“As my old boss said to me, when you get to the top, send the elevator back down.”
Foot In The Door is a four-part interview series where Alistair Baldwin speaks with early-career screenwriters about breaking into the industry, what entry level jobs looks like and where (ideally) they might lead.
In this part he speaks with writer Hannah Samuel, who recently worked as a producer’s assistant turned extras casting coordinator turned script coordinator on ABC’s The Heights.
What’s your job - and, more importantly, what does that actually entail?
On my last production I worked as a producer’s assistant, extras & baby casting coordinator, and script coordinator. My next production starts in a month and I will be the production secretary.
For the production secretary role, I will be working closely with the production coordinator, assisting day to day running of the production office.
What was your first job in the industry, and how did it lead to where you are now?
Whilst in my final year of uni (a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Screenwriting at VCA), I started interning one day a week at Matchbox Pictures, which very thankfully turned into a full time job when I graduated. I worked as office coordinator for Matchbox Melbourne for two years – in which time I was able to note take in writers’ rooms and assist the development team.
In 2018 I jumped onto the Matchbox production The Heights, which was shot in Perth over 6 months. The Heights was a great learning experience as it was my first production role, and I was lucky to be placed in the very adaptable position of ‘producer’s assistant’ – where I was able to learn under the producer whilst experiencing lots of different departments and developing my skills under great mentors.
Is it the kind of job within the screen industry you ultimately want to do?
Ultimately I would like to be a writer, and my goals for this year are to get more work in the script department as script coordinator.
What lessons have you learned from your recent positions that you think may inform you moving forward as a writer?
It is so valuable working in the production office for a young writer – you see the implications of a script and how and why (which is the most important thing I learnt) changes need to be made on the fly.
More than anything I’ve learnt the value of hardwork and determination, extreme organisation and how to mess up, own up and move forward.
Do you think your perspective as a young person is valued?
Incredibly so - especially in writers' rooms, producers are so conscious of fresh and original voices that they’ll often turn to you and say ‘what do you think?’ Working in-house and on a production, I’ve always felt encouraged to speak up if I had thoughts on character or something jarred.
At Matchbox I was given the opportunity to co-write and co-direct an ad for Marriage Equality, as they wanted a younger person’s perspective in the debate. This was a great opportunity as myself and my co-director worked alongside experienced crew who took the time to mentor and guide us through the process, all whilst listening and valuing our vision.
Now that you’re in the industry, what was the biggest misconception you had about working in film and television?
Admin? There’s way more paperwork than I anticipated…
Look, I don’t want to jinx it but so far in my (very short) time in the industry, it’s been much more supportive than I had envisaged. Most people I’ve met are so generous with their time and in paying favours forward – as my old boss said to me, when you get to the top, send the elevator back down.
So many people have met with me, given me advice, sent me templates – all because they were once in my position – which makes me hopeful and determined that one day I’ll be able to do the same.
What advice would you give to someone aiming to get their foot in the door of the industry?
Everything – every job, every new opportunity – they are all based on relationships. It’s a small industry and if you’re a hardworking, easy person to have around, people will want you in the room.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire for coffees and go along to networking events (and don’t let that word scare you – it always did for me but it’s actually fun and sometimes there’s finger food!)
Finally – ride the highs and lows, and always prioritise your wellbeing. It can be a real rollercoaster, and it’s easy to be disheartened, so give yourself space when needed. Make sure you still have hobbies – your creative practice can only thrive from the adventures you have outside of work life.
Alistair Baldwin is a screenwriter and comedian based in Naarm/Melbourne. He has written for The Weekly, Hard Quiz and Get Krack!n (in which he also appears in as a very tired P.A.). Follow him on Twitter at @baldwinalistair.