Breaking into the film industry by studying in New Zealand
For Courtenay Tokorangi, studying in New Zealand was a pathway to becoming part of the creative team behind the blockbuster movie Mortal Engines.
Courtenay grew up in New Zealand watching movies with her family, but didn’t consider filmmaking as a career until she saw behind-the-scenes footage from The Lord of the Rings.
“Seeing all the talent and creativity that went into making films made me want to be a part of the industry,” she says.
Happily for Courtenay, she was in the perfect country to reach her goal of a successful career in filmmaking – New Zealand.
New Zealand isn’t just home to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies: it has a world-class film industry, with top movie-making talent and technologies.
And supporting that industry are globally recognised and respected film courses producing the next generation of filmmaking talent.
For Courtenay, her career pathway began with a Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts (Production Design and Management) at Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city.
Studying filmmaking in New Zealand paid off for Courtenay, who specialised as a set decorator painting assistant. She soon had a CV full of roles on movies and TV shows, including The Shannara Chronicles, Ash vs Evil Dead and The Meg.
Now she’s part of the movie-making team behind one of this season’s hottest cinema releases – Mortal Engines, the epic post-apocalyptic adventure based on the books by Philip Reeve and made entirely in New Zealand.
Courtenay says her filmmaking studies in New Zealand ensured she was ready for work from the moment she graduated.
Studying at Unitec gave me a very good idea idea of what it was like in the industry.
“It gave me plenty of practice and experience at making mistakes and learning from them. I became better at working under pressure and solving problems quickly,” she says.
“I learnt a lot about every aspect of filmmaking during my study, and every bit of information has come in handy.”
Rather than memorising information from textbooks, filmmaking students in New Zealand are encouraged to think for themselves and apply their knowledge in real-life work situations.
That’s one of the reasons why the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked New Zealand as first in the world at educating students for the future in 2017.
It’s also why the Mortal Engines production team could be confident it had a deep pool of industry-ready talent to tap into.
Courtenay says her favourite part of studying was being able to work with students from many different disciplines, from writers to lighting designers.
“It was a collaborative and supportive environment. It was awesome feeding off all the talented creative minds studying there,” she says.
We had a lot of creative freedom. We weren’t just told what to do and how to do it: we were given the space to solve problems and make mistakes and grow.
For Courtenay, studying filmmaking in New Zealand has opened the doors to an exciting career in the global movie industry.
She says she thrives on having a job where she is constantly challenged to solve problems. “I love being able to be creative and work with my hands – I’m not the kind of person who would cope being stuck behind a desk!”
About the contributors
Linley Boniface is a contract writer for Education New Zealand. She is based in Wellington, her favourite city in New Zealand. A former journalist, Linley spent a year in Montreal, Canada, as a secondary school student.