Practical skills in demand behind the scenes of SA’s film industry

Jun 23, 2021

On stage and behind the scenes, TAFE SA students gain valuable experience on productions at Adelaide College of the Arts.

With a growing number of movie and television projects being filmed in South Australia, TAFE SA graduates are finding their skills in design and construction are in demand.

Graduates from the Technical Production program have found work on films such as the recently released, Mortal Kombat, and television series including The Tourist.

Colette Birrell works as an Art Department Coordinator on film and television productions in South Australia and says the Technical Production program at AC Arts is her first port of call when she’s looking for assistants or interns for her team.

“The course is so practical which means the students are helpful from the word go. They are able to take direction and they have good hands-on skills.” she says.

“They are able to confidently delve into research, assisting with graphics and basic prop making.  Many also have good drafting skills which is a real bonus.”

Kathy Chen describes her time as a sculptor’s assistant on the Mortal Kombat production as the best experience so far in her developing career.

“It was such a big budget film that we got everything we needed to play with. It was intense, but at the same time, I learned so much,” she says.

“I learned new techniques every day and my Head of Department taught me all he could about the industry. I loved the teamwork and working with people who shared the same interests.”

Kathy, who has a Diploma in Live Production and Technical Services, says building contacts is important for ongoing employment.

After graduating from TAFE SA, she volunteered at events including the Adelaide Fringe, Womadelaide and the Adelaide Film Festival before scoring her first job on a movie in 2019.

“The film was called Never Too Late by Mark Lamprell and I worked as an assistant in the art department,” she says.

“It was really fun and enabled me to build a network and that’s how I got onto Mortal Kombat.”

During her three and a half months on Mortal Kombat, she helped to build sets such as Raiden’s Temple in a warehouse in Adelaide’s western suburbs.

“I loved that job because it really threw me into the world of making films. Then, of course, COVID came so no one could get jobs,” she says.

“After July last year when the film industry started to pick up again, I worked for BBC TV series Aftertaste as a casual which led to The Unknown Man.”

Kathy worked as the Production Designer assistant on The Unknown Man, a crime thriller starring Joel Edgerton which is expected to be released later this year.

“I was all over the place from graphic assistant to prop maker to set dresser – when it’s a low-budget film you have to wear many hats,” Kathy says.

Graduate Joshua Olavesen worked as an assistant concept model maker on Mortal Kombat, spending 17 weeks on the production.

“I’d receive plans from the set designers and I had to make the sets to scale so the directors could see what it looked like before they said ‘yes’ or ‘no’,” he says.

“My experience was really positive and opened my eyes to the complexity of the film industry.

“My co-workers had years of experience and lessons about the industry and it was a great opportunity to sharpen my skills and learn new tools and techniques.”

Joshua’s first taste of model making came during his Bachelor of Visual Arts studies at UniSA and it sparked an interest which he continued after graduating.

He studied the Certificate III in Scenery Construction, Props Making and Scenic Art at TAFE SA and completed a short course in Film Production Design.

Stewart Marsh also completed the Film Production Design short course in 2020 and is presently working as a design assistant on The Tourist, a six-part series which is being filmed in regional SA.

“I have always been fascinated by film and television, I loved escaping into the story I was watching as a child and seeing the impossible come to life,” he says.

Stewart has a background in design and illustration and says his lecturer recommended him for the job with The Tourist.

“Jobs in this industry aren’t advertised, they are usually obtained by word of mouth,” he says.

“In this role, I’m drafting the designs given to me by the production designer and researching and liaising with the construction manager.

“I was like a child in a sweet shop when I saw the set I had drawn up in its entirety for the first time.”

For more information about TAFE SA’s Technical Production program, please visit the website.