Early career creatives Mel Killingsworth and Will Duan talk all things AFTRS Talent Camp
Launched in 2017 in response to audience demand for rich and engaging stories and the industry’s concern about the lack of diversity in the Australian screen sector, Talent Camp is an intensive workshop program managed by the Australian Film Television & Radio School in partnership with the Australian Writers’ Guild (AWG), Screen Australia and all eight state and territory screen agencies. It provides vital skills development opportunities for emerging storytellers and screen content creatives from diverse backgrounds across the country.
Following the recent Victorian workshop (day one pictured above), we caught up with 'campers' Mel Killingsworth and Will Duan to hear about their experiences.
What stage of your career were you at when you applied for Talent Camp?
MK: I was an emerging writer / director, and still am...turns out this phase goes for a while! I had just finished post-production on Phi and Me Season 1. I was in the middle of the funding and development process for an original series, and polishing a TV pilot with a writing partner.
WD: Coming into Talent Camp, I was – and still am – very much in the early stages of my career. I applied with a number of independent projects already under my belt, but was ready to take the leap to the next level.
How did you hear about Talent Camp and why did you apply?
MK: I heard about Talent Camp through Film Victoria’s newsletter. I applied because it had several components I was looking for, including workshops around episodic plot breaking, and pitch sessions geared towards meeting producers looking for emerging writer / directors.
WD: I actually heard about Talent Camp through some ex-Talent Campers. I worked on Girl, Interpreted, a comedy web series from Grace Fang Feng Juan and Nikki Tran, both of whom had a great experience at Talent Camp and encouraged me to apply for it this year. I wanted to participate because it sounded like a great opportunity to learn more about the industry and meet many other immensely talented and diverse storytellers.
What was unique about Talent Camp, compared to other workshops or training you have done?
MK: Most Talent Camp sessions started with an overview on something such as loglines or working with producers to develop a concept; this gave us time to get on the same page and ask broader questions. The sessions then narrowed to help us apply those lessons to our own situations or concepts. The group was small enough we could dig into hypotheticals and specifics. All the facilitators had great lesson plans but were very adaptable to what the group needed, and sessions developed organically as we went. Often our fellow talent campers gave answers from their experience, which was always helpful, to talk about situations from the POV of someone in a similar career space to the rest of us.
WD: I haven’t completed many other workshops in the past nor have I any formalised training in the screen industry, so coming into Talent Camp I was unsure of exactly what to expect. Coming out of this whirlwind of a week, I can earnestly say that I was blown away by the level of respect and openness that both the facilitators and the other participants conducted themselves with, and just reinforced for me the power and value of supporting and celebrating talent from diverse communities.
What did you do during the five day workshop and who else was in the room?
MK: We 15 participants and our ‘camp dad’ Gary spent five days close together (good thing we all got along like a house on fire!) Different facilitators like Clare Masden, John Harvey, and Liz Kearney rotated through; some for a couple hours, some for whole days. Facilitators gave examples from their own work, talked about best practices, and guided us through exercises individually or in small groups.
WD: The five days were split up so that we could get a holistic insight into the industry. We heard from all the different perspectives of the creative process from writing to directing to producing and online distribution. Invaluable. On the final day we also got to hear from the AWG and Film Victoria, as well as meet different producers and production companies.
What skills, experience and knowledge did you gain, and how do you think these will impact your career?
MK: Some of the early sessions helped me unlock areas of my show’s characters and seasonal arc which were giving me trouble; later I got specific feedback around how to present those characters and arcs within my outline and pitch documents. It was great to practice pitching to a room and get immediate feedback from both my peers, and industry professionals who regularly hear high-level pitches. Working on everything in such a compressed timeline helped target problem spots and follow through quickly, which not only made my concept better but helped me develop replicable skills.
WD: Talent Camp gave me a much broader understanding of the film industry, where it is right now, how I fit within it, and made me aware of some of the tools I had at my disposal to help me move onward and, hopefully, upward in my career.
Was networking and forming working partnerships encouraged at Talent Camp and, if so, how?
MK: Networking and partnerships were absolutely encouraged! We had a session about developing a good working relationship with producers which involved everything from on-set interactions to how to set up contracts before you start a project. The camp itself was one big fantastic opportunity to meet other creatives. We broke into small groups to work on things during sessions, and partnerships continued outside of workshop hours. One of my favourite things was how over lunch and coffee breaks, we had a chance to hang out and talk about not just the project we brought to camp, but other interests and things we had recently done. Everyone genuinely enjoyed talking about film and TV and the latest web series they’d seen, and Talent Camp’s environment encouraged that sharing and collaboration.
WD: Networking and creating partnerships was definitely encouraged by Talent Camp. I think we had a really amazing group of people as well – everyone was not just incredibly talented but also so supportive and generous with their ideas and opinions.
What would you say to others thinking about applying to take part in Talent Camp?
MK: If you’re in a place in your career where you want to learn what next steps might be for you, and want to challenge yourself to take them; or if you have a concept you’ve been developing but need help learning how to shape specific aspects (logline, episode breakdown, etc): definitely apply. Or maybe look at some ideas you’ve had rattling around your laptop or headspace, then pick one to work on a bit before the application. Get familiar with it because you’ll be talking about it from every angle! You will meet amazing creative people working in a similar space, and everyone will have a different perspective which helps you interrogate your concept. You’ll also build your base of general knowledge and learn about other opportunities you can qualify for. It’s a big week, and I came out with a ‘To-Do’ list far longer than I went in with, but if that interests you, you’re exactly the kind of applicant for Talent Camp.
WD: Do it! You have nothing to lose and so much to gain. It is an incredibly empowering experience.
What has Talent Camp allowed you to do that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to do?
MK: I got specific advice from industry professionals I wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise. They gave me a lot to think about and act on both in terms of where I am in my career, and what makes a concept and pitch better; they didn’t just help me with my concept, but gave me the tools to work on this and future projects. I met fourteen other writers and filmmakers who would generally be working in different space to me, and we developed friendships and working relationships and learn about each others’ lives and projects in a great, collaborative environment. The feedback and support all week was incredibly encouraging, as well as the understanding which comes from people often facing similar challenges and developing creative approaches to solving them.
WD: It’s given me a holistic understanding of the industry from successful industry practitioners that I otherwise would not have been privy to. It has also allowed me to connect with a community of diverse storytellers who I cannot wait to find excuses to annoy/collaborate with.