Australia's booming film and television industry creates jobs for below-the-line crew

August 2023

Originally published for ABC Illawarra by Sarah Moss. 

From Baz Luhrmann’s blockbuster biopic Elvis to Russell Crowe’s vision for Aussiewood, Australia is gaining popularity as a location for long-form TV drama and film productions. 

More “below-the-line” workers are needed to manage large-scale productions both in studio and on location, but how realistic is it to find work behind the scenes and what is the formula for success?

The 2020-21 ABS Film, Television and Digital Games Survey highlights significant employment growth within Australia’s screen industry — a jump of 37 per cent since 2015-16.

“The Australian film industry is booming, and we acknowledge that alongside the rise in production has come staffing challenges, leading to increased demand for below-the-line roles,” says Graeme Mason, CEO of Screen Australia.

“This demand also creates exciting employment opportunities for our talented workforce, which will ultimately provide career pathways and employment opportunities in the screen industry.

“Screen Australia is committed to supporting the industry in meeting these demands.”

Who are below-the-line workers?

Louise Hodgson, industry programs manager for Screenworks in Ballina, says it’s a “brilliant time” to get into the industry.

Australia is crying out for crew members now, she says, adding that below-the-line workers can be anyone who isn’t a director, writer or producer.

“There is a shortage of below-the-line crew across Australia,” Hodgson says.

“We need people to wrangle the animals, source locations, work in hair and makeup, create props, perform stunts, FX artists.”

Opportunities in regional areas

Conferences, industry events and workshops facilitate opportunities for writers, producers and directors to meet up and talk shop, but where do you go for support if you are keen to work as a regional screen practitioner?

Both Screen Illawarra and Screenworks in Ballina are examples of how grant funding, specifically from Screen Australia, is helping to boost workshops across NSW.

A recent, well-attended workshop held by Screen Illawarra in Kiama, with funding from Screen NSW, provided an opportunity for experienced location managers Kieran Cato, Lisa Scope and Karen Illesca to talk about the role.

“Screen NSW have recognised a lack of locations people in NSW, particularly in regional areas, which is why they are running workshops,” Illesca says.

Illesca was a stay-at-home mum before participating in a short film course and then volunteering at the Australian Film and Television Radio School (AFTRS).

“I did some scouting initially and a short course with Screen NSW where I met people from the film industry,” she says.

Doing the non-creative stuff in a creative world

After a decade in the film logistics business, Kieran Cato is enthusiastic about the growth of the Australian screen industry, especially as it spreads into the regions.

“The industry has been growing, especially the last couple of years pre-COVID and then once COVID hit, it has absolutely boomed,” he says.

“It comes down to what the location requires so, Poker Face with Russell Crowe, they were looking for undulating road locations.

“I spoke to the team about doing stuff down in Gerringong and Nowra way.”

Over the past few years the Illawarra has supported productions such as Poker Face (2022), the Invisible Man (2020) and the yet-to-be released Planet of the Apes, which was shot in Jamberoo.

The Appleton Ladies’ Potato Race (2023) was also filmed in the Southern Highlands.

Cato didn’t start at AFTRS, he focused on networking and events to meet people in the industry, starting out as a personal assistant to Toby Maguire in the Great Gatsby and continually networking at events until moving into logistics.

Screen credits are gold on your CV

Louise Hodgson agrees that attending AFTRS is not the only way to get a job on set.

She says it’s about looking for opportunities beyond education.

“Education is brilliant, and you can get certain skills in certain areas for certain departments, but other departments you can take a school leaver, train them up properly, give them an opportunity and they can be working.”

Screenworks, which is in its second year of a regional crew trainee program, is assisting people to find work.

Crew members whose names appear in the credits at the end of the show can use this as currency to get ahead and forge a career in the industry.

“I’ve got three school leavers on set up on Troppo, shooting on the Gold Coast, and they are amassing credits, which are gold for them,” Hodgson says.

Networking opportunities

In July, Screen Australia announced $1.7 million in funding to meet the production needs of the industry.

Programs like Screenworks’ Set for Success aim to reduce workforce gaps through mentoring, guidance and training.

Illesca says they are a valuable experience for people who want to get a foot in the door in the industry.

“Networking through industry events and workshops facilitates respect and establishes trust that you will be reliable,” she says.

“So it’s a really good opportunity to make new relationships, catch up with old friends, learn something new and share knowledge.”

Kieran Cato delivers traffic management, security, safety and vehicles on location. (ABC Illawarra-Sarah Moss)
The Kiama workshop was hosted by representatives of CATO Location Services, Screen NSW, 2Kats Productions and Screen Illawarra. (ABC Illawarra-Sarah Moss)