5 Tips for New Sydney Film School Students

A week before the beginning of each semester at SFS, new students come in for Orientation Day. It’s a day where you get to meet your soon to be classmates, teachers and choose your starting electives for the year.

Looking back at my orientation at SFS – and indeed, all subsequent SFS orientations I’ve helped out at – I’m surprised at how quickly the initial awkwardness of meeting new classmates dissipates. Maybe it’s the informal get to know you drinks at the end of the orientation session, or maybe it’s Dr. John Buckmaster’s good-natured banter, but there’s an underlying sense of a new beginning each time.backroom

Don’t get me wrong, orientation day is comprised mostly of filling out forms, choosing electives and trying (and failing) to remember everybody’s name. It wasn’t the explosive start I had imagined for myself (where staff and teachers alike fell to their knees to thank the gods they’d been blessed with a student of my talent), but somewhere between the ice-breaking “Dad jokes” and my urgent need to impress, the right chord was struck and the semester clicked into gear.

Of course not every new SFS student is blessed with my delusions of grandeur. But in case you too need a dose of reality and me being the good Samaritan that I am, I’ve decided to share my top five orientation tips for the next group.  Enjoy!

  1. Be open-minded with your new classmates.

SFS is a very diverse community, with students of all ages coming from all over the world. On orientation day, try to talk to as many of your new classmates as possible; and not just to make friends. Making films is hard and these are the people in the trenches with you this year.

You know the Swedish guy with dreadlocks? He’s going to be the focus puller who nails “that shot” for you in six months time. Oh, and the Mum from Melbourne studying part-time? She’s going to produce the greatest thesis film SFS has ever seen.

It’s strange to think that the people you awkwardly hang out around on the first day will eventually end up feeling more like family than just fellow students. This is probably why, when I look back at my first day at SFS, I can’t remember any of my first impressions of my classmates – they are just part of the furniture of my life now and many of them are my closest friends.

  1. Go with it.

It may be the most mundane way to start a life-changing year: filling out VET-FEE Help forms, choosing electives, stressing about whether or not you jotted down the right dates and times for your classes. Depending on how you look at it, it can feel like a false start, or the first day of the rest of your life.

There’s a lot to take in; a lot of forms to fill out and a lot of faces to try to remember. Don’t get overwhelmed: the staff and teachers at the school are not difficult to find, and will make time to stop and answer questions.

Plus: there’s free coffee and there will be for the rest of the year! At this stage, that’s all you really need to know. If you feel like you haven’t taken it all in, it’s not the end of the world; just enjoy meeting your new friends.

  1. Prepare a personal statement.

Imagine you have just opened a door to a community of creative people contributing to a discussion about the creative arts. Imagine that every single one of those people are interested in what you have to say and have provided you a single line to put it succinctly.

Every student gets a name-card that goes on the wall (and remains there for the duration of the year), on that name-card is a single line: “Personal Statement”. When I sat down to think of my personal statement, the blank space over that line reflected the abyss in my soul, and I panicked. I won’t tell you what I wrote, but it still stays with me today, inducing the occasional cringe when it pops into my head.

Okay, so it’s not that important – I don’t even know if anybody reads them. You don’t have to agonize over it, and SFS is probably the most judgment-free zone I’ve ever experienced. Even so, for your own sake, take my advice and give it some thought beforehand.

  1. Don’t be scared to talk “film”.

At the end of the day, there’s usually some food and drinks in the foyer for everybody to get to know each other better. It’s a good chance to chat with some of your new classmates and teachers about the kinds of films you like.

I remember being quite unsure of myself when it came to this part of the evening. What if they realize I don’t know what I’m talking about? Was it Kevin Bacon in ‘Dances with Wolves’ or Kevin Costner?


It doesn’t matter what level of knowledge or experience you have in the film industry. The Diploma does not require previous filmmaking experience. If, like me, you are worried that you don’t know enough, just remember that there is a bunch of other people just like you feeling exactly the same way.

  1. Get to know the guys in the equipment store.

Okay, so this tip is a little misleading – you should try to get to know everybody at the school over time, not just the crew in the equipment store. The reason that these guys get a special mention is the sheer effort they often put in around your production period.

These are the people who will be checking your gear and making sure it works, they’ll also give valuable advice along the way. Making films is really tough, especially when you’ve never done it before; take all the help you can get.

T O M   E A R L S

If you missed our Open Day last Saturday and would like to see the school/find out more information, we will holding a tour and information night on Wednesday 25 June starting at 6.30pm. Please email events@sydneyfilmschool.com if you are interested in attending.


One comment

  1. From the teenage I involb with film & tv line in our country I am fashion designer in australia last 30 years I make film costume still I doing same business . Thanks shahana

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