Rosell knew very little about Australia other than Crocodile Dundee and TV dramas like McLeod’s Daughters – set in the countryside and The Flying Doctors, which takes place in the outback – the fictional experience did not prepare them for Sydney’s café and pub culture, nor the pace of a metropolis boasting a multicultural population of four million.

“Those TV shows was I all I had seen of Australia,” laughs Caroline Ingvarsson, who is now an award-winning director of acclaimed dramatic shorts The Dogwalker (2014) and Beneath the Spaceship (2015)

Arriving in Australia as a backpacker in late 2005 Ingvarsson started at the school in February 2006 after, she says, ‘falling in love’ with sunshine and beaches and laid back life style.

“That first week was so daunting,” she remembers. “They kept talking about this thing called ‘pitching’ and I had absolutely no idea what it was!”

Pitching – the process whereby the filmmaker must present to a panel their vision for the film – is a basic industry standard of evaluating the promise of a project and Ingvarsson says it was one of the most valuable lessons she learnt at SFS.

“I do it all the time now, and at SFS I learnt the essentials:

If you can’t convey it in one or two sentences then you have lost them,” she says. “Learning to pitch is about learning what your film is really about for you as the filmmaker – it narrows down what you really mean to say.”

Ingvarsson built up her industry experience in the production department, as an AD and location manager and casting director working in Australia and Sweden (she tells students that it takes hours and hours of on set work before one can really feel they can take charge of a significant role like directing or department head.) Her credits in Australia include Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s Hail (2011) and as producer of the Ben Lee music video ‘Catch My Disease’.

Of course like students everywhere in all schools Ingvarsson says she formed strong bonds with her cohort and these friendships have been an important part of her life and – life in film – over the last decade.

Amongst them is Ben Zadig. Originally from Malmo, like Ingvarsson, Zadig has specialised in camera department roles and has worked on famed series like the Bridge and Wallander and the soon to be released Swedish features The Yard and The Square. As cinematographer he was responsible for the richly atmospheric work on Ingvarsson’s recent shorts including her latest.

After graduating at SFS in 2007 Zadig worked at the school in the equipment store. He developed his tech skills further working for Red Apple (Camera Rentals) in Sydney. Just over five years ago he returned to Sweden where he re-connected with the network of SFS Swedish post-grads (there has been nearly 70 since 2004!) and says he has been in constant work since. It was at SFS where he developed his strong work ethic.

“What’s really good about SFS is that it has a hands-on approach,” he says. “Sydney has a lot of very, very professional film workers and you can learn a lot [just being part of that eco-system as an emerging filmmaker.]”

He would recommend SFS to Swedes wanting to travel for their film education over say the USA and Europe.

“Its warmer than the States and most of Europe,” he says, “ and Swedes are sort of quiet and Australians are more relaxed and not as loud as Americans!”

He says that like most film students, he went to SFS believing he was a director only to find he had more talent for roles in the camera department.

“You have to be prepared to be disappointed (with your original goal) and understand that what you need to do is not what you want to do,” he says.

In the end Zadig reckons that realisation will ‘set you up’ with a career path to follow and that’s ultimately the greatest reward.

Filip Iversen graduated from SFS in December 2010. As with Zadig, and Ingvarsson he has accrued much TV production experience (in the art department) since returning to Sweden on shows like The Bridge and Black Lake.

“On the last season of the Bridge I got a job as 3rd unit director,” he says (via email).

Like the other Swedish grads here Iversen’s memories of SFS are full of adrenalised endless nights racing to meet production deadlines, close friendships and warm Sydney days. The skills he learned at school are in constant play. SFS introduced him to pitching, a practice that scored him his biggest professional success to date.

“I called the record company about this song ‘If I Were Sorry’ by Frans. I pitched for the clip a week later and was successful,” he says.

The song was Sweden’s entry in 2016 Eurovision song contest, where it was placed fifth. To date it has over 20 million views on You Tube.

Iversen modestly insists that the clip has re-assured his prospective clients that: “I know something about what I am doing.”

“I don’t know whether it has had an enormous impact, but it’s been my strongest ‘weapon’ for communicating when approaching new clients,” he says.

Amongst Iversen’s recent credits is a new feature Den Enda Vägen The Only Way (Manuel Concha, 2017) on which he did the production design.

His advice to undergrads: “never try to be the best at everything, instead learn from all and focus on what you find interesting.”

Ingvarsson agrees: “I was at SFS to learn but the best thing was I had the chance to experiment and find my voice.”

“I made the mistake of [micro-managing] my crew on The Forest,” says Rosell. “If you want to learn to direct you have to understand what everyone contributes – you need to understand what – the sound department, the art department the camera department – need from you.”

He says that meeting so many international students as well as the local students created a powerful sense of creativity.

“It’s not a holiday,” cautions Ben Zadig. “Sydney and Australia…it’s lovely and warm and all that but if you have come to SFS from Sweden to get the most out of it you need to throw yourself into 200 per cent. Every waking moment should revolve around film and you must surround yourself with filmmaking from the start of the day to the end of the day,” he says.

“Its not the easiest industry to survive and that [fully committed] attitude will [make you fit for it],” Zadig believes.

All experiences are good even if they make you feel ‘bad’ he says laughing.

The best though, he reckons, are the ones where “you feel you are out of your depth, when don’t feel at home.”

ENDS

Three SFS graduates and their careers in TV

By Peter Galvin

Award-winning karencrespoeditor Karen Crespo left SFS in 2008 and entered the TV industry straight after. She’s never been out of work since.

Right now her ‘home’ is on the reality TV series Masterchef, a ratings juggernaut for the Ten Network, now entering its ninth season, and a job she says is full of day to day challenges: “It’s a show where a lot of the story is created in post-production,” she said.

Arriving at SFS with a love of movies and an open mind about her future direction Crespo found her inspiration in the cutting room: “Once I discovered editing that was it – that was going to be my specialty.”

Crespo first got work in the industry when she heard about a job opportunity going in a small production house. Not long after she joined the Masterchef team in its third season as an assembly editor. Over time she ‘worked her way up’ as junior editor. “I am now one of a group of main editors on the series,” she said. “TV is…well, you know you’ve done something right when people start giving you the hard jobs – that’s when you know you’re good!”

Still, Crespo says, after all these years lessons learnt at SFS find their way to her Masterchef edit suite: “I’ll be cutting something and suddenly I’ll remember those early tutorials at school about some fundamental rule and it’ll be like,

‘don’t make that mistake!’”

For Crespo the most rewarding thing about her work in TV is just how creative something like Masterchef can be – especially for the editorial team. In 2015 Crespo won best editing for a Reality TV Show at the Australian Screen Editors Awards (a prize she shared with her Masterchef colleague Robin Crago.)

“That was definitely the highlight of my career so far,” she said. “It’s great when you get acknowledgement from your peers in the form of an award – it’s a recognition that you are doing a good job.”

Crespo would like to get involved in drama feature film some time in the future. But, she says, such a move would most certainly mean major changes in lifestyle, financial compensation and status. Amongst the virtues of TV is that – at least for post-production staff it is a well paid ‘day job’…at least if one lands a gig on a series.

Jonathan (Jono) Tyler who left high school in 2003 has worked in featuresjonotyler2 and TV since he was a teenager and has credits on Stealth, Superman Returns, Australia, Wolverine and Underbelly in various ‘assistant’ roles in art department/effects/camera dept. He came to SFS to “get back to basics” and to work on 16mm. Tyler has built a successful freelance business since graduating six years ago, specialising as a steadicam operator and camera assistant. His recent credits include Love Child, Rake and Doctor, Doctor.

He has strong opinions about the kinds of experiences that await anyone contemplating a career in TV and features. Tyler sees each sector as unique and cautions graduates over any casual assumptions they might have.

“You would be surprised about what people might say after getting a taste of both features and TV,” he told SFS.

There might be an appetite amongst both veterans and new comers to grab those big name credits on $100million dollar features he says but he’s found that peers and colleagues can come away ‘bored’ and ultimately dissatisfied after a stint on a major film.

“In TV Aussie drama you have to work harder, you get paid less and have less perks,” he said. “But you get to go home on the weekend and relax and there’s not the same pressure as when you have a screaming American director. And you know everyone’s name at the wrap party.”

As for his own future Tyler says he wants to build “a good rep.”

“I think working on a film with a really good story is more important to me than working on a blockbuster,” he said.

crheadshotStill, says SFS graduate Catherine Rynne, the pressures on crew members in TV production vary from role to role, show to show and depend as much on budget and schedule as they do on what the script demands.

“I once worked for months on end on a TV show and only had like a day off…once in a while,” she said. “If a certain scene needs a certain prop you keep searching till you find it…and that means working day and night and through the weekend till you do!”

Rynne works as a Buyer/Dresser – a specialist role in the art department.

“What that means is I meet with the production designer and break down the script, highlighting all the props (those objects that actors handle like a phone) and dressing (like artwork, books on a shelf). Depending on how much time is available I present options in terms of design and pricing. Then once the PD elects what they need I go off and buy the stuff then dress the set with it.”

 

Leaving high school in 2006 Rynne came to SFS in 2011 after a few years in the work force. At the time she thought she wanted to be an editor.

 

After graduation she got design experience and fell in love with the current role: “I don’t want to be a production designer,” she said. “I find Buyer/Dresser really thrilling in that you have a real say on what the set looks like.”

 

Her credits in TV include Home and Away for the Seven Network and Deadly Women for the Discovery Channel. She has worked on the features UnIndian and All About E (directed by SFS teacher Louise Wadley.) For Rynne the major differences between TV and features is simply budget and prep time.

 

“TV is great – the money is pretty good, and at best its fun, very collaborative, and ‘a day job’, with four to five months of steady work,” she said.

 

Her advice to SFS graduates entering TV is ‘be a sponge’. “You need to be excited about what you do.” It’s important to observe on-set protocols and respect all roles equally adds Tyler: “Crews are tough – it’s like the first day of school so you need to be confident and work hard and the work you do is the source of respect…how well you do the job is what people remember.”

 

Crespo believes that its important that any role has to be more than just a job and advises grads to get involved with the on-set process as well as pursue their own projects: “It’s special and wonderful to create something when you are working in a team – you need collaboration.”

ENDS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding an audience for student films

wtilda

By Peter Galvin

We talk to three prize-winning graduates from 2016 about finding an audience for their films and their career pathways.

Professional filmmakers often debate the question: what’s harder? Getting a film made? Or getting it out into the world, so an audience can see it?

The question is just as important for emerging filmmakers. In the best imaginable outcome a successful festival appearance can lead to career development – a contract with a production company, prize money, recognition, or a distribution deal.

Still, there are practical hurdles to consider. There are literally 1000s of festivals available to the filmmaker, both traditional and online and just working through the options costs time and making submissions can end up costing money, too.

“I think it’s really important to be selective [and strategic] when considering where to send your film,” suggests Jonathan Wilhelmsson, who graduated in the SFS Advanced Diploma in December, after specialising in editing. His major project, Waltzing Tilda, a spectacular post-apocalyptic comedy-fantasy, laden with intricate visual effects, which he wrote and directed, earned him the Best Director prize at the SFS Festival last month.

raquelWilhelmsson explains that he will, alongside Tilda’s producer SFS AD graduate Raquel Linde (who shared the best producer prize) will be seeking out ‘niche’ and ‘destination’ film festivals for their film – that is those events that specialise in showcasing a certain kind of cinema. “In our case we will look at sci-fi, fantasy and comedy,” he said.

Adds Linde: “I think its really important to research and research before sending off your film.”

It’s about finding the right audience for your film, she says. SFS has a mechanism in place in order to deal with festivals and advice available from industry experts like Nick Szmidt, a distribution specialist, but Linde believes that filmmakers need to take a ‘hands-on’ approach in the goal of getting their film into the world.

Linde who left school in 2010 came to Australia at the start of 2016 from her native Spain to study at SFS after earning a BA in film and working as a fashion photographer. Her AD major work, Atomic Garden, an ambitious and poetic film, won the Best Thesis prize at the SFS festival in December.

She said that distribution is like any other aspect of filmmaking: it’s about being sensitive to the complex subtleties of each element and working as a team.

Originally from a small town in Sweden called Mockfjard, Wilhelmsson first came to Australia in 2010 for the SFS Diploma straight after graduating high school. Since then he has returned to Scandinavia where he setup a small business specialising in editing and visual effects. He came back to Australia in January 2016 to complete the AD. Now he plans to stay here and develop Waltzing Tilda into a feature with Linde.

Wilhelmsson says that initially there was some scepticism about the achievability of Waltzing Tilda, a view shared by staff and students. This only made him more determined: “I think it’s important to aim high…it forces you to be better.” He says it’s a credit to his cohort, Linde and the School, that in the end, he was given full support. A demonstration, he says, of the community culture of SFS.

Petra Lovrencic, AD producing graduate who shared the Best Producer prize with Linde and fellow graduate Afreenish Shahid agrees that SFS is a ‘safe space’ to explore, challenge and define one’s filmmaking practice: “We could be as ambitious as we could be,” she says of Ill Rittorno, a melodrama about betrayal and revenge set in a remote province in the Fascist Italy of the 1930s, which she produced.

Written and directed by AD graduate Alex Giblin, the film, says Lovrencic, had enormous logistical and practical issues to resolve not the least of which was the choice of making the film using Italian dialogue: a language not shared by any of the key crew members!

“I think the mistake I made during the production was taking on too much,” she says now. “I learned to delegate and the importance of lining up the production with the vision so everyone is making the same film. It was the hardest film I was involved with…and the most rewarding.”

Lovrencic who left school in 2004 has been in the work force (specialising in human resources) since 2005 and came to SFS two years ago wanting to write and direct. What she found was a vocation: “It was the first time in my life where I had to really work hard at something.” Her own film as writer/director Tesla, Revisited! won an audience prize at the festival in December.

Last Spring Lovrencic joined the SFS community as a staff member. She accepted the role of Executive Producer of the SFS Studio. “The role is about sourcing clients, pitching ideas to clients, writing treatments, organising shoots,” she explains.

Her advice now to grads and film students is to see distribution and festival going as part of career development: “Part of the reason you enter your film in a festival is to actually get to the festival!”

Festivals are an important opportunity to network, she says. It’s a chance to meet other filmmakers and share experience and insights.

Big festivals are attractive because of their visibility, and they are hotly competitive as a result. But sometimes a large international festival can demand exclusivity based on territory and region (that is, a film can be disqualified if its already been screened by a similar festival in the same city, and or/country.) This is where the film student needs to read the small print, when selecting a festival, says Lovrencic.

“I think when you are new to the industry you really need to take every chance – in makes sense to enter your film into as many festivals as you can,” she says. “Its far more achievable than just focusing on getting into ‘the Big One’.”

ENDS

 

 

Take four, graduates from the class of the 1st SFS Festival

As we approach the 25th SFS Film Festival we catch up with four media professionals who graduated a decade ago from SFS’ first year 2005

By Peter Galvin

lauraLaura Rinaldi from Sydney was straight out of high school when she began her career in media as a student at SFS in 2005.

“I remember that first day really well when we all met each other and the teachers,” she says.

“We got this talk from one of the senior staff members. He said, ‘I have never met anyone who wanted to get into film and TV who didn’t make it’.”

“I was so relieved,” she says, with a laugh.

Today Laura works in production across a variety of roles, and has over the last decade accrued a large number of credits on shows like the ABC’s Rake and SBS’ The Principal.

“I went to England to work a year ago,” she says, “because the UK is ‘the Hollywood of TV’.”

There she worked with Arrow Media as a casting researcher. She returned to Australia a few months ago and has settled in Melbourne.

Laura spent several years studying media, film and TV in a number of different cities in Australia before attempting to land her first substantial job. That turned out to be with the prestigious Sydney production outfit Essential Media.

Sophie Zoellner, another SFS 2005 alumni, is now a freelance producer specialising in TV. Right now she is finishing up a contract on ABC’s Rage as the famed music shows’ producer. She has also produced online content such as Like a Version for the same network.
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Her first job was a kids TV series – a quiz show – not long after she completed the diploma at SFS. “It was the most fun I have had,” she remembers.

“At school I specialised in editing and documentary and I think the thing I’ve taken away from the experience was that it was a chance to get hands-on experience,” she says.

On entering the industry, for an emerging filmmaker, in their first job there can be a lot of restraints. Sophie says: “If like me you work as a researcher you might not get the chance to touch a camera for years.”

Still, passion and persistence has paid off, she says.

Early on she worked on ABC’s Four Corners world renowned for its penetrating and tough investigative reporting on social, cultural and political stories – a job she says that has had a profound impact on her life and career: “It was great working on a piece for months and then when it goes to air finally it changes [how people] feel about a subject or an issue.”

Katharine Thornton née Hodge (pictured below with Frank Perikleous, Managing Director of ComScore Australia) produced Go Quickly, completed as a major project before she graduated in 2005. Written and directed by now head of production at SFS Michael McLennan, this ambitious thriller was a runner-up in the Sydney Film Festivals Dendy Awards.
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Film school was great, Katharine remembers, because: “It gave me the sense that we could do anything.” That’s because, she says, the films they were undertaking seemed impossible to achieve given the budgets involved, the limited shooting time and the relative inexperience of the crew.

“I was straight out of school and for Go Quickly I had to go off and ask the Army whether we could borrow some of their trucks!”

Katharine recalls learning the value of ingenuity and organisation as a solution to production issues rather than “throwing money around.”

“We were taught to be frugal and to come up with as many creative solutions as possible in order to tell your story,” she says.

Soon after graduating SFS Katharine interned for Emile Sherman, who would later win an Oscar as one of the producers of The King’s Speech.

Now based in Melbourne Katharine works in the ‘business’ end of the movie business: as National Sales and Distribution Manager for Sharmill Films one Australia’s most successful independent distribution and exhibitors, specialising in art house and alternative content.

Part of her job is to make decisions on which films Sharmill will distribute in Australia. For Katharine her job is part of the filmmaking process, even if its not part of producing the film: in a real way it helps determine the future of certain films and the opportunity’s an audience has to see them.

“There is no way you can enter the industry without understanding distribution and producing,” she says.

Vilash Patel was already working in TV when she came to Australia from New Zealand in mid-2005 to study at SFS. Nine years ago she got a job working at the Seven Network. A few years later she accepted a transfer to the network’s Melbourne office where she now works as a presentation co-ordinator, a role that ensures that programs air as scheduled.img_5092-copy

She remembers her time at SFS as the place she learned to appreciate how films were made, and how each role was crucial to the films successful delivery.

“Once you know how the whole process works, you begin to understand what you are good at yourself,” she says.

Vilash is building a career as an independent producer and her time at SFS taught her that ‘casting’ crew was as important as selecting cast: “You need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of everyone as you are getting people on board [for a project.]”

Recently Vilash set up a production company Triurban Media Productions with colleagues Chris Keogh and Stella Dimadis. Their first major project is She Shot Tv, which looks at the rewards and challenges of women in media. Launching in March on C31 in Melbourne, WTV Perth and their own YouTube Channel.

“We want to make a difference to gender equality by promoting women working in film, media, TV and online,” she says. Meanwhile the team are working on a film festival, which aims to screen on International Women’s Day next year.

Her advice to graduates is to ignore the promise of ‘glamour’ that is the myth of a life in media: “It’s long hours and hard work.” Of course Vilash, loves it, all the same, she says.

Sophie suggests that after SFS graduates take every single opportunity no matter how ‘low’ the job seems, because: “you never know where it might lead you…”

Katharine recommends persistence. She began her professional career with Sharmill by “knocking on the door and asking for a job…they said they didn’t have one and I said I wouldn’t stop knocking till they gave me one!”

Laura remembers the emphasis that SFS placed on respect – for professional behaviour on set, and indeed for the making of content in any medium.

“I think that attitude, and a really positive outlook is really crucial in getting any job in the industry – people only work with people who not only can do the job, but that they like,” she says.

Being enthusiastic and optimistic about the future helps. That was something Laura found was rather unique about the culture at SFS, based on her experience of other institutions.

“I studied at VCA after SFS and our first day their was very different! We were all brought together and the lecturer told us, ‘most of you will never make it’,” and I remembered my first day at SFS and thought: ‘that’s not true’.”

Links:
Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/SheShotTV/

Website:

http://www.triurbanmedia.com

Examples of She Shot TV can be viewed on You tube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JMkcU2EW0lk&t=89s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUeJhRJ0pJEhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwPXdDwXzzs

ENDS

Life after Film School

By Peter Galvin

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Leaving study to find work is an exciting and scary moment for any graduate. In film, TV and media the stakes are notoriously high, the competition fierce.

Still, Sydney Film School graduates have experienced a particularly high success rate in making the best of available opportunities.

Eight-five per cent of candidates who have completed their Advanced Diploma at SFS in the last three years are now finding regular work in the media industry – especially film and TV.

Part of what has made this possible say recent graduates like Jonathan Martin, was that SFS offers a strong culture of support where skills are emphasised and collaboration is a core value.

A full-time editor at production house Broken Yellow Martin has had the job since the beginning of 2016 after a short period freelancing. He told me he started thinking out a career pathway strategy from his first day at SFS…and he suggests that current students do the same.

Martin came to SFS with a degree in film and media from Queensland’s Griffith University.

“I was frustrated (with my situation there) because you couldn’t get entry level jobs in the film industry-unless you specialised,” he says.

“As soon as I got to SFS I decided to learn as much as I could – I wanted to specialise in editing,” he says.

“I invested in some gear and built up a portfolio of work.”

Fiona Gillman, originally from Queensland, left school in 2009 and came to SFS last year with a degree in musical theatre.

For her, SFS was a turning point – both personally and professionally. There she formed powerful bonds with teachers and fellow students. These relationships now define her post-grad career.

“The teachers encourage you to be yourself and find your voice,” she said, adding: “I love the place.”

While at SFS Gillman met Holly Fraser, who left high school only four years ago but was already a film industry veteran, since she began her career as a child actor aged 10 and has worked steadily in movies, TV and stage since.

“I think the most rewarding thing about SFS was the trust that were given,” Fraser says.

“We were treated with a lot of respect from the teaching community – they were mentors and gave us a lot of advice.”

Fraser and Gillman and their team completed an ambitious musical comedy short called To the Top at the end of 2015. It caught the attention of SFS tutor, producer Heather Ogilvie (Accidents Happen), who proposed developing a new project.

Now Gillman, Fraser and Ogilvie are preparing a six part web series called The Virgin Intervention. With financial support provided by Screen Australia through the Gender Matters program, the comedy will shoot next year with Gillman starring and writing and Fraser producing. Meanwhile both Gillman and Fraser are preparing new projects as writer-directors.

Advanced Diploma graduate Jovan Atanackovic, now an emerging cinematographer, has already had industry recognition, even if he admits now he did not quite have a precise plan for a career on graduation. Recently he shot a pilot for a web series called Amy Danzig. Written and directed by SFS grad Josh Sambono and featuring Holly Fraser the show has just launched a kickstarter campaign.

Earlier this year the prestigious Australian Cinematographers Society awarded Atanackvovic the prize for best student cinematography for his work on SFS short Harvest (2015).

Written and directed by SFS graduate Amaan Hassen the film has been selected to screen at the Cameraimage film competition in Poland, a festival dedicated to the art and craft of cinematography. Atanackovic, will be travelling to the event. He says its ideal opportunity to build connections.

“There’s no one to one relationship between getting an award and work,” he says. Atanackovic, who moved to Australia a few years ago to study film from his native Ireland, says he is now getting steady freelance work. He recommends new graduates make the effort to connect with professionals though guilds and associations like ACS: it’s a way to learn what is important about the job, and the values of the people who do it every day.

“Doing good work is essential,” he says, “but the important thing – in terms of getting work – is that the professional world needs to be able to trust the new filmmaker.” They need to get to know you so they are certain you share similar values about the art and craft, he says.

Martin agrees: “You have to be able to work with everyone and people have to be comfortable to work with you. Professionals aren’t going to involve you in projects unless they feel you are going to work well together.”

He says graduates need to make the effort to understand the workplace. Don’t over estimate your knowledge but don’t undersell your ability either, Martin suggests.

“I think when you are entering the workforce you need to keep an open mind,” adds recent SFS advanced diploma graduate Stevie McDonald.

After leaving high school in 2008, McDonald studied film and media in Queensland before coming to SFS.

She feels that many undergraduates become fixed on a career in a specific discipline, like say directing.

This focus has its obvious virtues she says but it can be a serious disadvantage when attempting to discover the diversity of jobs on offer in the film and TV industry. A multiple skill set can lead to discovering new creative talents.

“I think it’s important to step out of your comfort zone,” she explains. “I think grads need to try out different skills and disciplines.”

McDonald is speaking from experience. While at SFS she specialised in cinematography. Like Atanackovic McDonald did not have a career pathway worked out once she left SFS.

Now she works full time as an assistant editor on reality TV series Married at First Sight (Nine Network). SFS grad Arnold Perez recommended McDonald to the shows producers Endomol Shine Australia, a significant player in television both here and Europe: a perfect example of the SFS network paying off, she says!

“I think diversification has certainly help me as a pathway into the industry,” adds Johnny Grace who left high school in 2010 and graduated from the advanced diploma at SFS in 2015.

Based in Melbourne, Grace has spent his post-grad life making corporate video, producing shorts at VCA and working in entry-level jobs like production runner.

This job allowed him close up access to the day-to-day subtleties of the camera and art department. This he says is an invaluable experience. Grace learnt what each crew member needed from the other in order to do their best work.

“A top director gave me some good advice recently,” he adds, “she said ‘don’t be in a hurry and spend your first three years out of film school learning as much as you can’…it made me feel good about where I’m at.”

Right now Grace is nearing completion on a new short as writer-director. Called Astronaut the production was developed as the winner of the SFS IAB short film competition. It will screen at the SFS Festival in December.

Grace believes the best advice he can give to graduates entering the freelance market is to use the time between jobs working on their own projects. He wrote Astronaut between writing to every production house in Melbourne.

“I think there will be things that come along that scare you,” says Fraser, who completed an internship at Matchbox Pictures after finishing her diploma last year. “You have to be prepared to take every opportunity, take risks and take all the work you can…and consider that no job is beneath you and at the same never turn down a gig because you think you aren’t good enough!”

Even if all the SFS graduates here have experienced very different pathways in building their careers all of them agree that the school instilled virtues like self-reliance and perseverance: values that have helped them in the hard times.

Still, it’s the network of SFS grads and teachers that they know will always play a significant part in their past and future careers.

“I think when you are talking about pathways,” says Fraser, “I would say to grads: ‘cherish the relationships you have made in the time you have spent at SFS’.”

“The best thing about SFS is the community – it is much easier if you need help to get help,” says McDonald.

Martin adds: “Who really gets to leave SFS? You can walk out of the building…but you never leave…SFS is the people!”

An interview with SFS Alumni Lisa Camillo

By Peter Galvin

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetIt is almost three years since Lisa Camillo graduated with a Diploma from the Sydney Film School.

Since then she has wasted no time building a profile as a content maker.

Though specialising as a director, Camillo has earned credits as a producer, writer and cinematographer across a diverse spread of projects, including music video and non-fiction.

Camillo based in Sydney has her own independent business; her short films have travelled the world, and right now she is completing her first feature, Balentes, a poignant documentary about her homeland, Sardinia.

This week her short drama begun at SFS, Requiem, will be part of the official selection at the prestigious One Take Film Festival in Croatia.

Asked how she came so far so fast she explains: “Persistence,” she says, laughing, adding that every film is a challenge and success can’t be taken for granted.

Camillo who grew up in Rome and Sardinia came to Australia at age twenty. She completed a degree in anthropology and a Masters in International Development in her adopted city of Melbourne. Between study commitments she took modelling jobs and playing rock and roll gigs with her band.

Immediately after graduating she launched into social welfare work where she formed a strong commitment in collaborating with Indigenous communities especially in areas like health.

Here Camillo learnt first hand about the pride and resilience of people who face tremendous struggles of survival everyday.

Positive stories were not reaching the mainstream she said.

“People in these developing communities are doing brilliant things and we are not hearing their success stories,” she says.

“What drew me to filmmaking,” Camillo explains, “was the feeling that my work as an anthropologist could have greater impact if it had a greater audience.”

A friend of a friend recommended Sydney Film School.

Camillo says she felt at home at SFS: “I loved the family atmosphere and the level of teaching was brilliant – a really great mix of theory and the practical.”

“Once at SFS I was able to use everything I studied at university,” she says. “I discovered straight away that it was never too late to change career pathways.”

Camillo made Live Through This in her first few months at SFS. This short documentary came directly out of her experience working in communities where domestic violence was a sad fact of life.

Still, Camillo elected to focus on a story of forgiveness centring on the profound familial bond between father and son. The film made a huge impact when it appeared at the distinguished Flickerfest short film festival in 2013 and launched Camillo’s career.

Straight after graduating Camillo got started on Balentes, spending more than a year researching the project, which she says deals with a ‘loss of innocence.’

The film is part personal journey, part social and cultural history of Sardinia, a one-time playground of the rich and famous, that now is host to war games operated by Italy’s more powerful and wealthier allies in NATO.

Situated in the Mediterranean Sea, with more than 2,000kms of coastline, Camillo remembers Sardinia as a place of sunny beauty, where the rural community thrived in harmony with the vibrant tourist trade. Now, she says, the island is struck by poverty, disease and social decay – a direct outcome of the weapons testing on the island.

Balentes – the title mean men and women of courage and honour – describes Sardinia’s social and cultural crisis and explores the bravery of the island locals who are confronting the power of government in order to restore their way of life.

“I wanted to tell a different kind of personal story,” she says. Made on a variety of camera formats – including the Red, DSLRs and even an iPhone – Camillo used a tiny crew of two or three throughout the production and shot a lot of the film herself. It will be ready for release in late December.

After that Camillo plans to shift her operations to Los Angeles where she wants to launch a new drama project.

“I love to live in the moment,” she says of shooting a film, her favourite part of the process.

“It’s about responding to life around you,” she says.

 

ENDS

Dr. Alejandra Canales talks about the importance of documentary as an art form.

An Interview with Alejandra Canales

By Peter Galvin

“Pealejandra_1032-largersonally, I don’t see a difference between documentary and fiction films,” explains filmmaker and teacher Alejandra Canales.

“They are both cinema.”

Canales, who is Head of Documentary at the Sydney Film School, explains that the essential values of storytelling are the same between the two forms of fiction and non-fiction film.

“The important things are the same,” Canales said. “The various story elements meet in this sharing space with an audience.

Amongst the many rewards of teaching she explains is watching how emerging filmmakers develop a unique vision for their work. This is one of the best things about film school – it’s an ideal place to “develop a voice.”

Canales is particularly proud of the fact that SFS can boast a history of success in producing documentary filmmakers whose work has been widely seen on the national, and global festival circuit. These include the films of SFS grads Maya Newell (Gayby Baby) and Gracie Otto (The Last Impressario).

This tradition continues with the 2016 Antenna Documentary Film Festival. Beginning in Sydney on 13 October it will travel to Melbourne and Brisbane later in the month.

The program features How History May Come, a deeply personal animated short produced in the SFS Diploma program in 2016.

Written, directed and narrated by Olesya Mazur, a Russian national, it is a personal history that recalls the tragic impact of the Great Famine of the 1930s on her great-great grandparents in the USSR.

Canales latest short For the Kids will also screen. It tells the remarkable story of a couple from the mid-north coast of NSW who spent the last 25 years caring as foster parents for vulnerable kids.

Canales, who has been involved with documentary for more than a decade, said that she did not set out to be a filmmaker. Her career began working in theatre and advertising in her native Chile.

There she began experimenting with documentary and developing a very personal relationship with the form.

“I know it’s a cliché…but what I found once I started making documentaries was that life really was much weirder than anything you might possibly imagine,” she said.

For Canales what she discovered once she began working in non-fiction film was a ‘special tension’ between the ‘subject’ and the filmmaker.

“It was that uncontrollable aspect of dealing with a ‘lived reality’,” she said.

That is, she said, documentary filmmakers have to have a constant sense of improvisation…going with the moment, thinking on their feet and responding honestly and openly to the unanticipated event.

“For me that is really appealing.”

For Canales the importance of documentary as an art form has to do with,

“leaving an imprint about the way we live in a particular time.”

“You get inspired when you teach a lot,” she says of her SFS experience. While respectful of journalism and investigative reportage, Canales feels that documentary is an opportunity to explore themes with a strong point of view that has nothing to do with objectivity.

Which is to say that for Canales the tradition of ‘documentary’ is rich, varied and personal.

“I have this fire inside me where I try to approach each subject in an individual way – you always bring something of yourself to each film,” she said.