“We actually help students enter into the film industry,” Hallie McKeig of Filmbites tells Clare Kennedy.
So you have a child with a talent for drama, but how to channel that energy in a positive direction? Filmbites is a school that teaches filmmaking, acting for film, animation and gaming for children aged five to 18, with an attached casting agency for those who want to build a career. Now 11 years old, its alumni are beginning to forge paths into the film industry.
The Perth-based school is the brainchild of Hallie McKeig, a post-graduate in film and television from Perth’s Curtin University. Her first job was producing commercials for Channel Nine. In her mid-twenties, she moved to Canada and worked her way up to the role of assistant director. One memorable project was working on Sean Penn’s The Pledge with Jack Nicholson, who was, by all accounts, incredible to watch on set, and larger than life off camera.
It was 2003 when McKeig landed back in Perth. But job prospects for the passionate filmmaker were poor. It was an “eye-opening” experience, she says, after having such rich opportunities overseas. But a stint teaching filmmaking in Taiwan left her with an idea. “I saw how much the children loved it and thought I could create something similar in Perth.”
Only four children applied to her local paper advertisement, so she began by running classes out of her lounge room. As word spread, students began rolling in.
Eleven years on, so much has changed. Filmbites has 250-300 enrolments each semester. Now the school runs out of a studio in Malaga, a suburb of Perth about 11 kms north of the CBD. It has three classrooms, including a dedicated editing suite and a warehouse with a massive green screen, which has become a valuable asset available for hire by the local film industry. This year, the Binge Inferno team filmed their television puppet series in the facility, as did up-and-coming film team Miley Tunnecliffe and Jess Black, who filmed their funded comedy Love In A Disabled Toilet.
Making it happen
McKeig attributes Filmbites’ success to the fact it teaches practical skills. “We help students enter the film industry,” she says. “By the time they reach university, they have done all the foundation work and are ready to to apply and learn advanced technique.”
Industry insiders agree. Melanie Rodriga, Senior Lecturer and Academic Chair of the Graduate Screen Program at Murdoch University says the Filmbites students are making formidable films.
Paul Komadina, who was nominated for a Directors Guild award, comments: “I had a blast making a film through Filmbites’ PPP Program. The actors were full of enthusiasm and completely fearless when it came to their craft. As a director I found working with them inspiring and invigorating. I think the program is hugely beneficial to everyone involved and I look forward to seeing what comes out of it in the future.”
But isn’t this generation already tech savvy? Well, to a point, McKeig explains. “While many children have good technical skills, they need to learn the elements of story-telling, how a crew works, how to bring the film in on schedule and the structural elements that make a film work for an audience.”
Youngsters begin by learning the basics so that at the advanced level, they are ready to write and pitch a seven-minute script. The best team, the one with an engaging story with strong characters and story structure, a realistic schedule and an articulated vision for the film – earn extra hours to film.
Tim Green, 18, who is studying at Murdoch University, made one of the terrific short films that came out of that exercise. You can see that film titled Losing Thomas Elridge at this link.
Other films made by students can be viewed on the Filmbites website.
Over the last decade, Hallie has watched with joy as former students have blossomed into skilled actors, film-makers and animators. “We absolutely lucked out with the most amazing students,” she says. Some are working actors or are finishing degrees in the field, and some are teaching our classes.
“It’s come full circle. It’s really gratifying that we can support them as they take that step into work,” she says. Case in point is former animation student Lyam Overington, who is now finishing his masters in animation and working as a Filmbites company instructor. Others have gone on to audition and be cast in major feature films such as The Turning, Paper Planes, mini-series Cloudstreet and, most recently, feature film Looking for Grace, which has just begun filming in Perth.
So what are the ingredients for success? “Having some talent helps, but being persistent and continually learning new skills is essential,” she says. “The people that persevere, that have a great attitude, they’re the people that make it.”
Media Super is a proud supporter of Filmbites. We provide a small scholarship for the best student each quarter to be listed in an acting directory and to receive further tuition free of charge.
Last year the stipend went to the talented Clara Bertozzi, and Daniel Dosek who just got into The West Australian Academy of the Performing Arts straight out of high school.
“Both are up-and-coming performers to watch,” McKeig says.
“Also one of our actors has just signed with the UK agent Louise Johnston who represents Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame,” she adds.
“Media Super has been an invaluable support to Filmbites through their industry recognition and encouragement to emerging actors and filmmakers. It is this sort of support that helps artists stay in the industry and, as Hugh Jackman has just done, to one day send the elevator back down to help others fulfill their potential.”
Feature image: Paper Planes cast members from Filmbites with Director Robert Connolly, Pete Roswthorn and Hallie McKieg at the film’s CinéfestOZ premiere. Paper Planes subsequently won the inaugaural CinéfestOZ Film Prize, the richest film prize in Australia. Photo supplied by Filmbites film school.