Making it in Melbourne's film industry: A student's guide

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Top Screen 2019, part of the annual VCE Season of Excellence, highlights the creativity of Victorian VCE Media students. Many participants go on to find success in industries such as film, television, radio and graphic design.

Beyond Top Screen is a special panel discussion featuring three such former Top Screen filmmakers, who are now enjoying fruitful careers - Tim Bartley, Ella Barton, and Vijay Thillaimuthu.

They say that taking VCE Media Studies has the potential to develop essential skills, establish networks of contacts, unlock possibilities and create pathways to an astonishing diversity of future careers.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority spoke with these filmmakers to discuss their career pathways, any advice they can offer for newcomers to the industry, and the skills they developed in VCE Media.

Tim Bartley

What is your chosen career path?

I work as a Producer & Director at a television production company I helped establish called Radio Karate. We’ve made shows such as Hamish & Andy’s Gap Year and True Story with Hamish & Andy.

I’ve ended up having a career that in many ways resembles what I was doing during VCE Media Studies and university...mucking around with friends and filming it! Over the years, it’s turned into a more serious undertaking, as the business side of things has grown, but at its core, creating funny content with friends is a lot of what my job is…and then the tricky part is figuring out how to get it delivered on budget and on time.

Can you tell us about the journey from high school up to now?

I really loved Media Studies at school, and would continually try and find ways to make all my other subjects resemble Media Studies by replacing essays with videos. I studied (the now defunct) Creative Arts at VCA/Melbourne Uni and really enjoyed it, but spent much of my time in the basement down at RMIT working on Channel 31 shows. This is where, with my current business partners, we made a TV show called Radio Karate, which in pre-YouTube days (yes, I’m that old) was one of the few ways to get content out there. From there, we managed to get a series of lucky breaks, working at Channel 7, then on Rove Live at Channel 10, where we honed our craft and were given some amazing opportunities to try new things. Eventually, we had the confidence to start our own production company. That was 10 years ago, and by many strokes of good fortune we’ve been lucky enough to keep creating content we love to make.

What advice do you have for any filmmakers thinking of studying VCE Media?

For me, collaboration is the defining element of making great stuff. You can have fantastic ideas on your own, but ultimately in a medium like broadcast television or film, you need to combine with a team in order to bring it to fruition. So my advice to people starting out is always to seek out like-minded people and then just keep making stuff. And who knows - you might make some life-defining connections in your Media Studies class like I did!

What does the future hold for you?

The world of TV is changing quickly at the moment, but my hope is that original and well-produced content will always find an audience. When you strip away budgets and contracts and schedules, I think creating and crafting ideas with a talented team are the best things about undertaking a creative career, so I hope to keep doing that until I’m old and waaaaay too irrelevant to make anything entertaining.

Ella Barton

What is your chosen career path?

I assist the Head of Development and Production at the Australian Children's Television Foundation – a role which encompasses so many things that I love to do. We provide funding and development support to producers and writers working on Australian children's TV projects, so I spend a lot of time immersed in creative materials and discovering new stories that we help bring to life. For me, it’s an important place to be at the moment given that the future of tailor-made Australian kids’ television is in jeopardy – there are a lot of factors working against it. It's wonderful to be able to contribute to the next generation of television storytellers who cater specifically to kids.

Prior to working at the ACTF, I worked as a production freelancer on feature films and TV dramas like The Dressmaker, Winchester and Offspring in various roles. Working in film production is crazy - long hours, weird locations and time-sensitive tasks make for some interesting situations...I could write a book. It's a lot of fun but you have to be very dedicated if you want to pursue that as a career path.

Can you tell us about the journey from high school up to now?

After high school, I studied Film and Television at Swinburne. While I was there, I volunteered on as many short films/TVCs/music videos as I could. I wanted to get as much experience as possible so that I had a broad understanding and perspective of how everything behind the camera works. My first broadcast television job was working as a runner on Neighbours; I was lucky enough to meet some wonderful people there who introduced me to a production coordinator. She hired me as a chaperone on a film called Now Add Honey and from there I made the jump into feature films. During this time, just for something different, I went and studied acting at NIDA Open in Melbourne and The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. The next few years involved working on different films and TV dramas as a production assistant, coordinator and cast PA. I’ve met some incredible people along the way. I started working at the ACTF last year and feel like I’ve found my place in the industry. Even though I’ve taken a bit of a round-about path to get here, I absolutely love scriptwriting and development.

What advice do you have for any filmmakers thinking of studying VCE Media?

Go for it! We experience so much of the world through screen media and it's a great opportunity to learn how to express yourself creatively using the language of cinema. It's also a really important subject to study so that you're aware of how other content creators get their messages across – the more you understand about how they present their ideas, the more you'll be able to decide for yourself what you think.

VCE Media is also a great opportunity to try out a few different roles within a filmmaking team. There are so many moving parts to a film or TV series - it's never as simple as writing, shooting then editing. Often you don't meet even half the people who work on the same film. It's really great to understand what others you work alongside contribute to making a film, especially when you're aspiring to write, direct or produce. Filmmaking is a team effort and if you want to eventually direct people how to do their jobs, you should know what that job entails.

What does the future hold for you?

That’s a big question - I love what I do now and hope that it leads to a greater involvement in television writing. The ACTF is a brilliant organisation to be part of – it’s a very kind, very creative workplace and I feel like I’m in an excellent position to learn from the best of the best. In the meantime, I’m always working on my own creative projects. I’ve been developing a play with my writing partner Debra Thomas for the last year. So hopefully we’ll be producing a play in the near future.

Vijay Thillaimuthu

What is your chosen career path?

I am an audio-visual artist and electronic musician concerned with exploring the physicality of sound through voltage and the exposition of sound synthesis through visualisation. Under the moniker Xenosine, I create intense multi-sensory works and provide live experiences in Australia and abroad. My pieces are driven by abrasive and chaotic rhythmic/textural elements, which are produced through the use of some fairly esoteric analogue equipment. My work is about pushing the fringes of our sensory capabilities and conveying something beyond the threshold of our perception. I am always exploring new ideas and processes. I know that technology has limitless potential and, when harnessed by creativity, that we are only limited by our imaginations.

Can you tell us about the journey from high school up to now?

I was fortunate enough to find a university course where I could explore techniques and ideas while refining my process and meeting many like-minded people, who were pushing various creative disciplines and discovering new methods of expression. My work here culminated in a collaboration with leading audio-visual artist Robin Fox and consecutive-year performances developed for the Melbourne International Film Festival. Since then, I have presented performances everywhere: from a retired warship in Brisbane for the Otherfilm festival, to an infamous arts institution built on the side of a mountain in Banff, Canada for the Convergence residency, to most recently, an epic concrete subterranean nightclub for the Tokyo Festival of Modular.

What advice do you have for any artists thinking of studying VCE Media?

Definitely consider taking up VCE Media and utilising the equipment and expertise on offer. Don't limit your vision and look to your teacher to help facilitate your ideas. Screen culture is a contemporary phenomenon and no-one can really say where it is heading and what new formats will exist in the future. Do not limit yourself by convention but by all means seek to understand the rich body of work in so many mediums that the subject encompasses. Focus on exploration and develop outcomes based on what is most meaningful to you. Wherever possible, follow ideas and work that interests you. Think broadly about what you would like to create in the future and how you see yourself moving forward as an artist. Plan your trajectory and think about what steps you need to take to follow your passion.

What does the future hold for you?

At the moment, I am developing a touring work utilising sound reactive projections, lasers and multichannel surround sound, based around orbital trajectories, rituals and the geometry of sound. I will be presenting this work locally and internationally. Additionally, I am refining and adding to an album for a release later this year. I look forward to the further curation of local artists as the Melbourne ambassador for an international electronic music live-streaming platform Powwow with over 60,000 followers. I am interested in sharing ideas and knowledge in the audio-visual equipment I have become proficient in using over the years. Having completed my first feature-length film soundtrack in 2018 for Weevil, I am interested in further collaborations in this medium.

Beyond Top Screen 2019 at ACMI is a panel discussion with former Top Screen filmmakers who have forged a career in the media industry.

It's happening at ACMI on Wednesday 24 April 2019, 12:30pm

Further information and to get tickets