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.


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.



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.









Festival Success while studying at SFS

An interview with Sydney Film School Alumni, Megan Baker

by Nicole Newton-Plater

megan bakerSydney Film School would like to congratulate Megan Baker who’s film ‘Generation Girl’ has been named as one of the finalists for the Uni Shorts International Student Film Festival!

The Uni Shorts Film Festival will take place in Auckland this October and will feature the best in student made films from around the world. ‘Generation Girl’ is a perfect example of the exceptionally high quality of film that gets made by students while in attendance at Sydney Film School. Many people believe that the time to submit your film into festivals is once you have completed school, but Megan’s film is proof that the films made by the students at SFS during the semester are of such a high calibre that they are worthy of festival submission and acceptance.

We thank Megan for taking the time to talk to us about her experience with her film and it’s submission into the Uni Shorts Film Festival.

Congratulations on being selected as one of the finalists for the Uni Shorts International Student Film Festival! Can you please tell us a bit about your entry, ‘Generation Girl’?

‘Generation Girl’ was written by Fiona Gillman and shot on 16mm film. I connected with the important feminist comments the script presented, such as body image, portrayal of females in the media and misogyny. The film follows the events that unfold when two girls realise they’re after the same boy. It’s a satirical comedy with a big twist at the end!

How did you find out about the Uni Shorts Film Festival and what made you decide to enter?

A fellow SFS student James Harris entered the film into the festival and I was very excited when we got the news that the film had been accepted.

Did you make ‘Generation Girl’ especially for the Uni Shorts competition?
No, we made it as a major Sydney Film School Part 1 project.
In your opinion, what makes a film stand out to the judges in a film festival or competition?
A film that understands and follows the language of cinema is all well and good, but it’s nothing without a strong story and a compelling comment.

Do you think that it is a good idea to make a film with submitting it into a film festival in mind, or should that thought come after you have made it?
I think that having a festival in mind can be distracting and might tempt filmmakers to change their ideas to appeal to festival panels, rather than tell a story with your own artistic vision. Films shouldn’t be made to win awards, they should be made to express ideas and tell stories.

How did what you have learnt at Sydney Film School help you to make ‘Generation Girl’ and enter it into Uni Shorts?
Making the film was the learning experience in itself, which is what I think is unique about Sydney Film School. You’ll learn more by making films than studying them.

Do you believe that students should be submitting films into competitions before they graduate to gain experience in this for when they graduate?
Definitely, there’s nothing to lose by entering films into festivals and it’s a great learning process. 

What are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished an Art Department Assistant role on an upcoming ABC show called ‘Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am’. I built some really weird and crazy props which was great! The show airs in November, keep an eye out for it!!

SFS Alumni Liu Tianrong talks filmmaking in China

Sy051400005333EC3D67379F7DDE0628F5dney Film School alumni, Liu Tianrong  and his success in China

Sydney Film School equips their students with the tools they need to work not only in the Australian film industry, but also on a global scale as alumni, Liu Tianrong has discovered.

Currently living in Beijing, Tianrong graduated from Sydney Film School in 2011 and found not only that he was able to apply what he learnt to make his films in his homeland, but also that the filmmaking education he received was superior to that of his colleagues in China. His two films The Stormy Night and Illusions have recently been released in China and we are grateful to have been able to talk to Tianrong about his journey so far and how Sydney Film School has contributed his success.

Congratulations on your films, The Stormy Night and Illusion! Both of these films were made and released in China, so what can you tell us about them?

The Stormy Night is about a girl who was stuck in her car because the rain had made her car’s electrical system not work so she could not open the doors or windows. The water is getting higher and higher, she must find the way out of her car otherwise she will drown. This is a true story, every Beijinger knows it. Film is a kind of art about moments. This film is about survival, life and death and memory. Illusion is a mockumentary. I shot it within 15 days. They were very cold days in a winter mountain village. That was a very hard and unforgettable experience. That experience told me filmmaking is very practical. You have to make it if you want to truly understand it.

Your film, The Stormy Night is a horror film. What made you decide to make a horror for your first film?

Why I chose to make a horror film at the beginning of my career?  I think there are two reasons. First, horror film can be made for a very low budget. Secondly, I believe film must be very stylized. Horror film is very stylized. That means you can make a real film with a very low budget. That is great for every new filmmaker.

What is something you learnt about making a horror film?

I found a very interesting thing and that is that humour and horror are very similar. I had read a book about Humour Psychology when I was kid. In that book, it gave me a very vivid metaphor about humour… humour is, at the beginning, making people believe you will lead them to A, but at last you lead them turn to B suddenly. The point is you have to make people believe you are leading them to A as much as you possibly can. Same as in a horror film. Making some things beyond audience’s expectations, but you have to hide them well at beginning.

Is horror the direction you wish to take your upcoming films in?

No. I want to try another type of film if possible. I am looking for a change.

What do you find are the biggest differences between working in the Chinese film industry and the Australian?

As a Chinese filmmaker, we often say that “horror film is one thing, Chinese horror film is another”. Why? In China we have censorship.  For example, In China you cannot create a real ghost in the film, but in Australian horror films real ghosts are very common. Hence sometime we describe filmmaking in China is like “dancing with feathers”.

Did you find that what you learnt at Sydney Film School could be applied to global filmmaking and if so, how?

In Sydney Film School, we shot and edit film. That experience was very important to me. That makes me like a craftsman. It gave me deep thought in image, which is hard to explain. I work on every detail; I treat my film as an artwork. In China, no film school teaches filmmaking so I believe these young filmmakers cannot really understand filmmaking as an art and it’s beauty.

Why did you choose to study at Sydney Film School?

It is great school and has friendly and lovely teachers. It’s like a big family. I learnt things in a very practical way. An unforgettable memory.

What was the process like beginning your career in China after you graduated from Sydney Film School?

My first job was as a writer working at the Beijing TV station. In the beginning, I had to earn the respect and trust from the investors and making my own networks in the industry.

What are you currently working on at the moment?

I am working on a few films as producer. Some new directors will shoot these films.

What advice would you give to students studying at Sydney Film School?

The most important thing in the beginning of your career is stamina. Sometimes you feel lonely because no one asks you to be his or her filmmaker and sometimes you feel angry because no one trusts you could be a good filmmaker, but you have to believe yourself and stick it out. Keep your dreams and your dreams will come true.

A Q&A with film and television Art Director and Sydney Film School alumni, Lee Launay

by Nicole Newton-Plater

Sydney Film School prides itself on giving it’s students a hands-on education to film-making so that they go into the competitive Australian film industry as prepared as possible with all the tools they need to start their long and successful careers. Graduate Lee Launay is only too happy to talk about this aspect of his alma mater and how it has helped him with his career thus far.

Since graduating from Sydney Film School’s Advanced Diploma course in 2010, Lee has worked in art and production design in both film and television in Australia and in the United States. He worked in the props department on the set of the 2013 films Goddess and The Wolverine and as the art director on episodes of the television shows The Voice and Disney Channel’s Hanging With Adam and Ash and the upcoming film, Jack Goes Home.

We are delighted that Lee has taken the time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about his experience at Sydney Film School and the benefits to his career of choosing to study there.


How did you initially decide to begin your filmmaking study at Sydney Film School?

I was always interested in design and storytelling. I spent more time building cardboard buildings, caves and spaceships for my action figures than I did acutely playing with them. I’d draw comics, write fiction and get some friends together to film improvised fantasy and drama shorts. They were awful, but put me on the path toward studying film. I had looked at a few other film schools, but didn’t want the sterile university vibe. I fell in love with the Sydney Film School creative space as soon as I walked in. It had character from top to bottom, and was full of instructors who were active filmmakers, not just full time teachers. The vibe is what got me and I’m very glad with my decision.

How did you decide to make art direction and production design your filmmaking focus?

When I began at film school I assumed (as most do) I would turn out a director. Over the intense year at SFS I tried many on-set roles, learning their responsibilities and the realities of what each entailed. I learnt a lot about my natural abilities, and through collaborating with other filmmakers developed a slew of new ones. It seemed my skills at drawing and ability to comprehend and articulate ideas into images made me a good fit for art direction. I dived in while in my second semester and have been working in the industry ever since.

You’ve now done work in both film and television. What are the major differences between working in the two? 

Working freelance is a constant hustle, but its always offering fresh and unique experiences. I’ve found that TVC and commercial music videos are very demanding but offer good money for short periods of high stress. Television shows are always under funded and thus art departments are always under the gun to deliver on tight turn-arounds, but it’s constant, dependable work with a steady pay check and forges great working relationships that ultimately lead to more work later. Feature films are their own beasts entirely. A visiting production from the USA has a very different feel to a local feature and the budgets involved can vary dramatically. Feature films offer a fantastic scope of challenges and are where I would ideally like to spend most of my time. Working with a dedicated crew on a single project for a long period of time really tests your mettle and evolves you in your chosen art.

In your few first credits in film and television you were working in the props department. What does working with props entail? Is this a good place to get your foot in the door working in the art department on projects?

The Wolverine remains the biggest production I’ve worked on. I was hired as “Assistant Standby Props”, which is a gloriously misleading term for “Assistant to the On-Set Art Director”. It’s a role that mixes set dressing, prop fixing, rigging, carpentry, SFX, construction, cleaning and A LOT of sweating. I got to build some set pieces and props that got a major close up in the film. I became “Claw-Wrangler” of Wolverine’s deadly blades and would be called on by the Director by name to solve problems as they arose. Strangely when given the extra responsibility, I sort of “settled” into the high-stress environment more. The lessons learnt were invaluable and talking favourite 90’s cartoon theme songs with Hugh Jackman between resets will remain a treasured memory.

What was it like to work on films Goddess and The Wolverine?

Working on a big set is daunting no matter your role. There are so many people to meet, names to remember and protocols to adjust to that I remember feeling really overwhelmed the first time. But with each completed project I realize there isn’t as big a difference between short film and ‘Hollywood Blockbuster’. The budgets are bigger and there’s more to do, but at the end of the day you are still showing up early, solving problems creatively and then going home to do it again the next day. No matter the budget, the “perfect” tool for the job is rarely in reach and it comes down to the ingenuity of the team in place to keep the project moving forward.

You’ve now made the move to be working part-time in the United States. When did you decide to start work in the United States and what was the process like to break into the film business there?

LA is a soup of people trying to ‘make it’. Everyone is trying to do something. Every waiter is an actor, every receptionist a model or a singer… it’s a big masquerade ball of people doing things to survive long enough to “make it” doing something else…myself included I guess. Everyone is a scrapper; it reminds me of that Old Ben line from A New Hope, “Never was there a more wretched hive of scum and villainy”.

In contrast Australia’s film industry is a small one. We have incredibly highly trained and talented professionals doing amazing work on the limited number of production available. After a few years of stable freelance work I wanted a new big challenge, so began to search out productions abroad. In the USA there are a huge number of productions being crewed and completed everyday, the foot in was all I needed. 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.

I realized that the Australian standard of work is very high due to our competition in the job market, and that having trained here was indeed a privilege. With the fear of being an ‘outsider’ somewhat faded, I threw myself at more projects, always aiming up and last year I Art Directed my first feature film shooting in upstate New York as head of the art department. Jack Goes Home is a psychological thriller directed by Thomas Dekker and starring Rory Culkin, Lin Shaye, Britt Robertson, Natasha Lyonne, and Nikki Reed, which premiered at SXSW Festival in March and will hit Australia early 2017.


People often comment on the differences in film financing between Australia and other countries. As you work in production design and in the art department, is this something you feel is evident in production when you are working overseas?

Yes. Australian funding rests largely in winning grants or being awarded funds by government bodies. In the USA there is a market for producers to gain multiple streams of private funding,either on their own merits or on their ability to sell the production to a financier. An indie feature’s budget can start at $300,000 USD and then be rocketed up to $1million USD while shooting through acquiring additional executive producers, letting them visit the set, “wowing” them with the footage shot or simply by getting the right handshake over drinks at a bar. The funding structure the USA seems much less rigid and with more to go around. However, having said that I am not a producer, so I’m sure there’s an entire inside-ballgame that I was not privy too. I’ll just say that I think the Australian Film industry is dramatically underfunded and I really hope we can begin to create Australian franchises to send internationally,as opposed to simply crewing American features that shoot here to save a few bucks.

What are some of the challenges you have faced working in the art department in film?

You name it. There’s no proper way for me to answer this question. Filmmaking is all about challenges. Overcoming challenges against insane odds is what we do. It’s how we learn, how we grow and how we become fearless. I’ve encountered everything from trying to safely orchestrate a horse-mounted gun-fight sequence on a mud slicked hill in thick fog under a heavy rain machine to how to dig a meteor sized crater in the desert, and where to hide all the dirt. No matter the production demands the biggest challenge remains getting out of bed on a cold morning.

You still have a great deal of contact with Sydney Film School. Do you feel that it is important to stay in close contact with where you studied?

Important? I don’t know. I certainly like it. I would not be where I am without the tutelage of Sydney Film School and as I worked with filmmakers who studied elsewhere, I became certain that I made the right choice. A film school needs to allow growth, it needs to hold its own spirit and it needs to challenge you. Nothing has ever been nourished by a concrete slab, which sadly I feel are all other film courses offer…blocks of pre-fabricated lesson plans. I like staying in contact with SFS as it keeps me connected to the future of the Australia film industry. On a selfish level I know that somewhere in each semester is a future producer or director who may ultimately hire me, but really this industry is all about collaboration and I know that every year SFS will produce another set of talented art directors destined to be a collaborator. I do my best to offer assistant roles and paid work placements to alumni as often as I can. I know they will have a strong work ethic and take pride in the results. The SFS community is a unique one that I’m proud to be a part of.

How has what you learnt at SFS helped you in your career thus far?

The greatest offering by Sydney Film School was the ability to try new thing and make mistakes on working film sets. SFS’s focus on practical film making means you can try and fail over and over in a supportive environment, so you can learn from, and ultimately not make those mistakes when working on a professional production. In my first semester I volunteered on a dozen Part 2 Thesis films and I made every mistake in the book from sleeping through alarms, to breaking things, to my phone ringing while filming… you name it, I learnt the lesson in film school. I continue to learn from every production, but becoming intimate with on-set etiquette and protocol was invaluable to me delivering on the first jobs that got my foot in the door.

What projects do you have coming up?

I’ve just wrapped on a short film by Australian director Genevieve Clay-Smith called Kill Off staring ‘American Horror Story’s’ Jamie Brewer. I’m now beginning pre-production for a music video with director George-Alex Nagle, who is another SFS Alumni, to shoot early next month with a TVC to follow. I have plans to return to the USA for a feature film at Christmas, but as productions often get delayed I’m still looking for work locally just in case.

If you could give one piece of advice to those starting their filmmaking journey, what would it be?

Try everything, stay focused and don’t give up. Life is going to be tough no matter what, so prepare your self for a lot of soul-searching in-between each amazing production. Filmmakers suffer from a great deal of ‘impostor syndrome’ and self doubt that can make the jobs we don’t get seem more important than the ones we do, but it’s this feeling of ‘Oh maybe I’m not good enough’ that keeps us humble, keeps us motivated and keeps pushing us to aim higher and higher. So stay focused on your goal, I’ve found it to be a truly amazing existence, worth every petty stress and sleepless nights.

A film school journey – Erin Latimer

erin1Since her Sydney Film School graduation in 2013, Erin Latimer has been extremely busy.

Not only has she started her own production company, Permanent Ink Pictures with her brother and current Sydney Film School student, Justin Latimer, she has also continued her film study at the University of New South Wales. Erin is a great example of how the diploma obtained at Sydney Film School can compliment both past and future study. It opens pathways to more opportunities as well as broadens your filmmaking knowledge and understand each part of the process to work in different roles in the filmmaking process.

We thank Erin for taking the time to answer a few questions about her time at Sydney Film School and her study and film work after graduation.

by Nicole Newton-Plater

Q: What led you to choose Sydney Film School to begin your film study?

A: I did an acting program at NIDA when I was 16. At one point we collaborated with some other NIDA students who were making a short film and I knew at that moment that I was on the wrong side of the camera. I then went to TAFE and studied Digital Media where my favourite class was video editing and it became obvious that film school was the next step. Watching some short films in the Sydney Film School cinema on their Open Day, I knew that I wanted to spend the next year making films too and that I’d come to the right place. I’m pretty sure I took the application form home, filled it out and returned it to John Buckmaster that same day.
Q: How did Sydney Film School  help you choose which area of filmmaking you wanted to specialize in? 
A: I specialised in Screenwriting and Cinematography while at SFS. I’d always been into writing and learning to craft screenplays was an opportunity I had been waiting for. Cinematography was also something I’d always been interested in, but never knew much about. SFS gave me the chance to get hands-on with cameras right away and after focus pulling for the major film in Part One, I was keen to continue in the camera department for the rest of the year and landed a DOP (Director of Photography) role for Part Two.
Q: As you are now completing a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Film Studies and Creative Writing at University of New South Wales, how did your study at Sydney Film School help pave the way for further study?
A: I came into UNSW with a lot of knowledge about the practical side of filmmaking. In my first year at university, I took a practical course where our tutor showed us how to use DSLRs and basic lights and tripods, but after film school none of that was new to me. I never took another practical course and instead have spent the last two and half years focused entirely on film theory, which has been a great benefit to me as a writer. Having practical skills under my belt first also complimented my university study well, as I’ve been able to use my deeper of knowledge of cinematography, sound, editing and much more to write better informed theory and analysis. 
Q: Do you think it is beneficial to study film and continue to progress your career in film at the same time?
A: That depends on your situation, I would say. If you’re in a position where you’re getting paid to work in the industry, I would leave study behind to focus on that at least temporarily. For me the last couple of years have been very busy study-wise so I haven’t had a lot of time to sink my teeth into paid film work. Instead I have been focused on personal film projects and building the beginnings of my production company, which is of course a big part of progressing my career.  
Q: Do you find that the work you are doing often coincides with what you are studying?
A: Since I’m studying film theory and creative writing I would say as a writer yes, but as a director, no. I’m currently taking a class called Reviewing the Arts which focuses on crafting reviews and criticism in a chosen discipline, which is of course film and television for me. I’ve recently begun writing critical/analytical essays and reviews for a website called Fandom Following, which is all about nerdy media and pop culture. Having that opportunity coincide with that class has been quite beneficial as I’m learning to hone my skills as a reviewer while getting published at the same time.
Q: How was your production company, Permanent Ink Pictures established?
A: When I wrapped up at SFS in 2013, I left with a free weekend of RED camera gear hire thanks to a cinematography award from the school. I used this to direct my debut project outside of film school, a music video called “Hooks” by Daniel Tomalaris. I wanted my work to have a brand from the start, especially since I knew I would be collaborating with my brother Justin in future (who is studying at SFS currently), so having a single name to put all of our work under was something I wanted to establish right away. So Permanent Ink Pictures was born.
Q:Permanent Ink has a great connection with SFS, as you show on the company’s website and Facebook page. Do you find it important to pay homage to where you studied?
A: Absolutely, but even more so I think it’s important to pay homage to everyone you collaborate with. Filmmaking is impossible without a team and when you’re a new filmmaker not getting paid and not able to pay everyone you work with, getting names out there is everything. A lot of the people I still work with now have come out of Sydney Film School, such as Hannah Klassek who has been my cinematographer for both “Hooks” and my first short film The Crush Space and we’re likely to work again in the future. This is also the reason that we’re building up a recommendations page on our website, to highlight who our key collaborators are and do what we can to get them noticed by others. Everyone currently listed on that page has been incredible to work with and I’m more than happy to support them as I couldn’t have made my films without them. 
Q. The Crush Space was Permanent Ink Pictures first short film. It’s also a great example of a successful crowd funding campaign, what do you think made people so eager to contribute to the film and how did you generate interest for it?
A. Almost everyone that contributed to the crowd-funding campaign knew me in person or knew someone else working on the film. It was great to see what a large network of support the project generated largely through social media and word of mouth. The Crush Space was a first for a lot of us….one of the lead actors was just stepping into film for the first time after starting her career in theatre for example and a number of the crew were university students or recent graduates of film school. So I think everyone was really eager to see the film succeed because of what it might be able to do for our careers. 

Q. When you first started production on The Crush Space, you already had the goal of submitting it to film festivals in mind. What advice would you give to people wanting to submit their films into festivals?
A. Festival submission has been a big learning curve for Permanent Ink and we received a lot of rejections, but there was also quite a few achievements as well. We got into a new festival, Sydney Indie Film Festival, and received an award for Best Supporting Actress there. I would say do your research first, in pre-production, and have in mind which festivals you want to enter into and why and to focus on a small number of significant festivals that your film can be marketed towards.

Q: The Crush Space sounds like it was the type of film you wanted to watch so you decided it would be you to make it. How important is it to have a personal interest in what you are making?
A: In my first semester at Sydney Film School I was the director of a short documentary. The production went pretty terribly at first….my sound recordist was two hours late to a shoot, my producer didn’t show up to any meetings and so on. I went to Leslie Oliver, who was the director of the diploma course when I was at SFS, for help and he simply said, “If you care about it, it will get made.” And I did, and so it did. The Crush Space was no different. I cared a lot about the story and luckily found other people who did too. I sometimes hear people use the phrase “passion project” in a negative way as if it refers to self-indulgence, but from my experience on the amateur and low-budget indie film scene I would say that everything is a passion project because when there’s not always enough money to go around you have to fuel yourself in other ways. Being interested in what you’re creating is the biggest one. 

Q: You have worked on the 
crew of music videos since leaving SFS including that of Samantha Jade’s “Up”. How is working on a music video different to working on a film?
A: Music videos are great fun as there’s always lots of room for experimentation. I’m personally drawn to music videos because as a writer I like the challenge of telling a story purely through images without dialogue, save the song lyrics if they’re at all related. My films are usually very dialogue-heavy so changing things up by making a music video usually results in something very different. Whether I’m directing or camera assisting or anything else, music videos are a great platform for trying new things and taking risks you might not think to take in a scripted short. 

Q: What projects do you have coming up?
A: I finish my final semester at UNSW in June, after which I’m flying to California for 7 weeks to take a break and catch up with family and friends, as well as get plenty of writing done. I’ve been stewing on some ideas for a web series for quite a while so I’m looking to sit down and pen some drafts soon. As for my next short, I have a little comedy script I wrote back in 2012 during my first semester at SFS. I plan to take it out of the drawer and rework it a little and get it made in the near future. But once I’m back from the US the main goal is to start looking for some work in the industry. With a film school diploma and an arts degree at my fingertips…not to mention the desperation of a recent graduate waist-deep in debt…I’m confident that I’ll find some work I’ll love.

A Q&A with Abu Shahed Emon, director of Jalal’s Story

An interview by Nicole Newton-Plater
Sydney emonFilm School alumni never fail to amaze with their incredible achievements in the film industry. 2009 graduate, Abu Shahed Emon is riding the wave of success with his feature film ‘Jalal’s Story’ which has been critically acclaimed during it’s festival run and theatrical release in Emon’s native country of Bangladesh. The film, which follows the life of a boy found in the river Nile, has been selected as the official entrant of Bangladesh to be considered for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Feature. ‘Jalal’s Story’ is also being featured in this year’s Sydney Film School Festival in the International Perspectives Program, which will be held on Tuesday December 15.

We thank Emon for taking the time to speak to us at Sydney Film School in anticipation of the screening of his incredible film, ‘Jalal’s Story’ at the Sydney Film School Festival later this month.

Q: Firstly, congratulations on ‘Jalal’s Story’ being the official entrant of Bangladesh for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars! How did you find out the news and how do you feel?

A: I was in Seoul, Korea at the time the official press conference was being held in Dhaka. I was in the class break and saw this in my Facebook news feed. As I am doing a MFA degree in Filmmaking in Korea I still consider myself a film student and ‘Jalal’s Story’ is like a big thesis project. I didn’t expect this much from this film, but now I feel blessed and thankful to the Oscar Committee of Bangladesh to chose this as the Bangladeshi Entry for the 88th Academy Award in the Foreign Film Category.

Q: Where did your interest in filmmaking initially come from?

A: It’s an interesting story really since I did my Bachelors in Psychology from Dhaka University. During my DU days, I got involved with the Dhaka University Film Society (DUFS) where my interest in films started. I always found myself thinking about films and from those thoughts came a desire to learn about filmmaking and the many aspects of film. I wrote a proposal for a semester-long exchange programme to the USA to study the “application of psychology in film”. I was awarded that and studied at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse, where I took courses on film only. That exacerbated the will to learn and I began looking for another opportunity. As luck would have it, I got an opportunity to work with Mr. Tareque Masud on the “Runway” movie project. His intensity and thoroughness transformed my ideas about every aspect of filmmaking. This influenced me immensely and pushed me towards applying for the Endeavour Scholarship in Australia. Luckily, I received it and went for my studies at Sydney Film School and RMIT. After the professional vocational training, I received another opportunity to do my Masters in Film Directing at the Korean National University of Arts in South Korea. So filmmaking and film school all led my final interest to choose it as a profession.

Jalal's-StoryQ: How did the idea for ‘Jalal’s Story’ come about?

A: It’s interesting actually as ‘Jalal Er Golpo’ or ‘Jalal’s Story’ did not start out as it is. It was first called ‘Jalal Er Pitagon’ or J’alal’s Fathers’, but halfway through making it I found myself reflecting on whether the story was on the fathers or on Jalal himself, and there I decided that the story belonged to Jalal. The inspiration came from when I was studying at Sydney Film School and my thesis film project ‘A Homemade Love Story’. Since I was a foreign student there, I observed and experienced how most foreign students go through a form of identity crisis when faced with the struggles in a completely unfamiliar setting, and after that realisation, I decided to write out a basic plot line that ultimately took shape as ‘Jalal Er Golpo’.

Q: How long was it from the story’s conception to when you were able to start production?

A: Well it took around five years from securing the finances to make it to the big screen. Two years only took for production planning, shooting and post-production.

Q: You’ve said in the past that it has been important for you to make films about Bangladesh that show a different side to it than the Bollywood side which is commonly seen in film. Was this a driving force behind the way you made the film?

A: I think Bangladeshi film doesn’t have a very unique identity yet like Iranian, Philippino, Bollywood or Hollywood films. Mostly the local makers import stories directly from the Tamil or Indian cinema, which is a big shame! I therefore, had the plan to tell the story in a Bangladeshi way. Secondly I tried to tell it in my way. So this is very important for me to keep making films which people can slowly recognise as Bangladeshi films in the future.
Q: For your debut feature you received funding from the Asian Cinema Fund. What advice would you give to up and coming filmmakers wishing to apply for funding for their film?

A: I think you need a good story, a strong pitching sense and working hard. For example, I never made it to the pitching session in Sydney Film School.  I think I really worked hard to understand the craft of treatment writing, pitching presentation style and synopsis writing due to my failure in Sydney Film School’s group projects. I will therefore advise up and coming filmmakers to take failure, identify your weakness, work hard and apply wherever you are eligible. Somewhere there will be someone who is passionate about your stories.

Q: Why did you choose Australia and Sydney Film School to come to and further your film education?

A: I got a scholarship by the Australian Government and that was the only option to me to fulfil the dream of going to a film school. Choosing Sydney Film School was easy. I think it came up in Google that year in 2008/09 as a top destination for film school in the world. So it was a chance encounter.

Q: How did what you learnt at Sydney Film School help you make both your acclaimed short ‘The Container’ and ‘Jalal’s Story’?

A: Well, Sydney Film School was my first time to experience the basic tips and tricks. Starting from Steinbeck to 16mm production, Sydney life, and one of my favourite mentors Leslie Oliver, this all slowly shaped up my ideas. At that point it was like clay in my idea shaping. I didn’t know which direction I should go or what to talk about, but slowly over the course of the 1 year Diploma I gained my confidence.  Therefore, the Sydney Film School experience and the continuous mentoring that I received has been a great influence in shaping up both the short and my debut feature.

Q: Would you encourage other people to study filmmaking abroad?

A: Of course. Travelling to another country, even learning cinema in an unfamiliar language could be a great brainstorming element in story making. I think my extensive travel in different places with cinema has given me the confidence as a filmmaker. It is still evolving and I think it will keep continuing.

Q: What have been the highlights of your journey with ‘Jalal’s Story’ so far?

A: ‘Jalal’s Story’ has run in the Bangladeshi theatre for ten weeks already. More screenings will follow again. It is representing Bangladesh for the ’88th Academy Award 2016  in the Foreign Language Category and also has participated in festivals including the 19th Busan International Film Festival, 45th International Film Festival of India, 7th Jaipur International Film Festival, 33rd Fajr International Film Festival, 6th Fiji International Film Festival, 19th AVANCA 2015 – International Film Festival, Indian Film Festival Melbourne 2015, 39th Montreal World Film Festival 2015, 64th International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg 2015, Asian World Film Festival, Los Angeles 2015, Phnom Penh International Film Festival 2015, 8th Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival 2015, 10th Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival 2015 and the 20th Kerala International Film Festival 2015.

Q: What is coming up next for you?

A: I plan on taking on my next project after finishing my studies in South Korea. After releasing ‘Jalal Er Golpo’, I have been writing my next two projects already. I will start production for which ever gets funded first. I can only disclose the titles at the moment, which are, ‘A Beneficiary of Death’ and ‘A Tale of a Policeman’. I hope the fans will like my work and support my films by understanding the theme I hope to put up to them in the future

Sydney Film School continues strong relations with international schools

by Nicole Newton-Plater
Sydney Film School’s Admissions and International Relations Manager, Dr John Buckmaster has just returned from a successful trip on behalf of the school to Europe. The aim of the trip was to build on and strengthen the school’s already existing relationships and establish new links with prestigious international schools, as well as to meet with Sydney Film School alumni who were living overseas and have the potential to become ambassadors for the school.

John began his trip on October 2 when he first flew from Sydney to Sweden and met with Glen Baghurst & Po Ingvarsson from Your Study Advisor. Together they visited towns including Gothenburg, Uddevalla,, Trollhattan, Falkenberg, Malmo, Helsingborg, Ystad, Karlstad, Norrkoping, Uppsala and Stockholm. He also attended the Lady Bug Film Festival while in Gothenburg. Leaving Sweden on October 18, he next travelled to Russia where he spent his time divided between Moscow and St. Petersburg before concluding his European trip in The Netherlands spending time in Enscede and Amsterdam. John visited numerous schools which Sydney Film School already has connections to and gave presentations. He also met with technical colleges in Sweden that the school had not yet established a relationship with. He caught up with several Sydney Film School alumni who are currently living and working in the film industry in their home countries.

IMG_2334John is a firm believer in the benefits of studying overseas and it is an ideal that is echoed throughout Sydney Film School students and alumni as international students are an integral part of the school. He stresses that studying overseas changes your perspective entirely and allows you to grow, but also is of great benefit to those domestic students who are working and learning with those from another country.

“We teach ultimately to work globally and film making is a global industry” he says. “It is important that local students work with international students so it teaches them how to engage with different culture”.

This trip to Europe has proved incredibly successful for the school with a number of international students expressing interest in coming to Australia and studying at Sydney Film School and several already submitting their applications for 2016. Sweden, Russia and The Netherlands are all countries steeped in exciting culture where exciting things are happening so it is an absolute thrill to see so many people from these countries excited about studying in Sydney and at our school.
John has now established the Ambassador Program for Sydney Film School. Ambassadors are alumni who are looking to stay in contact with the school and promote us in their home country with the goal to inspire prospective students to come to Sydney Film School. Alumni Valery Chichilanov is set to sign on as our first Ambassador in his hometown, Moscow.

If you are an alumni of Sydney Film School, currently living overseas and interested in becoming a Sydney Film School Ambassador, please contact John Buckmaster by email at

Olesya Mazur talks about coming from Russia to study at Sydney Film School

Studying in Olesya Mazuranother country is a daunting experience, but an extremely exciting one that is full of opportunity to learn and grow. Sydney Film School encourages and welcomes with open arms students from all around the world into their Diploma and Advanced Diploma programs. We currently have students attending the school from countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, France, Spain and Sweden who are all keen to learn about filmmaking in Australia in a practical sense.

Olesya Mazur is from Moscow, Russia and is currently studying Diploma of Screen and Media at Sydney Film School. After completing her study in TV and Film Production in her home country, she decided to further her studies overseas and chose our school based on it’s reputation for it’s successful practical component which is highly regarded in the industry.

We thank Olesya Mazur for taking time out of her busy Sydney Film School schedule to have a chat to us about her experience at the school and living in Sydney.

Interview and article by Nicole Newton-Plater

Firstly, where are you from in Russia and what did you study before coming to Sydney Film School?
Originally I’m from Moscow. Few years ago I graduated from a course in Management in TV and Film Production at Moscow State University. Also after graduation I worked for 2 years in TV production.

Was studying overseas at film school something you had always wanted to do? And why?
During my study at university I was thinking about going to study overseas, but at that moment getting working experience in the industry was my priority. After two years of working in TV production, I came back to the idea of studying overseas because I was always interested in the practise of international film production in order to meet different prospects in filmmaking and, of course, to improve my English. For me it was also important to compare my own experience to combine elements of my previous working experience and new knowledge in order to achieve better results.

Where did you first hear about Sydney Film School and how did you make the decision to come here?

I saw an ad on the website of the Australian embassy about a presentation of the school. I really liked the idea of practical orientation of the school and that I could meet closer with editing software, camera and lighting gear. I think that truly you could learn filmmaking only by actually making something, and not learning the theory, though it’s also important.

Do you find Sydney Film School accommodating for foreign students such as yourself?

Everyone is very supportive and always trying to help. It’s really nice that except me, there are a lot of other overseas student from all over the world like Brazil, India, France, Spain and Sweden. I think it’s a great opportunity to collaborate and network for the future.

What was the most challenging part about coming to a new country for film school?

For me it was just an exciting adventure. I was very excited, though a bit scared of breaking my normal routine. I had mostly irrational small fears. I remember that I was worried about random small things like where I will get my haircut. It’s stupid and irrational, but mostly I was just excited to start the program and to create a new life while doing what I really love…filmmaking.

And what was the best part?

Best part is to do what I love. The process of trying to find my voice as a filmmaker and the creation of my own projects.

What is something you feel you have learned about film that you perhaps wouldn’t have if you studied in Russia?

I guess it’s not about learning. It’s about the opportunity to create something of your own. I was working for TV production before and I was supporting developing and the creation of someone else’s idea. Here for the first time in my life I created my, completely mine project. It’s an amazing feeling to see how something that was just in your head, small and very general idea gets flesh and blood.

How have you found living in Sydney is different from your hometown?

It’s very laid back comparatively to Moscow, which never sleeps, and to find coffee after 5pm is challenging. You need to get into Sydney’s schedule. It’s more relaxed, though I liked it.

What do you plan to do after you complete your time at Sydney Film School?

Work, work, work and work. I want to find an internship or preferably paid job to get more experience. I’m looking forward participating in great and interesting projects and to see the world through the camera.