From Talent Camp to Glitch to making original films – forging a career pathway with Film Victoria’s programs and placements
Interview with Steven Arriagada
While Steven Arriagada started his career in the film and television industry working in technical roles, he quickly realised he needed to create his own work.
Since then, he’s made short films on small budgets, taken part in AFTRS Talent Camp – a workshop for emerging content creators from diverse backgrounds – landed a placement on Glitch, through Film Victoria, and recently received development funding from us for his original series Benny’s Game.
With our Key Talent Placement Register and Project Development programs currently open, we caught up with Steven, who tells us about his career so far, and shares advice for other filmmakers wanting to take up these opportunities.
Here Steven shares the low down on how Film Victoria’s placement and project development programs have helped him get to where he is – which is a lot closer to his goal of creating emotionally impactful, original stories about people who are not often featured on Australian screens.
Tell us about your filmmaking background – what drew you to it in the first place?
I knew I wanted to be involved in the film industry in some capacity when I was in high school. At that time, my neighbourhood in Springvale (Victoria) was plagued with serious violence and crime issues and I found myself personally wrapped up in the trappings of that world. Amongst this, my family life took a turn for the worse when my five year old sister died suddenly of an aneurysm. My father is a Chilean asylum seeker and works as a handyman and my migrant Italian mother suffered from mental illnesses after my sister’s death, so with little money and lack of psychological support, film and television became a cheap distraction for me from my real world. At first it was about escapism, and I watched mainstream comedies, action, science fiction and classic epics, but I soon ventured into arthouse and experimental films which helped to frame my understanding of the world and my own traumatic experiences. I found that film and television became intrinsic to my healing and I wanted to be involved in any capacity.
Having to pursue financial stability over my creative ambitions, I managed to hustle jobs in camera and editing departments, essentially working my way up from the bottom into a successful career as an editor, corporate video producer and broadcast camera operator. But whilst money was good to have, a part of me always wanted to tell my own stories. After years of working in the technical side of the industry I started to take writing and directing for drama seriously.
The first film I wrote, directed and produced that had a budget was called Nathan Loves Ricky Martin, it was made for just over ten thousand dollars, featured three actors in one room and consisted of ten shots with a running time of four minutes sans credits. The short film was nominated for an AACTA Award in 2016.
Gaining confidence with my writing, directing and producing abilities, I started taking more time for my creative passions and have been on a steady progression ever since.
In 2017, you took part in the AFTRS Talent Camp, a five-day workshop for emerging content creators and storytellers from diverse backgrounds across Victoria – supported by Film Victoria, the Australian Film Television & Radio School (AFTRS) and Screen Australia. What skills, experience and knowledge did you gain, and how have these shaped your career up until now?
The AFTRS Talent Camp had a hugely positive impact on my career as well as personally. It was an opportunity that arose for me at a time when I was struggling to find a pathway into the industry as a creative, even after an AACTA Award nomination and winning international script competitions.
For me, I found that fighting against the cycle of poverty, racism and classism attributed to my lack of confidence and anxiety in an industry that is predominately white Australian and middle class – in other words I felt that I didn’t belong by default.
Through industry practitioner talks, classroom exercises and introductions to funding bodies and production companies, my engagement with the industry increased and funding bodies were demystified, making opportunities seem more obtainable.
Talent Camp helped acknowledge my experience as a marginalised filmmaker in the industry, but more importantly it helped me to claim who I am and value my own diverse voice.
Because of this, I felt more confident in applying for opportunities such as the Glitch Season 3 showrunner attachment, and development funding for my TV series Benny’s Game. Talent Camp has also helped to create a network of emerging diverse talent, which I have been in active collaboration with and aim to bring into my funded projects, helping expand a community that shares similar experiences and further increase diverse talent in the industry.
Last year you completed a 12 week showrunner placement on Glitch Season 3, received through our Key Talent Placement program. What did you do over the course of the placement and what new skills did you learn?
It’s impossible to break down everything that I’ve learnt about showrunning high quality drama while observing Louise Fox and the incredible team at Matchbox Pictures.
There are so many skills when it comes to showrunning, the ability to retain the core of story while under the restraints of production, casting well, managing heads of departments, digesting and applying feedback notes, story conferencing, music and sound spotting, leadership and human resource skills, collaborating and communicating with heads of department, researching, editing and all round problem solving skills to name a few. It’s a massive job that takes so many skill sets and Louise Fox does it beautifully. I became more like a sponge, soaking in all the never ending skills and great habits displayed in front of me whilst being a sounding board to Louise and performing script department and production tasks.
During my time on Glitch, I also produced a Chinese Opera, read and commented on scripts, wrote season recaps, researched random and strange requests, produced and directed a ‘90s karaoke video, filmed and liaised rehearsals, took part in brainstorming sessions, researched stock footage, ran audience test screenings, assisted the EPK team as well as a myriad of other random script department tasks. All whilst tagging along with Louise to meetings and being a sounding board while she juggled a myriad of complicated tasks.
I was also exposed to other members of the amazing team Louise led, including director Emma Freeman and producer Julie Eckersley. Being invited to sit in during crucial decision making sessions was a level of access I did not anticipate. This exposure formed my understanding of what is expected from heads of departments.
What stage of your career were you at when you applied to be on our Key Talent Placement Register? And why should others apply?
I was at a stage where I had steady successes over a few years but I found myself uncertain about what steps to take to further my career in Television drama. I was on the edge of where I wanted to be and didn’t know many people working as writers in TV, let alone showrunners. I was essentially functioning as a creative in my own bubble with limited collaborators.
What the Key Talent Placement on Glitch Season 3 did for me was twofold. It was educational. It soon becomes clear when you’re in production that you need more than assumption if you’re serious about this career. You need an education through exposure and mentoring.
Secondly, it provided a network of established practitioners. It’s fine to work in your bubble on your own projects, however, television is very collaborative and there are many relationship skills you need to learn. I think the placement taught me that working for and collaborating with people on their projects can be a joyful working experience and part of the mix of a healthy working life. I gained many friendships with like-minded people like Louise Fox, script coordinator Catherine Kelleher and lead actor Harry Tseng to name a few, that helped me further my network and have a stronger sense of the TV drama community, whereas previously my experience was very insular.
These relationships and a more rounded education were only possible through a Key Talent Placement. I would recommend anyone applying and seeking these benefits.
You recently received support from Film Victoria to develop Benny’s Game, an original television series, through our Project Development program. How did the placement on Glitch help with this project and contribute to you getting to this stage?
After my placement on Glitch I was exposed to the extraordinary effort and personal requirements that these projects demand from people. When I applied for development funding for Benny’s Game I realised that, it’s not just about whether I want the project to get up, it relies heavily on your willingness to put up with the personal demands of a television production. After much deliberation I decided that this project was worth it.
Being surrounded by a talented script department on Glitch allowed me to see the strengths and weaknesses of Benny’s Game. It’s helped me to gauge what a working script should be and what a good story should do. It has helped me reaffirm my project’s quality, as well as highlighting what I need to develop. The application had many questions relating to developing the project and thankfully, working on Glitch gave me a more in depth understanding of the medium, strengthening my craft and allowing me to have a better sense of what I had to do to develop the project so it can reach its full potential.
What was your favourite or most interesting moment on set of Glitch season 3?
Two moments stick out for me. The first is when I first sat in a room with Louise Fox in a story conference with Tony Ayres and watched them bounce ideas around. It was mind blowing how sophisticated their understanding of story was, how emotionally connected they were to the subject matter and how quickly they solved problems that would have possibly taken me a week to solve. It was like watching a ping pong match that was so fast you can only see the game in slow motion replay (by which I mean, you only realised what happened after thinking about it afterwards).
The second most interesting moment was when Louise offered herself as a stand in hand double. She was put into a tight space with her hand dangling out, it was tight and uncomfortable. There was no reason why this had to be Louise’s hand, but she did it so that an actor didn’t have to and also so the crew could have a laugh. This gesture had a positive impact on crew moral, and was a display of her leadership style in a nutshell.
What will Project Development funding do for the project, and what stage will it get you to?
This funding will allow me to put time aside to think about and process the project, developing it into something that I can pitch to industry. It will help lead into a pilot draft to test the idea out. It will also provide funding for a mentor/script editor who will give feedback and help me navigate the story development process.
Not having to worry about making money for a while and purely focus on Benny’s Game is a real privilege.
What tips do you have for other creators looking to apply for Project Development funding? What advice do you have for other aspiring key creatives for taking the next step in their careers overall?
I would advise others to concentrate on slowly improving their work, but also try and engage in the industry as well. Don’t live on an island as I did – being out there and collaborating with others is a major plus to developing your craft. Send your work to people who are a few steps ahead of you and take on board their feedback. Keep your eyes peeled on the Film Victoria e-news for upcoming opportunities and don’t pass them over. Put your hand up and give it a go, you’ll eventually get results if you concentrate on improving.
Specifically for marginalised filmmakers from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, I would say that it’s hard to find people who can understand your struggle, but it’s not impossible. There are many social and financial barriers blocking you from the minimum levels of participation but times are changing, don’t be discouraged – your personal stories have value. For any further tips feel free to contact me via my website www.StevenArriagada.com
What are your career goals?
Ultimately my career goal is to create emotionally impactful, original stories about people who are not often featured on Australian screens.
I have interests in collaborating with others who also share this goal in all genres and formats and would also like to work for funding bodies developing diverse filmmakers and projects in the future.
In the meantime, my short-medium term goals are to continue to develop and improve my screenwriting, directing and producing skills by working on other productions, while also developing my personal projects.
To find out about our Project Development program, visit the Film Victoria website. The next deadline is 11pm on 4 April 2019.
Image: Writer/producer/director Steven Arriagada with DOP Matthew Temple on Watch Out For Australians. Photo by Justin McLean