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Top Screen presents: top tips for aspiring filmmakers

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If you’re keen to be the next Baz Luhrmann, Adam Elliot or Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore and live the dream behind the camera, choosing Media as an elective or VCE/VET subject is a great start. You can gain storytelling, editing, audio and filming skills – and even start entering your work into festivals or a showcase at ACMI like Top Screen.

Top Screen is part of the VCAA’s VCE Season of Excellence that celebrates outstanding senior secondary student work. Top Screen 2019 runs until Tuesday 7 May at ACMI, and features work from VCE Media students in film, animation and motion design.

Amongst the 14 outstanding Top Screen participants selected this year, we caught up with Chloe Chin, Maddie Jamieson, Chris Lecnik and Daniel Shen, to gain some insights into the filmmaking skills and techniques they developed during VCE Media, plus their top tips for success.

Chloe Chin

Chloe’s film, Starry Boy, is a tale of a boy living on a star above Earth – but at its core, her piece highlights a bleak environmental truth. With her idiosyncratic style blending puppetry, animation and live-action, she cites Wes Anderson and Jean Pierre-Jeunet as key creative influences.

1. Think big, but think realistically

Every media student wants their SAT to be their ultimate masterpiece and most prized creation. Whilst you should certainly push yourself to create the best piece of work possible, keep in mind that you shouldn’t make the SAT harder for yourself by overloading yourself with work. Keep to things you know you can do and are good at. For example, some people decide to write their own music even though they hardly play an instrument. Don’t give yourself extra stress! You can do amazing things with simple processes.

2. Gain audience feedback – e.g. through SurveyMonkey

Something that I think I would do again, if I were to make another short film, is the audience surveys - to find out what my target audience actually wants to see, and then what they liked about it or what they want to change about my film… That was so helpful to actually have an idea of what people who watch fantasy films expect from that genre, or short films.

3. Don’t neglect theory over the practical

I would recommend just to focus on the theory work, because I feel like in terms of getting a good study score, a lot of students are so talented with their filmmaking skills, or photography, or website making, but then they fall behind on their theory work because they think it’s not important. But the exam is like…the majority of it is based on the two theory portions. So to get a good study score, you still need to be studious with your theory.

What’s next after Top Screen?

Media and Communications, and Business at Monash. I’m hoping maybe to start off in marketing or advertising and making TV advertisements or whatever - those sorts of things. Or music videos – a lot of directors start off with making music videos.

Maddie Jamieson

Maddie’s clay-mation film, Leased, is an exploration of stereotypes – a black comedy in which one bad neighbour meets a sticky end. She is influenced by the aesthetic of Aardman Studios and Instagram creators such as Movie Mountain.

As well as Top Screen 2019, Leased was also selected in the Kids FlickerUp category FLiCKERFEST in Sydney this year.

1. Use collaboration and teamwork

We had a good class so we would all work on each other’s, we’d go over and give each other tips.

Some people would show it to the audience and they’d be like, “That’s not good, you should change that.” Also help with editing. I didn’t really know much about editing but my friend’s pretty good.

2. Be ambitious – and push your boundaries

Don’t do something that you know you could do. Go a bit further than what you think you could do.

3. Be kind to yourself – find a balance

It’s just as important to relax as it is to work. There were certain moments when I knew I should have been working, but if you are able to balance the workload with breaks and collect your thoughts, next time will be more productive.

What’s next after Top Screen?

I got into Film and TV [Fine Arts] at VCA, based on my portfolio, and an interview and a couple of stories I’ve written. So I’m not doing animation but I think I could practice both and bring them together in a cool mix. I think being a director would be cool.

Chris Lecnik

Chris Lecnik’s neo-noir film Fingerprints is set in a foreboding urban underworld – where villains roam the streets in plain sight and no-one is who they appear to be. Chris lists Denis de Villeneuve and Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn as his filmmaking role models.

1. Plan ahead to save time

Plan everything specifically, and prepare for things to go wrong! I thought, “Oh, I’ll just build the sets in the morning.” But I had no idea what I was doing and it took so much longer. I was staying up all night filming, and it took a long time, because I hadn’t planned out each shot... So I would say plan everything specifically – it will save a lot of time in production.

2. Enjoy focusing on the process, not the product

I would say don’t take it too seriously. Have fun with it. Take risks with your films and just make sure you’re having fun, I think.

3. Embrace new skills, knowledge and technologies

I’ve gained a lot of editing skills in After Effects and Premiere, and I’ve gained knowledge in lighting - different lighting techniques and styles. I used Audacity to do audio editing. And also I’ve just gained an appreciation and a knowledge for the time and effort that goes into the whole filmmaking process. It’s a lot of work.

What’s next after Top Screen?

I’m going to Swinburne this year to do film and television.

Daniel Shen

Daniel’s live-action film, Dead Weight, is an exploration of the concept of emotional baggage - and the fears and limitations which live within our own hearts.

Daniel says he draws inspiration from the gritty styles of filmmakers such as Ricky Staub and Blade Runner 2049 director Denis de Villeneuve.

At FLiCKERFEST, Flickerup 2019, Dead Weight won the SAE Qantm FlickerUp Award for Best High School Short Film.

1. Aim for a masterpiece, not marks

If you just go with your gut and make something you want to make…keeping [marks] in mind but not making that your central focus, I think it takes you places where you don’t expect to go.

Just do something that you really want to do. Don’t treat it as another subject but rather as a way to express yourself in a time when it’s really stressful.

2. Ask for a little help from your friends

One of my friends, he’s an aspiring composer. I called him, “Do you want to do this movie?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.” I think another great tip for someone trying to do this next year is don’t be afraid to ask. Just be willing to ask people. Don’t be scared of a “no”, no matter what.

3. Believe in your creative vision

The whole [filmmaking] process is like a contradiction – it’s like an oxymoron. You’ve got to learn when to compromise, when to rethink the way you’re shooting a scene. If a shot isn't working, you've got to know when to call it quits and just find a workaround. But then knowing when to stand your ground, saying, “We have to get this, no matter what. We’ll do another 10 takes, whatever. But we have to get this.”

What’s next after Top Screen?

I’m doing a film course at uni [Film and TV at Swinburne], so that might dictate what happens.

I think, you go into a creative field, you always feel like it’s not a ‘real’ job. It’s one of those jobs that wacky people with big dreams do. But, I don’t know – it gives you a little bit of validation that maybe you’re on the right track and maybe that’s what you should really be doing.

About Top Screen

Top Screen 2019 at ACMI is accompanied by education programs including:

Check out the full program:

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Top Screen 2019

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