Film School

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!!

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.


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.

The Chairman and The Maestro walk into a bar…

“There are a million ways a girl can walk into a bar,” Ben Ferris once told my Advanced Thesis class. “But how does your girl walk into your bar?”
To me, this was a pretty clear intimation that the how is just as important -­‐ if not more so – than the what.
There are a million ways to grow a film school. Upon learning how the founding members of Sydney Film School originally planned to grow theirs, the first question one may have asked is; “are you insane?”

I sat down with the SFS Maestro (or more formally; Ben Ferris: SFS Artistic Director – though I prefer Maestro) himself, and separately, SFS Chairman, Mark Allen to discuss how their girl walks into their bar.

Nine years ago, it was a disagreement with the Sydney University union over the how, which led to what one may euphemistically call a “parting of the ways”. Irreconcilable differences arose around how the Diploma course (then a Certificate IV) was structured, and the type of student the production-­‐based model attracted.

This forced SFS out into the world alone to establish itself as a stand-­‐alone institution. The Maestro highlights this as the first of many key moments for the school

Sydney Film School is always “in production”; thesis films, documentaries, major dramas and even the occasional animation. It strikes me as counter-­‐intuitive that one would enter a never-­‐ending production, though I suppose it helps that the output of films at the end of each semester is immense.

It is this “acclimatize or die” scenario that – rather than being the actualization of the flight of lunacy to which I previously alluded – is conducive to making mistakes and learning from them.

When I imagine the future of SFS, invariably I am ensconced by some starry-­‐eyed vision of some film school utopia, where artists run free from the banal realities of everyday life and all that exists is artistic discipline and self-­‐betterment. Unfortunately, as I’ve learned, it takes a lot of work to achieve such aims, as well as a hell of a lot of “existing in the real world”.

An artists impression of Sydney Film School in the future

An artist’s impression of Sydney Film school in the future

I wanted to know what the Chairman and the Maestro had in mind as the “ultimate vision” of the school, and there was very little disparity in the non-­‐ committal responses from both of them (although this is certainly a symptom of asking an impossibly broad question, I would have preferred the answer “world domination”). What it comes down to, according to both, is the school’s core values – articulated succinctly by the SFS motto: “Courage, Curiosity, Compassion”.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 3.57.33 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 4.33.25 PM
The SFS logo was designed by Ben Ferris’ sister, Willea using 3d animation software, Maya.

The whole purpose of the school, according to the Maestro, is to instill those values in the students. In order to do that, those values must, in turn, be innate to you.

The Chairman echoed this sentiment; adding that there has been no dilution of those values in the years he has been involved with the school.
“It’s about valuing the students as people, and instilling an ethos of educating people,” he says. “Unlike certain other schools, we don’t see students as economic units.”

The success of the school, according to Maestro, will ultimately be judged by the quality of the films it produces and the success of its graduates. He points to the recent introduction of the Advanced Diploma and the marked increase in production values it has already brought to the Sydney Film School Festival as a sign of progress.

Whilst both the Chairman and the Maestro admit to moments of satisfaction, both agree that there is always more to be done, and too few hours in the day to do them. Nine years ago, SFS went “into production”, nine years later, all that’s changed is the size of the cast and crew; and they’re still shooting. They must be insane.

T O M   E A R L S

Tom Earls is a graduate of the Advanced Diploma and Diploma at Sydney Film School