14 December 2018

How to get your big break in the film industry

Linley Boniface

Working in the film industry can be exciting and rewarding, but it’s also very competitive – especially when you’re looking for your first job.

So how can international students improve their chances of getting their big break?

In New Zealand’s world-leading movie industry, New Zealand-educated film students have a head start.

Students in New Zealand’s innovative education system learn through real work scenarios and hands-on experience in the industry, giving them the skills and confidence to succeed – as well as an invaluable network of industry contacts.

The cast and crew of epic new blockbuster Mortal Engines prove just how important industry connections can be to new graduates.

The film, a post-apocalyptic adventure based on the books by Philip Reeve, was made entirely in New Zealand. About 98% of the crew are New Zealand residents, and many got their start in the business by being recommended by their lecturers or tutors.

Chinese graduate Hening (Ted) Wang was offered the job opportunity of a lifetime when a Mortal Engines’ art director contacted Yoobee School of Design looking for someone who could draw. Ted, who was studying an advanced digital media course, was recommended by his tutor and hired as a junior concept designer.

It was a dream come true for Ted, who grew up loving The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) recommended Bachelor of Digital Design graduate Rhys Deacon for his role as a technical animator with Weta Digital, a top global visual effects company.

Rhys says he’s now helping to make some of the world’s greatest films. “Not a day that goes by when we’re not working on some incredible thing that we’re going to be very proud to see in the movies and tell our friends about.”

Kristine Rhodes was studying for a Diploma in Costume Construction at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School in Wellington when the wardrobe supervisor for the US sci-fi film Ghost in the Shell asked the school to recommend a student to spend three weeks hand-sewing costumes on set. Kristine won the job.

When she was about to graduate, Kristine got back in touch with the wardrobe supervisor. Within weeks, she found herself working as a dyeing assistant on Mortal Engines.

Christopher Dean, from the US, chose to study for a Master of Science in Computer Graphics degree at Victoria University of Wellington because of its connections with Weta.

Some of Christopher’s professors combined working at Weta with lecturing, which enabled them to share the latest industry knowledge with their students.

A year into his studies, Christopher was accepted onto Weta’s internship programme. “I started in the effects department and helped out on the third Hobbit movie. It was so surreal – a magical dream experience.”

He went back to Victoria to work on his thesis, and had almost finished when Weta asked him to be a VFX director on Mortal Engines.

Studying in New Zealand, says Christopher, was one of the best decisions he has ever made.

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About the contributors
Linley Boniface

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.