AiF and Screen NSW select five filmmakers for Hollywood talent development lab

(L-R): Monica Zanetti, Mithila Gupta, Julie Kalceff, Darlene Johnson and Brooke Goldfinch. 

Mithila Gupta, Brooke Goldfinch, Darlene Johnson, Julie Kalceff and Monica Zanetti have been selected by Screen NSW and Australians in Film (AiF) to participate in a two-stage professional development lab designed to foster career pathways and networks in the US industry.

Known as the Charlie’s Talent Escalator Lab, the initiative is supported by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Each of the five filmmakers have already completed the first stage: a customised five-day virtual lab, which saw them paired with an industry mentor in LA, and given access to executives at US networks, streamers and studios, as well as writers, directors and producers.

For stage two, to be held in 2021 when health guidelines permit, participants will then travel to LA to meet their mentors, spend time in the field, attend meetings and network at Charlie’s in Raleigh Studios. Travel advice provided by NSW Health and the state and federal governments will be followed.

Screen NSW Grainne Brunsdon said: “Despite our current challenges, we’re delighted the Charlie’s Talent Escalator Lab was delivered virtually to nurture our five screen practitioners’ endeavours now, before they each have the opportunity to meet their mentors in LA in 2021 when health guidelines permit travel.

“Australian stories hold international currency through universal themes told by our writers, and I’m proud that Screen NSW, in collaboration with AiF, are shaping the global film industry by developing the next generation of screenwriters and directors through meaningful storytelling.”

AiF executive director Peter Ritchie said: “The first stage of our online professional development lab wrapped in mid-August and now these five extremely talented content creators will continue onward with the inspiration and knowledge they have gained, to the next stage of the lab in Los Angeles and then on to their brilliant careers.”

“This lab has also provided a valuable opportunity to showcase the NSW screen sector to the wider Hollywood community. With the recent success of zeitgeist shows such as Normal People and I May Destroy You, there are clear indicators that Hollywood is looking further afield for talent and inspiration. The investment in the lab by Screen NSW, with the support of a grant from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is a savvy and timely one, serving to shine a light on the world-class internationally-focused talent and screen creatives based in New South Wales.”

Gupta said: “The Charlie’s Lab gave us access to some of the most ambitious content makers and buyers in LA. During the week I grew as a writer through the practical advice and insights offered – but the biggest gift has been the confidence imparted on us all. Each fabulous speaker and mentor urged us to stay true to our voice, no matter how difficult it feels to get it over the line. That’s made me reframe my entire career and I can’t wait to get stuck into it – with a new crew of amazing mates and collaborators to boot!”

Johnson said: “Participating in the lab was fantastically inspiring as the industry professionals shared their unique insights and wisdom about the US filmmaking landscape. The experience was invaluable and will shape my future approach to my storytelling which will stay with me forever.”

Participant bios:

  • Mithila Gupta

Mithila Gupta is an Indian-born, Australian-bred screenwriter who started her career in the story room at Neighbours in 2010 – where she introduced an Indian family to the regular cast of Ramsay Street. She went on to script edit and write for the show.

Gupta’s recent credits include both seasons of Five Bedrooms and Bump, and she was head writer on Aquarius Films’ The Unlisted on which she wrote several episodes including the pilot. She’s also written on Doctor Doctor, The Heights, Playing for Keeps, Winners and Losers, Home and Away, Trip for Biscuits, and Toybox. She was the assistant script editor on Cleverman.

Her current slate includes an Aussie-Bollywood feature film Salsa Masala, which has received development funding from Film Victoria, Screen Australia and Scripted Ink. She’s also developing several television series for the global market with a specific focus on India. Gupta is passionate about diversifying our screens – both in front of and behind the camera, and is a founding member of the Australian Writer’s Guild’s diversity and inclusion committee.

  • Brooke Goldfinch

Writer and director Goldfinch’s most recent short Outbreak Generation was the result of her receiving the 2016 Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship. She is currently developing several projects, including Splitters – a feature length dramatic-thriller produced by Truant Pictures and Arcadia, which has previously been supported by Create NSW; The Beginning, a television series formerly with Stan and Fremantle; and Matchbox’s Attempts, a dramedy series she has co-created with Corrie Chen, which was selected for the Create NSW and ABC Half Hour Drama Development Initiative.

Goldfinch received a Screen Australia Talent Escalator Grant for her short film Red Rover, which earned her Best Director awards at the Sydney Film Festival, Flickerfest and St Kilda, as well as AWGIE and ADG nominations.

She was selected by actor James Franco to write and direct a segment of the compendium feature film The Color of Time, and was director’s attachment to Ridley Scott on Alien: Covenant.

  • Darlene Johnson

Darlene is the recipient of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association grant. Her career as writer/director started with Two Bob Mermaid, which won Best Short film at the Australian Film Critics Circle Awards and was nominated for the Baby Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. Johnson then moved into documentary, writing/directing Stolen Generations, nominated for an International Emmy Award; Following Rabbit-Proof Fence; Gulpilil – One Red Blood and River of No Return. She has produced documentaries for the ABC’s Message Stickseries and wrote, directed and produced The Redfern Story. Her shorts include Crocodile Dreaming and Bluey, which won 13 awards in Australia and internationally.

Johnson was the inaugural recipient of the Australian Directors’ Guild and Screen Australia’s Gender Matters shadow directorship initiative, directing on Home and Away, and going on to shoot episodes of The Heights for Matchbox Pictures and Fremantle’s Neighbours. In 2019, Johnson won the inaugural Australian International Screen Scholarship, awarded by the International Screen Forum and the American Australian Association.

Johnson is currently developing Obelia, her first feature film inspired by her Aboriginal mother and Aboriginal grandfather and is developing a supernatural crime thriller TV series with Aquarius Films entitled The Secret and the Sacred, which she created. She is also developing her short film Bluey into a feature.

  • Julie Kalceff

Julie Kalceff is a writer, director, and producer, best known for creating online drama series Starting from Now, which massed 130 million views and sold to SBS, and as writer, director, and co-producer of ABC children’s television series First Day.

First Day, about a 12-year-old transgender girl starting high school, won the MiPCOM Diversify TV’s Excellence Award for Kids’ Programming, 2018, and the Gender Equity Prize at the prestigious Prix Jeunesse International Children’s Television Festival, 2018. Initially commissioned as a standalone episode, in 2019 the ABC ordered a full series. Broadcast in March 2020, it is the first scripted television series in Australia to star a transgender actor in the lead role.

Julie is the founder and director of the Sydney-based production company Common Language Films.

  • Monica Zanetti

Monica Zanetti is screenwriter and director, whose debut feature Skin Deep, screened at over eight international film festivals and was honoured at Austin Film Festival as Best Narrative Feature. The film also earned Zanetti an AWGIE nomination for Best Original Screenplay and a spot on the 25 Screenwriters to Watch list by US MovieMaker Magazine.

Zanetti then went on to work in various story rooms before joining the writing team for the Channel 10/Netflix series Sisters, was a writer/producer on the ABC Comedy series Tonightly with Tom Ballard and wrote an episode for the CJZ series My Life is Murder.

Zannetti’s second feature film, Ellie & Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt) was the recipient of the Frameline Completion Fund in the US and was the first Australian film to ever open the Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival; it will be released in 2021 after screening as part of Melbourne International Film Festival 2020. She is a co-director of the production company Clever Rabbit Productions alongside Geraldine Hakewill.