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