After studying a Diploma of Screen and Media, Tom Blackwell climbed the film industry ladder to a job with an emerging New Zealand production house.
Research assistant and soon-to-be executive producer’s assistant with the Auckland-based General Film Corporation (GFC), Blackwell secured the role after interning on the set of a documentary in Wollongong.
Among media archiving and assistant editing, the job has also taken Blackwell to the renowned Cannes Film Festival with Screen Australia and the New Zealand Film Commission.
At Cannes, Blackwell met directors, producers and festival directors he admired and was reminded of his love for film and the industry.
“There’s a lot to love, like the storytelling and creative collaboration are obvious ones,” he said.
“There are many small rewards too, like unexpected brilliance coming from seemingly down moments.”
But before Blackwell found himself in Cannes, he was studying a Diploma of Screen and Media at RMIT, preparing himself for the harsh realities of the industry.
“It’s incredibly competitive and you have to be willing to put yourself out of your comfort zone,” he said.
“But the diploma was enough to educate and inform me at a base level and enter the industry feeling confident.”
One of the most memorable experiences during the program, Blackwell said, was his trip to Cambodia, where students were given the chance to create a documentary on a non-governmental organisation (NGO).
Reaching out to the Cambodian community and stepping into filmmaking in a new country has made a lasting impact on the young producer.
“It was challenging and I had to learn quickly, but it was rewarding for me to make a film that the community were delighted by,” he said.
Blackwell recalled a touching moment during his time in Cambodia, when an interviewee’s parents travelled for hours from another village to be with their son after the shoot.
“It’s been one of the greatest opportunities RMIT has given me.”
Since then, he has learnt how important it is to make an impression early on in one’s career, something that his Cannes visit only reinforced.
The “speed-dating” environment meant networking was a crucial part of attending functions at the festival.
“Regardless of your experience and comfort level, you must make an effort,” Blackwell advised.
“These little chats and meetings add up to better knowledge of the industry, more confidence, and potentially a job.”
Blackwell said courage shouldn’t be underestimated in a dog-eat-dog world like the film industry, suggesting that “if you don’t ask, you won’t get”.
“Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten about the film business was that the most talented and creative individuals are not the ones who often succeed: it goes to those who show absolute interest and dedication.”
Although confidence is valued, Blackwell also recommended staying humble when surrounded by people who have years of experience under their belts.
“Do not pretend to know more than you do. People will rarely have any expectations of you and understand that you are a beginner,” he said.
But what has ultimately kept Blackwell coming back for more is his appreciation for how film can unite society.
“Not only can minority stories be heard, but film offers a healthy and sometimes intelligent escapism that brings people together.”
Story: Jennifer Park