There is something old timey, something grainy, something nostalgically authentic about the filmmaking process that draws one’s attention to its retro roots. Cinema has been, for a long time now, an inventive, stylised and ridiculously popular approach to storytelling, specifically in the Hollywood boom of the late 20th century. From noirs of the 50s to sci-fi of the 80s, the art of filmmaking has continued to evolve with the times, learning from its past to progress into the future.
Here at the University of South Australia, students studying film and television are offered the chance to take part in this medium’s crucial evolutionary steps with the Film Concept Lab. Collaborating with We Made a Thing Studios and Rising Sun Pictures, avid, up-and-coming filmmakers can sign up for an intensive to explore how a film set operates. This year’s Film Concept Lab feature, being Balaklava, saw a collaboration between three UniSA students consisting of Astra Vadoulis, Anna Kimura and Luke Librino. Not only did the trio venture on-set for the filmmaking experience but also worked to shoot their very own documentary on the whole process. Verse was lucky to catch up with the former two Media Arts students to learn about their time on the set, their influences in filmmaking and how the Film Concept Lab functions.
Interviewer: Nahum Gale
So, how did you initially come to study film? What inspired you both to do so?
Astra: I always really enjoyed watching movies and the “behind the scenes” on DVD’s and I thought that it was something I could do and wanted to learn more about, so I found a course I liked and applied.
Anna: In my final year of high school, I took on a VET course dedicated to film and television and from there sparked my interest and career path.
Just to get to know you both a bit better; what are your favourite films or most influential filmmakers, and how have they inspired you?
Astra: My favourite film genres are fantasy, horror and comedy [whilst] my favourite filmmaker is Tim Burton. I really like that he has a distinctive style and as soon as one of his films starts you instantly know that he made it. This is something I am really trying to work on, to create a signature style.
Anna: My favourite film genres are psychological thrillers and comedies. Filmmakers who influence my work are those like James Wan and Christopher Nolan. I enjoy how their films impact an audience as well as how much thought and creativity goes towards their work.
What are your preferred types of filmmaking like narrative, documentary, experimental, Arthouse, television, etc.?
Astra: I really enjoy making narrative, documentary and experimental films. It helps to mix up the styles and I find you learn more about filmmaking when you branch out-of-the-box and make experimental films. They help you to learn how to throw out the rule book and to really get creative.
Anna: I enjoy narrative and experimental filmmaking as they allow me to be the most creative.
All roles within the film industry are important, but I believe the director is one of the most crucial people on a film set.
What careers or roles do you aspire to pursue in the film industry? Tell us a bit about these roles and how practical and important they are to the filmmaking process?
Astra: I aspire, like many others, to become a director. I also would love pursuing director of picture/ cinematography and producing. I really enjoy seeing a project go from concept to the finished product. All of these roles are really crucial during the whole filmmaking process. There is a lot of planning, time and effort that goes into creating a film and these roles are extremely important. Especially the director and cinematographer due to them having such a large role in how the film visually turns out.
Anna: I aspire to have a career within the film industry, particularly the roles of director, 1st Assistant Director and script supervisor. All roles within the film industry are important, but I believe the director is one of the most crucial people on a film set. They are the person who determines the creative vision and makes the film’s big decisions.
Prior to your work on Balaklava, have the two of you worked together before in film and when? Have you pursued your own short films and are there any you are specifically proud enough of to speak about?
Astra: Yes, we have! Anna and I usually work together on our uni assignments and have collaborated on upwards of six productions. Prior to Balaklava, I was making short films a semester through uni and making edits for businesses or personal use. I have also been slowly starting to build up my professional portfolio and going out and getting work on professional sets, which has been really exciting.
Film Concept Lab (FCL) is essentially a program where UniSA students get to work on a professional set and shadow the lovely people from We Made a Thing Studios.
What is the Film Concept Lab?
Astra/ Anna: Film Concept Lab (FCL) is essentially a program where UniSA students get to work on a professional set and shadow the lovely people from We Made a Thing Studios. It is an excellent opportunity to get out there and experience a real set and to learn set etiquette.
What was your experience like working on the film, Balaklava? Run us through the whole process.
Astra: To be able to participate in FCL you needed to apply with a showreel of all your work. Once you get accepted you sit in on production meetings with the crew. This is an excellent opportunity to hear about how others got into the film industry and get an insight to what we will potentially be doing in the future. From there production starts and you are on set for 3-4 days. This is your opportunity to approach the filmmakers and departments you are interested in and see if you can help in any way. I did this during my first time on FCL and because I put myself out there, I received work in the industry and got jobs through the camera department. Once you move into post production, you don’t have as much involvement. However, we always do a wrap party at a pub where you really get to know everyone in the crew and make your connections.
It was busy, intense, long days, collaborative and fun.
I understand you all shot a documentary for Balaklava; was this part of your study experience or your own creative pursuit? Also, what was the name of your documentary and how did you choose to frame it narratively?
Astra: Yes, the documentary was part of our assessment for this course. We also took the opportunity to make some Reels for We Made a Thing Studios’ Instagram page… so keep an eye out!
The doco is called Balaklava… Behind the Scenes, we chose to focus on the process of filmmaking and the student’s perspective. We all recognised that the uni needed to be able to use it for advertising so that made choosing the narrative slightly easier.
What were the lessons and challenges you faced making the documentary?
Astra: Timing! You start out thinking that you have all the time in the world and that you will edit as you go, but things rarely happen this way. We also found that we were getting too much footage and it took us hours to go through it.
Overall, how has your experience on a film set shaped your outlook of the film industry and a possible filmmaking future?
Astra: Being on a film set really helps you see if this is an industry you are interested in working in. You have to be okay to work long hours, random hours, like for example the middle of the night or 4 in the morning, and then be creative all day. For me personally it’s made me realise that this is something I could see myself doing long term.
Film is a very retrospective medium, similar to most arts in the way it steals from the past to evolve; are there any older film techniques from bygone eras you wish to keep alive? Also, being the Retro Rewind Edition of Verse, is there a specific era of cinema you are most attracted to and why?
Astra: I really like the German Expressionism movement which would go to showing someone’s inner turmoil outwardly. I think that is something that I definitely want to see more of. The 1940’s filmmaking too, especially the work of Maya Deren, really appeals to me. I love to see that in a time where men had a complete monopoly over filmmaking, women were still producing incredible films.