When the average person leaves the cinema, the last thing on their mind will be all the sleepless nights the production crew had making the film they just watched—the pre-production, the scripting, the shooting, the editing and beyond. For the general public, it’s a process few will ever get to see beyond the Extras section on a Blu-ray DVD. However, for graduating third year Curtin University student Alana Buss its more than just a process––it’s a lifestyle.
“There’s so much energy put into it,” she says.
“It becomes your entire life. You don’t get weekends, you don’t get public holidays, so you’re putting your entire life and passion into it and I think that’s what a lot of people don’t think about.”
While some students graduating from Screen Arts and other filmmaking courses across Perth universities this year may find it difficult to get work right away, Buss is fortunate enough to have already made plenty of strides into the film industry itself. Taking on roles in all facets of filmmaking, Buss has practised directing, scripting, editing and camera operating–– amongst other skills––throughout her degree; these skills have given her all the knowledge needed to succeed in the industry. Her short film, Needing Mum, was been showing on the Yagan Square Tower this month, but even that, she says, has taken far more effort and energy than most people would realise.
“I was editing it and I think I put in over 30 hours,” she says.
Alana Buss on the set of a commercial shoot with Periscope Pictures (Credit: Sam Field).
Alana is only one of the many students who have gone through the Screen Arts major at Curtin University. The students are taught all about the creative process of movies and other film styles like documentaries, short films, and even more stylistic pieces like music videos. However, when she started out, Buss says she was unaware of just how much time and effort it put into the pre-production process alone, let alone the process of shooting a film.
“I think most hours are in pre-production. That’s where I spend the majority of my time,” she says.
“You’ve only got a few set dates where you can get the entire crew and the cast together. So, you have to put it all into pre-production which is so time-consuming. You’ll spend every waking hour just organising it all.”
Her words are echoed across the filmmaking industry. Finnian Williamson, a 2016 Film and Video graduate from Edith Cowan University, has been involved in several award-winning projects since his graduation, with one project, Margaret’s Got Talent, winning the Cinefest OZ Funniest Skit Award in 2018. Along with being involved in projects like Mature Age Student, Little Rocker, and many others, Williamson believes that commitment to a project is one of the most important factors contributing to a successful film.
Henry Inglis, Lauren Elliott and James Helm (left to right) on the set of the award-winning ‘Margaret’s Got Talent’.
“The one I did here [on ECU Campus] was a whole semester, we could do whatever we wanted, and I was like ‘alright, I’m going to do this pilot for a web series’,” he says.
“And that was a lot of work … [which] went on to get an award and got me an internship… but looking at it as a whole, it’s who you work with on set, that’s what makes it [a film].”
One such film is Dear Mum, a short film directed by Williamson that played on the 30th and 31st of August in Busselton and Margaret River respectively for the Cinefest OZ Film Festival. The film is about the relationship between a mother and son told through the reading of a letter he wrote to her as a child. Speaking with him ahead of the premiere of his short film, Williamson had nothing but praise for the opportunity Cinefest OZ provides to newcomers to the industry like himself.
“Cinefest is awesome because it’s a legitimate film festival down south,” he says.
“It’s a cool thing to be a part of. It’s really cool meeting other people who have done short films across WA and Australia-wide.”
Finnian Williamson (left) on the set of the 2017 production ‘Little Rocker’ (Credit: FilmFreeway).
With his journey to being a mainstay in the Australian film industry well and truly underway, Williamson had found himself learning and growing more than he had ever imagined. When asked if he had any advice for current or potential students pursuing the art of film-making his answer was clear:
“Definitely just work with as many people as you can,” he says, “… especially with a film degree, what you get out of it is the people. Also, make a show reel, the practical stuff, because that’s really helpful.”
Alana Buss doesn’t hesitate when it comes to answering the same question:
“Talk to everyone you can find, take every opportunity to meet directors or significant figures within the industry,” she says.
“Don’t be shy. Seriously, if you’re shy, you’re going to miss out on the good groups and stuff like that. From day one, just start networking with your peers and with other people. Put yourself out there otherwise you’re just sabotaging yourself really.”
It is advice given not just from relative newcomers to the industry, but also from its seasoned veterans. Kerreen Ely-Harper, an actor turned writer and director who has spent more than 30 years in the Australian filmmaking industry, is a current tutor for the Screen Arts Major at Curtin University. When posed with the same question as Williamson and Buss, it came as no surprise when she gave a similar answer about the attitude students must have in the course.
A writer and director, Kerreen Ely-Harper uses her skills to focus on human stories in her works (Credit: Even Girls Play Footy).
“The key thing for me is to give students as many opportunities as possible,” she says.
“To be accountable, and to take as much responsibility for their own learning as possible. People are expected to be quite independent [in the industry].”
It’s a belief Ely-Harper has carried with her for most of her professional career. Having graduated from the University of Melbourne with an acting degree in 1983, she has been involved with a multitude of documentaries, stage productions, televisions shows and films over the course of her career, some even being nominated or winning national acclaimed awards. These include the Australian Teachers Of Media nominated short film Parts of a Horse in 2004, the theatre production Arabian Nights nominated for a Canberra Area Theatre award in 2008, and in 2018, her documentary film Girls Can Do Anything (2018) was part of the Contesting Space 1: Women in Sport, which recently won the Museum And Galleries National Award for best exhibition in research category under $20,000.
Despite these acclaimed works, when looking back at her history in the industry, Ely-Harper says there was one piece that stuck out to her as a favourite.
“One work that I think is really beautiful is a dance film called Embrace,” she says.
“I loved working with these dancers, all with disabilities, and I had such a beautiful relationship with them for seven years. I remember thinking, ‘We really need to make a film of this work,’ so I think going through that journey with that group of performers was a real highlight of mine.”
‘Embrace’, a 2001 film directed by Kerreen Ely-Harper (Credit: Youtube).
When it comes to the public’s comprehension of what goes into the production of films, Ely-Harper has a long and storied history of understanding the disconnect that can occur between what is seen on screen and the amount of work going into those productions. For the filmmaker, it was something she hoped people were coming to understand better as time goes on.
“It’s a lot of research, discussions and problem-solving. Scripting alone is multiple drafts over really long periods of time,” she says.
“Projects can lose momentum a lot, people not having the resilience or one person pulling out of a team … I think what people don’t get in the general public is how incredibly long most development processes are.”
It’s something Ely-Harper has an acute awareness of, with her current project, a one-hour documentary called Close to the Bone, having been stuck in the production phase for over nine years.
Unsurprisingly, it was a feeling graduate Alana Buss knows all too well.
“People see this beautiful polished work and it’s like ‘oh, great, awesome, no worries,’ but I think you have to sneak onto a film set and into the production phase to watch the process unfold. I think that would be the way to get people to realise how much of a task it is.”
With her university life now behind her, Buss hopes everything she has learned over her time at Curtin University will land her a job within the industry.
“I’ve got a few ideas up my sleeve,” she says.
“I’m going to polish up my CV, write up some cover letters, send it out and hope for the best. I’ll use my contacts in the industry that I’ve already made through one of the units called Work Placement. Pester them for jobs, look for paid attachments and screen work until the door opens.”