Screen Forever 2015 is done and dusted, but the impact of SPA’s Ones to Watch program is ongoing for this year’s 14 emerging producers. By Caris Bizzaca.
Little do many realise, but if you follow the journey of AACTA Award-winning SBS series HIPSTERS, its inception began several years ago with an initiative called Ones to Watch.
In 2013, Lisa Shaunessy was in the first group of emerging producers selected for Screen Producer Australia (SPA) Ones to Watch. The multi-layered initiative includes a six month mentorship, which culminates in their attendance at the annual industry event Screen Forever in November. It’s there that they have the chance to land a major internship, and to take part in a pitching competition for SBS Kickstart, which offers the winner up to $300,000 to turn their idea for a series into a reality.
Two years ago Shaunessy won that pitch and HIPSTERS not only screened this year on SBS, but it recently won the AACTA Award for Best Direction in a Light Entertainment or Reality Series.
SPA CEO Matthew Deaner says Shaunessy’s project was a prime example of a well-conceived project being recognised.
In terms of the Ones to Watch program, it’s also a clear case of how a emerging producer was able to move to that next stage of their career.
“Usually with Ones to Watch the people selected have got one or two producing credits under their sleeves,” he says.
“They’re at a point where they’re looking to springboard into more ongoing work, or develop their own slate rather than work for other people.”
For actor-turned-producer Rosie Lourde, the program was exactly what she had been looking for.
One of 14 selected for Ones to Watch this year, Lourde has produced three seasons of multiplatform series Starting From… Now, which is set to break 20 million views. She also recently finished filming on the next two seasons, which received funding support from Screen Australia, and the feature film she produced Skin Deep is set for a January theatrical release.
Lourde was paired with Producer Amanda Higgs (The Time of Our Lives, The Secret Life of Us) as her mentor, which she describes as “incredible”. Higgs, who has been knee-deep in producing Barracuda for Matchbox Pictures, took the time out to be a story consultant on the upcoming seasons of Starting From… Now.
“That was a really fantastic opportunity to not only obviously have her expertise and her input, but also to really solidify what the mentorship through Ones to Watch was about and have a really tangible experience on a project that I was already working on,” Lourde says.
“I really feel like the opportunity through SPA has really made a really strong industry relationship for me, which is vital for an emerging producer.”
Deaner says a lot of care and pride is taken in how they match the emerging and experienced producers, saying “it’s usually about complementary skill sets or maybe working in a certain genre”.
The two have to meet a minimum requirement of communication and the relationship builds from there.
“It’s more a big brother or sister that you can go to, to ask ‘how did you navigate that’ without feeling like you’re imposing on them or asking questions that you couldn’t ask. It allows that free communication which I think is its power,” Deaner says.
In addition to that, it’s also about the Ones to Watch group working together.
“What that pool of people provides an identified group of people to work with each other as well as with their mentor, which gives them a base of support in the industry so they can feed off each other. Most people will develop their career by a process of collaboration, ultimately a spider-web of relationships.”
It’s why the culmination of Ones to Watch at Screen Forever is so vital to the program, because as Deaner says, the group gets a spotlight beamed on them. The group is highlighted in the program and they have roles at the conference, so they can feel comfortable networking and establishing new relationships.
Lourde agrees: “Being on Ones to Watch made it much easier for me to walk up to people and say, ‘hi I’m one of the Ones to Watch, I’d love to talk with you’. I feel like if I wasn’t sitting in that program I might not have had the confidence to do that and as a result I might not have had the meeting booked.”
Deaner says they then announce both the winners of SBS funding and the internship during the awards at the end of Screen Forever.
“So it gives them an opportunity for national recognition in front of the big names, broadcaster, financiers and agencies that’s a bit unprecedented really.”
This year’s winners included Bridgette Callow-Wright, who was awarded the internship, and the SBS Kickstart winners: Timothy Parish and Alex Kelly.
For fellow 2015 Ones to Watch alumni Phyllis Foundis, being a part of the program has opened a lot of doors, but she also acknowledged the responsibility each of them had.
“It’s like most things in life, people give you the chance, but then it really is up to you to take that opportunity and run,” she says.
“We got told repeatedly before Screen Forever kicked off that an opportunity like this, with these players, will never come around again.
“They help you up to a point, but it’s then up to you to go to people, shake their hands and tell them who you are… It is a small business, the opportunities are there, but you really just have to go out there and meet as many people as you possibly can.”