It was around 2017 when Warwick Young returned to Australia from LA, having won Best Foreign Film at the Beverly Hills Film Festival for his short Stuffed, created while he was completing Master of Screen Arts – Directing degree at Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS).
He was taken out to lunch by then AFTRS CEO Neil Peplow, who brought his attention to some of the skills deficiencies being experienced in the industry across roles such as location managers, unit managers, production managers, and assistant directors.
Young, who completed active service with the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in Iraq in 2006, was quick to offer a solution.
“I said to him, ‘You know where you can get those from? You get the people leaving the ADF or have left the ADF, they’ve got all those skills’,” he said.
“His response was, ‘Oh my god you’re right’.”
Such was the foundation of Screen Warriors, a new program launched this week by Veterans Film Festival (VFF), of which Young is executive director, and AFTRS, designed to recruit, train and mentor veterans in film and television industry roles.
With Peplow having since moved on to a new role with the British Film Institute, Young has continued to develop the concept with his successor Nell Greenwood, who is helping put the call out for applicants from across the defence force interested in film industry career pathways.
The collaboration will deliver skills training, practical experience, professional placement, and mentoring, with a goal to recruit up to 15 veterans in the first intake who are already departed from service or currently transitioning to new career opportunities.
Young said while the creative industries may not seem like an obvious post-service career destination, AFTRS and VFF had identified several vocations in the sector that were an “exceptional match” for veteran qualifications.
“What would be a location manager in the film industry would be a reconnaissance officer in the military,” he said.
“You might have a large organisation of people that you need to move which needs to have a life-support system, which is like a unit on a film set, and you’ve got to know where you have to put your accommodation and how to feed and supply them.
“All of these skills for a recon officer are used as a location manager. Then there’s the creative side, where instead of looking for a location to hide or the right outlook in the military, they are following the director’s instructions on a film set about the kind of location they need to shoot at.
“These people are perfectly trained for that.”
The demand for below-the-line workers has been brought into sharp focus across the past couple of years as Australia’s handle on the pandemic attracted an array of international production to our shores.
So much so that Ausfilm commissioned an audit from Olsberg SPI into production infrastructure and capacity, with the report showing the country is facing capacity constraints in key roles such as line producers, 1st assistant directors, unit production managers, and location managers
Greenwood said the sustained and expanding activity in the film production sector over recent years had aligned to make this new program “very timely”.
“This is a career sector with a certain future and robust pipeline of work and skills development,” she said.
Young, who is also the NSW chapter head of the Australian Directors’ Guild (ADG), said the program had come together “like a confluence of several rivers”.
“I’m acutely aware of how these skills gaps are affecting our creatives, so from all angles, I was invested in it,” he said.
“Obviously, as a filmmaker, my background means I understand the importance of veteran storytelling, or stories that evoke that we need to have.
“The current Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide is evident of why we need to look after these people and find them employment in new and interesting areas where they are valued.”
ADG executive director Alaric McAusland described Screen Warriors as “truly a landmark concept”.
“Kudos to the VFF and AFTRS for creating the Screen Warrior program,” he said.
“A win-win cross-training initiative which has such incredible potential to deeply benefit both the Veterans community and the screen industry.”
Registrations are open now to current serving and ex-serving personnel interested in more information. Immediate roles are ready to be fulfilled for suitably qualified applicants.
VFF has already showcased the new program in Darwin and is presenting this week at the ADF Careers Transition Seminar in Darling Harbour.