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


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.”


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.”








Life after Film School

By Peter Galvin


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!”

Sydney Film School on the red carpet at the Armani Films of City Frames Premiere

An article written by Nicole Newton-PlaterIMG_4160

After it’s tremendously successful initiation in 2014, the Giorgio Armani Films of City Frames made it’s return for a second edition yesterday Monday October 12 2015 as part of the 59th BFI London Film Festival and Sydney Film School was among the four prestigious international film schools to participate in the program.

Giorgio Armani-Films of City Frames involves four renowned film schools from around the globe and requires them to each make a short film. Each film was to be inspired by real individuals in the school’s home country and the emotions of their everyday life. The link between all the shorts is the eyewear from Giorgio Armani’s Frames of Life collection, in which the characters in the film view their realities.

Sydney Film School is extremely proud to have been invited by Armani to take part in this year’s Films of City Frames. We were represented at the event yesterday in London by alumni Chris Joys and Martina Joison, who were on hand for the screening of their film and our contribution to Films of City Frames, Clarity. Clarity, which was written and directed by Joys, is a unique film made especially for Films of City Frames about a blind photographer and the painter who is inspired to see in a new way through her.

When we were initially invited to take part in the event, alumni Martina Joison was appointed tutor by Sydney Film School to help select the team that would put together the film. This team came to include Joys, Quais Waseeq, Raphael Palencia, Victoria Allen and Robin Kover. Graduates from past years who have had experience in advertising were also invited to provide guidance.

Clarity was screened yesterday along with the threIMG_4174e other short films from the Holden School (Turin), the Academia Internacional de Cinema (Sao Paulo) and the Seoul Institute of Arts (Seoul). Very special guests at the event were Dame Helen Mirren, journalist Tim Blanks and BFI Chief Executive Amanda Nevill. The films were all screened to wide appraisal and were followed by a panel discussion moderated by the event’s special guests with the film makers.

All of the films featured in Films of City Frames will be available for public viewing on in the coming days.

Sydney Film School would like to congratulate the makers of Clarity on their exceptional effort and we are very proud to have been part of this year’s Giorgio Armani- Films of City Frames.

Maya Newell

SFS supports the right for Maya Newell’s, ‘Gayby Baby’ to be shown in NSW schools.

Sydney Film School graduate, Maya Newell’s film Gayby Baby has been the subject of a media storm over the past two days after the New South Wales Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli banned public schools from showing the film during school hours. The move came after Burwood Girls High School had planned to show the film which depicts children of same-sex parents to the school during two periods on Wear It Purple Day this coming Friday.

According to Mr. Piccoli, the decision was made based on a view that the showing of the film would disrupt the school’s planned lessons and that no film should be shown within school hours that does not comply with the school’s learning curriculum. A statewide ban has been issued on showing the film in public schools during school hours, but it has been reinforced that it is able to be screened outside class hours and that this ban is not a result of the content of Gayby Baby. However, a great number of people who have seen the film will argue that the minister is indeed missing the point of the documentary and that people should watch and understand before they condemn it.

Speaking on RN Drive on ABC Radio yesterday evening with Patricia Karvelas, our 2006 graduate was quick to point out that she believes that the film fits within the curriculum. Sydney Film School supports her view. We see the screening of the film sitting clearly in the curriculum of Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE), which encourages being inclusive of all students and valuing diversity.  As this is something Australian schools strive to achieve and do indeed include as part of their curriculum, it would seem Gayby Baby is not out of place within school hours.

Maya’s documentary has received an enormous amount of praise from its screenings at HotDocs in Toronto, Sydney Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival for it’s unprecedented ability to give children of same sex parents a voice. Gayby Baby, which has received a PG rating and was included as part of the Family program at the Sydney Film Festival, allowed audiences to see the normalcy of family life for these children, but also does not cover up the hardships they endure in growing up as part of their domestic structure. The film has screened to sell out crowds at festivals who have been keen to acknowledge and understand the intent behind the film and to connect with the four children whose lives are documented. As a child of same-sex parents herself, Maya’s intention in making the film is a desire to build a more understanding society.

Sydney Film School supports Maya wholeheartedly and encourages those who are expressing an opinion to see the film before passing judgment on it. We believe that education is a powerful antidote to discrimination and that education against discrimination is most productive when achieved early. It is difficult to think of a better way of addressing this issue with school aged children, given the subjects of the film themselves are school aged.

We therefore encourage Mr Piccoli to reverse his decision and allow NSW children to gain greater insight and understanding of their peers who may be in different family structures.

Ben Ferris – Artistic Director, Sydney Film School

Gayby Baby has been nominated for Best Feature Length Documentary at this year’s AACTA Awards which will be held in December this year and will be opening in limited theatrical release in Australia on September 3.


The Tarkine Tug-o-War

The Tarkine region in Tasmania is the 2nd largest cool climate rainforest on earth. In recent controversial news, mining company Venture Minerals has proposed several new iron ore mines within the region. There are strong supporters for and against this decision: some rallying against the destruction of the last disease-free safe harbour for the Tasmanian Devil and some arguing that the local economy desperately needs the predicted $40m p/year boost.

SFS graduate Julian Knysh is currently making a documentary on the subject and our resident blogger Tom Earls went down to Tasmania to lend a hand.

Above: The crew of the documentary, including SFS student Robin Kover (right)

The Background 

An extract from Director Julian Knysh’s Pozible crowdfunding campaign:

“While following the events as they unfold, the feature length documentary film will explore the raw beauty of all the natural values of the Tarkine; the arguments of development vs conservation and how we define, relate to and value the idea of resources and how we define and value wilderness.. It will show the very human face and different perspectives that people have in this highly politicised and fiercely passionate struggle…

…I first went into the Tarkine looking at the potential for a good documentary story. What I also found was a life experience having been affected by the place, the people and the passions the Tarkine incites.

Since those first visits the first new mine in the Tarkine has broken ground and a federal court case challenging the approval of a second mine has been adjourned to February. The Tarkine is shaping up to become one of the most significant environmental campaigns of the decade.

The wild and unique Tarkine deserves the world’s attention.”

And the story from Tom Earls’ POV

The Tarkine region of Tasmania is one of the most diverse and delicate ecosystems in the world. It’s home to dozens of endangered species and, if you believe the locals, home to one supposedly extinct one too (seen any Thylacines lately anyone?). It spans nearly half-a-million hectares and yet, less than 5% of it is protected as national park.

Predictably, our fun-loving brothers and sisters from mining and logging companies want a piece of the sweet, Tarkine action; and a sweet piece they’re getting indeed. Three-trailer-long logging trucks filled with dead trees are a common sight on the roads around the region and it’s not uncommon on your travels through the wilderness to come across fields of stumps and ugly holes in the ground.

It’s a sticky problem given the fragile nature of Tasmania’s economy. It’s hard not to notice all of the bumper stickers in support of logging and mining the Tarkine. The prevailing wisdom among many locals seems to be that most of the region is useless grassland that holds a wealth of iron-ore beneath. While it should only take a brief walk along any of the trails near the Tarkine Wilderness Lodge to destroy that simplistic analysis, it’s not hard to see where they’re coming from. When you consider the isolated nature of many of the nearby communities, without the industrial clock ticking over, it’s hard to see where the jobs would come from.

When my friend and fellow SFS grad, Julian Knysh first told me about a documentary he was making on some obscure corner of the country, I couldn’t even pronounce Tarkine (Tark-een or Tark-eye-ne?), let alone imagine what a beautiful place it would be. However, it didn’t take much reading to convince me that Julian’s was a worthy cause to get involved in. He had managed to gather a little money and enough support to get a small production team located in the small town of Wynyard on Tasmania’s north coast.

I expected to walk onto a shoot that was caught between two sides of a very long and protracted argument. This wasn’t the case at all. In fact, a bristled encounter with a grizzly petrol station attendant aside, my time on the shoot was devoid of confrontation completely.

Notwithstanding that Julian and his team had been shooting for weeks before I arrived (and, at the time of writing, are continuing production), the days of shooting I was involved in were largely spent in the peaceful quiet of some of Australia’s most scenic and isolated locations.

There’s a lot to be said for this process. The long days spent in temperate rainforest capturing its’ beauty completely remove the Tarkine from any political arena. The footage captured speaks for itself, including some breathtaking aerial shots of the low clouds over the expanse of rainforest.

The Tarkine is ancient: older than the first indigenous settlers. It harbours life so diverse as to rival the Galapagos Islands. Several days of shooting were dedicated solely to the subtle beauty of the various fungi (there’s something I never thought I’d write) in a neat spot called Philosopher’s Falls.

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Above: Some of the many species of fungi in the Tarkine

After a few days of shooting, the pressures of the ultra-low-budget documentary shoot became apparent, and Julian decided to down tools for a few days to get things realigned. Disappointing though this was for him, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for myself and a couple of the other crew members, as it allowed us the opportunity to explore the greater region with more freedom.

It’s very easy for me to wax lyrical about the transcendent nature of the places we visited. Indeed, aside from the odd bridge or walking track, it’s hard to imagine some of these places look very different now than they did a century or two ago, perhaps even longer. One evening in particular was spent watching the sunset over the mouth of the Arthur River, where the sky lit up orange and pink, and the crew was treated to the kind of natural marvel our indigenous ancestors would have enjoyed nightly.

The experience was truly surreal, and the end of every day left me wondering how anybody could walk into any one of these places and seriously consider blowing it up – they must literally have dollar signs for eyes.

Getting back into production was easier considering the nature of the shoot: A cold night spent in a hide (which is a sort of camouflaged shack in the bush), silently waiting for Tasmanian Devils to appear and take apart a found dead wallaby being used as bait. Although no Tasmanian Devils turned up (I did almost hit one on the road driving back to base!) some excellent footage of a Quoll was captured, tearing the found dead wallaby limb-from-limb (okay, so it’s not all peace and quiet).

It seems to me that the sheer size, age and beauty of the Tarkine would automatically disqualify any attempt to destroy any part of it. In fact, that this is a political issue at all seems to fly in the face of common sense. Whatever the outcome (and at this stage, it doesn’t look good for the greenies), Julian and his team may have captured the last images of a real ancient wonder.


For anybody who wants to learn more, I would encourage you to start at – this website covers everything, from the numerous endangered species currently housed in the region (including the last disease-free population of Devils) to the various threats to the region’s health. Be sure to keep your eyes on SFS newsletters and bulletins, as I would wager that, before long, Julian and his team will need more helping hands.

SFS Alumni to take on the Mongol Rally

MongolRallyPiratePullingSuzukiIn July this year, four of our graduates, Clementine Oldfield, Davide Carta, Filippo Grando and Samuel Dunn, along with friend Zacharie Darroch will set off on what will surely be the trip of a lifetime: The Mongol Rally.

 The Mongol Rally, organised by “The Adventurists”, is a car rally that begins in London, UK and ends in Ulan BatorMongolia. According to Wikipedia, it is the “greatest adventure in the world”. 

 It is not a traditional rally: it’s not a race, no prize is awarded for first place, there is no support team provided and no other arrangements are made such as accommodation. Indeed, the diminutive vehicles (maximum engine displacement of 1,200cc!!) are deliberately inappropriate for the task, and in keeping with the adventurous spirit of the rally.

Sounds like the basis for a great documentary doesn’t it? 

Team “Quartermaster” Clem gives us a glimpse into what inspired this bunch of SFS alumni to embark on such an epic adventure, how their planning is progressing and what they plan to do in such a small car for such a long period of time.

I suppose it all started with Filippo Grando: the paper hat wearing, photograph taking, Italian speaking SFS graduate. He studied at the film school in 2010 and like many others, had made far too many friends in Sydney to leave just yet and decided to stick around after graduation. He moved in with a handful of other film-crazy students and SFS alumni and continued to work on short films, music videos and feature films alike. Three years later, his visa came to an end and although he definitely wasn’t ready, it was time to start thinking about going home.Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 11.09.58 amAbove: Filippo on set

His impending departure was hanging over his head for months and, although everybody promised to visit him in Italy, he proposed an idea that he hoped would tempt them over sooner rather than later… A 15000km drive from England to Mongolia, aka: The Mongol Rally.

When I first heard about the rally, the first thought that crossed my mind was: : “Who would be crazy enough to drive a third of the way around the world with no support or GPS over unmapped desert in a car the size of a lawnmower?”.

I signed up a week later.

I like to think that I needed more convincing but I was sold the minute I heard that danger and adventure would be involved. Pretty soon we had a full team that comprised of 80% filmmakers. It only seemed natural to plan as many films to make on the journey as possible; including (but not limited to) a full documentation of the adventure from beginning to end.

We naively believed that the hurdles would begin when we started driving from London. They actually started to come at us the moment we sat down to organize our visas. Between the starting line in Battersea Park and the finish line in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, we will be driving through twenty different countries. This means acquiring visas from Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, the notoriously strict Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey.  Each visa application comes with its own unique set of obscure rules and the whole process takes about fifteen times longer than you anticipate. Our precious passports are currently sitting on somebody’s desk in the Kazakhstan embassy in Singapore. It’s enough to make your stomach churn.

One of the other major hurdles that we encountered as a team was to decide on what we should call ourselves. We all agreed that the team name would have to be perfect. It would have to define us cleverly and have enough wit to make other teams both admire and envy us. Beyond that – we couldn’t agree on anything.

For a long while, we were called “I Khan’t Believe it’s not Baatar”. This was a result of Sam exclaiming the first pun that came to mind and nobody else having a better idea. After weeks of discussion and pages upon pages of facebook group messaging, we were down to two options. “Tsar Wars: The Empire Strikes Yak” and, what ended up being the winner: “Battletsar Galactikhan”. As you can see, our priorities clearly lie in cheap puns and science fiction.

Yak-WalkerCylon-HatAbove: Two of our many logo incarnations

The next most important thing that we had to decide on was how we were going to get to Mongolia. The combinations of countries and cities that we can go through are endless and none of us know the slightest thing about travelling central Asia. The route that we finally decided on was: “England, France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine, Transnistria, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, a ferry across the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and finally Mongolia. This (fingers crossed) should take us 6 weeks to complete. And then we drive back.
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Above: A previous rally team’s car (Credit: The Adventurists)

If you do a quick Google search of the rally, you’ll find blog after blog that talks about the difficulties that people have faced while stuck at a border crossing for days, trapped on a freighter boat on the Caspian sea, avoiding the reckless drivers of Romania or trying to fix broken axles on their way to the “Door to Hell”. But for every horror story, there are countless heart-warming tales of the kindness of strangers. Many a team have spent the night in a Mongolian family’s yurt and shared a bottle of vodka with the locals in Siberia.

That being said, we aren’t doing this purely to risk our lives or to taste the various varieties of Russian vodka – there are bigger things at stake.

In the spirit of the rally, each team commits to raising at least £1000 for charity. The official Rally charity is Cool Earth, an organization that works alongside indigenous villages to halt rainforest destruction. In the words of The Adventurists, “Where would we get lost if we didn’t have jungles?”

But we didn’t think we should stop there. Not only do we want to raise more than just the minimum amount, but we have also chosen a second charity to support. The Lotus Children’s Centre is a place in Ulaanbaatar that provides shelter, food and education to vulnerable and abused children in Mongolia’s capital city. At the end of the trip, we will be spending some time at the centre, volunteering and shooting films with the kids.

Ger kids pink hats
Above: The Lotus Children’s Centre

As for how five people will survive 12 weeks in a very small car… well, we are all good friends so hopefully we’ll be ok. Filippo and Davide can talk to their hearts’ content about AC Milan and we’ll become grand masters of travel scrabble and “I Spy”. The music choice is going to be on a strict rotation or all hell might just break loose. Whatever happens, arguments make for great documentary content. 

Team Battletsar Galactikhan will be posting blog entries as often as internet access allows, but will be keeping a diary to catch us up when they can. And of course, with a car literally full of filmmakers, you can rest assured there will be plenty of great footage to come out of this adventure!

If you’d like to help Clem, Davide, Filippo, Sam and Zac, to help others, please consider contributing to their campaign here.                  

You can track the team’s progress directly by signing up to their blog and following them on facebook. SFS will also keep you up to date via our bulletins. 

SFS wish Clem, Davide and team, a safe and amazing trip and we can’t wait to hear all about it!

Can Ghosts Forgive?

On Friday March 14, Hoyts cinemas at the Entertainment Quarter in Moore Park held a special screening of “Johnny Ghost”, an Australian independent feature shot on a micro budget that has found immense success at film festivals domestically and worldwide.

The film is a result of Writer/Director Donna McRae (a PhD student at Monash University) being granted a scholarship to the tune of $40,000 – the budget the film was made with.

Present at the screening – which was organized and hosted by distribution company “Titan View” – were McRae, Production Designer, Michael Vale and Lead Actress, Anni Finsterer. All three held a brief Q&A after the session to talk about their achievement.

The film is a psychological thriller about a woman literally haunted by the ghosts of her past. Millicent, a music teacher, is a product of the punk music scene in St Kilda, and as she approaches middle age, it becomes clear that she’s never moved on from a tragic event from her youth.


Above: Still from “Johnny Ghost”

The film is a personal story of the search for redemption and forgiveness, and it bears the mark of several brave creative decisions. Perhaps the most interesting among these was McRae’s choice to entirely avoid the cliché of ghosts as psychological constructs, instead preferring to include actual ghosts (although perhaps not particularly surprising when you consider that McRae’s PhD is entitled “Projecting Fantasy – The Spectre in Cinema”).

This decision led to an interesting ebb and flow of suspense and intimacy throughout the film – though I’ll leave it to audiences to decide whether this combination really works.

That said, it’s difficult to argue with the accolades thrown at “Johnny Ghost” so far. Innumerable selections and awards at festivals around the globe include the Berlin Independent Film Festival, Best Feature at the South Texas Underground Film Festival, and the Special Jury Prize at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival (just to name a few).

It’s a great example to independent filmmakers all over the country. ‘Johnny Ghost’ was shot over 10 (Ten!) days on a Panasonic P2 camera. With a little money and even less time, McRae and her crew went out with (let’s be honest) less than state-of-the-art equipment and shot a film that’s done extremely well.

During the Q&A, McRae repeatedly referred to her film as “the little film that could” – and with a real battle with the odds behind her, it’s easy to see why she feels that way.

The script was a progression of a 50-minute script she’d written years earlier about a punk rock band. When taking on the project, McRae decided to investigate what her characters were like twenty years later – when the partying’s over and the inquest is firmly underway.

Ultimately, ‘Johnny Ghost’ posed one question to me: “Can Ghosts Forgive?”


‘Johnny Ghost’ is available on DVD at You can find out more about the film and its’ remarkable journey at

Johnny Ghost