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.”


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 jbuckmaster@sydneyfilmschool.com

Max Reinthal: From Gothenburg to Sydney

Current Sydney Film School (SFS) Advanced Diploma student Max Reinthal talks with Dr John Buckmaster, International Relations Manager, about life in Sydney and studying with SFS.

I go q= with fishing rodAbove:  Max with a fishing rod on set

“Gothenburg, (Sweden) was a majestic city with gothic buildings and trams that zigzagged throughout its metropolis. The trams were made up of new and old vintage cable cars; they had wires attached to a grid like system which resembled fishing nets suspended high in the air. This web of cables stretched out far across the busy streets below them until they stopped near a tempestuous harbour nestling the city. The two made their way along these streets, walking past monuments that testified to the city’s almost spiritual connection with the sea. The Killer noticed that each street corner had silver or Lego style trailers (called Korvk Kiosk) selling kebabs, hotdogs, Swedish meatballs and potatoes. Gothenburg was indeed a romantic city!”
– ‘The Nordic Lights’ Dr John Buckmaster, 2009.

Screen shot 2014-04-23 at 1.51.14 PM

Above: Gothenburg at night. (Source: Wikipedia)

Gothenburg is the city in which SFS student, Max Reinthal, was raised, a place that can seem almost nostalgic to him at times: now that he no longer lives there. The tempestuous harbour, ‘nestling the city’, was a call for him to travel across the seas and its horizons to discover something new. The oceans awaiting discovery were in constant view from his bedroom window, in his family home situated in the heart of town.

In his early 20’s Max decided to travel and study abroad. He first arrived in Australia to study a Bachelor of Science Degree at the University of Sydney. He soon realized however, that his passion was in filmmaking.

Max is also a musician – playing drums in a band – he looks like an elegant, 21st Century David Bowie. He started studying the Diploma of Screen and Media at Sydney Film School in 2013 and is now studying both Directing and Production Design in the second year Advanced Diploma.

In his first year, Max directed a documentary on his passion of mythical gaming and geo-political surveillance that was selected for a number of international film festivals. He was then 1st assistant director on a major Sydney Film School drama filmed in the sparse countryside of Goulburn and set in an abandoned prison. He directed his thesis graduation film and worked on other productions as a designer. During this first year Max found himself quite adept at designing what fills the camera frame – the heart of the film’s narrative.

It’s been a whirlwind year at the school and Max takes the time to explain his experiences over an espresso in the School’s open kitchen.

When I first came to Sydney I stayed on a friend’s couch. It was easy to find a place if you kept your mind open. You can find really cheap accommodation but you also have to think about locale and whether you want to live by the beach or prefer the inner city.

I first lived in a suburb called Petersham above a delicatessen. Now I live in Newtown. It’s a very trendy place. It’s full of people; from neo-hippies, hipsters to mums with strollers. You can find cheap places in Newtown.

I pay $175 per week rent. $25 for utilities (gas and electricity). Transport is mostly nil. I walk to school and use my skateboard or push bike. But my push bike is the best way to get around.

Above: King Street, Newtown. (Source: abc.net.au)

I spend $30 per week on lunch. You can get $2 stir-fry rice from the local fruit and vegetable shop. When I buy my groceries from Aldi, it’s $25 for two weeks, but I am a vegetarian.

I eat out twice a week. $50 for dinner, beer and wine. $20-$50 for other entertainment.

Once or twice a month I see live bands at underground music venues around Sydney. Cover charge $0 – $10.

My band and I pay $50-$60 to rehearse per session. It’s split 6 ways ($10 each).

I work at ‘Mary’s’; a cocktail bar in Newtown. It pays between $18-$25 per hour after tax plus superannuation and pension.

I had worked hard since I turned 18, but when I arrived you need an RSA (Responsible Serving of Alcohol Certificate). I took this test, it’s really easy – cost ($70-100).

I printed out 50 resumes at SFS and walked down King St (the main street) and handed my resume to every place. I went to one place at closing time when it was not as busy. “Mary’s” asked me straight away for a trial. With tips, I get an extra $5-$10 per hour. What I like about Sydney is that every suburb has its’ own identity. People in Sydney are more open. If you find the suburb (you) live in is not right for you, you just move – a new environment.

The friends I have at Sydney Film School are all (now) life-long friends. It’s easy to meet people here.

The courses at Sydney Film School:
I like the structure, way of teaching with heavy emphasis on practical side and the creative process. The workload can be heavy but that’s why I like the course

– you can set your own workload with the crew roles.

I made a film in the first semester that is screening now in a UK Festival. It was also screened at the Sydney Underground Film Festival (SUFF). It was really nice to see teachers here recommend it to festivals. The quality of films here is definitely worthy of festivals.

It was full-circle from watching previous work on the open day to watching your own films on the big screen.
Cost of Living in Sydney summary:

Rent:                     $175 per week rent.
Utilities and internet:   $25 per week
Groceries:                $30 per week
Entertainment:            $100 per week
Transport:           $20 to $nil per week

Total Weekly Expenses:         $350

Income:                   $400-$450 per week in the hand.

(20 hours per week x $30-35 per hour average, minus tax.)                           

During the study semester, students have a 20 hour per week work restriction.  In the holidays, Max can work more hours, allowing him to save money whilst being astudent. (Please check your own Visa conditions for possible paid work restrictions)

Dr. John Buckmaster will be in Sweden from May 2-12 to speak with prospective students, local schools and to catch up with our many previous graduates. 

John will be travelling to Stockholm, Gothenburg, Uddevella, Malmo, Ystad and Vaxjo and you can book an interview with him. For further details please email John at jbuckmaster@sydneyfilmschool.com