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Take a direct route to the film industry

At the end of 2022, Aaron Lenden found himself sitting at a roundtable with one of the biggest names in Australian cinema.

It was surreal moment, the Screen Media student finding himself surrounded by emerging directors and content creators as they listened to advice and industry insight from Madman Entertainment CEO Paul Wiegard – the guy responsible for international hits such as Animal Kingdom and Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

“Hearing from Paul Wiegard helped me in a big way,” Aaron says. “It was a really good moment.

“He emphasised that a film needs a clear, direct statement of why that story needs to be told. He wants to know why you’re the best director to tell it.”  

It’s advice Aaron was able to use almost immediately, emphasising those points when he applied to the Sunshine Coast Council’s Regional Arts Development Fund for a $5,000 filmmaking grant. His application was successful.

But Aaron would probably not have even applied for the grant had it not been for advice offered to him by Sunshine Coast Film Festival founder Murray Power, who had personally selected Aaron to attend the roundtable with Paul Wiegard.  

“Murray really encouraged me to look at funding options,” Aaron says. “Previously, I just thought it was too hard – you have to fill out 30 pages of forms for a grant you probably won’t even get.” 

Around the same time as he found out about his successful grant application, Aaron got some other good news – he’d been selected to take part in the Director Pathways Program, which is a prestigious opportunity to work with Screenworks and the Australian Director's Guild (ADG).  

“It all sort of came about at the same time – Christmas last year,” Aaron says. “It felt quite surreal.”

Aaron Lenden on set of a short film directing

The Director Pathways Program not only funds Aaron to upskill in areas of his choosing, he will also receive invaluable mentorship, support and guidance over the next 12 months from the ADG and some of Australia’s most respected directors and producers.

“My goal is to gain more experience as a director for my own films and a first (assistant director) AD on feature films over the next two years,” Aaron says.

“I’ve still got a lot to learn so I’m keen to make new connections through the Pathways Program.” 

“I’ll still be making my own short films too – I really think in this industry you have to create your own opportunities. I’m up for the challenge.” 

The stories that particularly ignite Aaron’s passion are the uniquely Aussie ones that explore the narrative of the human condition.

“Everyone tells me it’s the hardest gig in the world trying to make films in Australia,” Aaron says. “But for me, I’m a fan of Australian feature films and really want to focus on bringing unique Australian stories to life.”  

Screen Media Lecturer Dr Phoebe Macrossan says anyone who’s looking to get into the film industry needs to put in the leg work – just as Aaron has done.

“This means watching films – a lot of them – from all over the world, not just Hollywood.

“Get to know your fellow film students too – these are the people who you will be working with in the future. Lots of films and creative projects come about through the people who you know.

“Finally, learn about funding arrangements – this can be challenging and takes a lot of dedication.

“While you’re learning that system and networking, make sure to keep looking out for smaller funding opportunities at a local level too – just as Aaron did. This will allow you to continue taking on smaller projects while you build your profile and portfolio.”  

Creative industries

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