“How’d you get that job?”: Cat Tschaepe, production, travel and accounts

Cat Tschaepe.

The “How’d you get that job?” series examines career pathways. The pandemic saw Cat Tschaepe find a new career in the screen industry. She talks to Denise Eriksen.

Cat Tschaepe says she probably needed the “kick in the bum” that COVID delivered to help her move from a comfortable job in the travel industry into the screen industry.

After office jobs with NAB and the Northern Territory Tourism, she had worked for Flight Centre in Darwin and then Melbourne for 16 years before being stood down when COVID hit.

“It’s funny because I’ve never been good at sales, but then I went into corporate travel which is less selling and more about people management. It was pretty cruisey. I worked part-time, four days a week and, really, it was the people who kept me there.”

Her stepsister, Anita, worked in the same industry – booking screen production travel. They often discussed the idea of working in the screen industries but the chat never went anywhere.

Then Anita heard about a job as an assistant travel co-ordinator going on AppleTV+ series Shantaram and suggested Tschaepe put her hat in the ring.

“I hadn’t done a resume in 16 years, so that was the first thing. How do I do that? I remember rushing it really quickly, trying to make it look semi-presentable.  I sent it and they were basically, like, ‘Do you want to get on to a Zoom now?’ It was really quick.”

Laughing, she recalls she had to give notice but, two weeks later, she was in the Shantaram production office.

“It was a big learning curve. I remember texting Naomi [Mulholland]who was my production manager saying, ‘Pardon my ignorance, but I wear a uniform to work every day at the moment.  I don’t know what to wear.  What’s the dress code?’  She thought that was funny.

“Secondly, it was strange because the rest of Victoria was in hard lockdown – it was before the vaccine – so they were really stringent about zones.  We had pods where we couldn’t mingle with other departments.  A lot of people said it was hard to get a real idea of how it works because it’s not normally so segregated.”

Tschaepe immediately discovered that her skills from her previous jobs were highly transferrable.

“Attention to detail, time management, multi-tasking and people skills.  It’s the biggest thing, especially in this industry, you have to be able to deal with all the problems thrown at you. 

“I had always thought you had to do so many years at uni or film school but if you know logistics and are really well organised, that’s all you really need. The rest they can teach you.”

She says the most difficult thing initially was dealing with the “lingo”.

“I remember the first couple of weeks. It was out of pure curiosity. Someone would be chatting to me and I would ask what do you do?  What’s a gaffer?  What’s a best boy?  I think people thought that was endearing that I actually had no idea.”

She stayed on Shantaram for a year then moved up the career ladder, expanding onto other roles in both the production and accounts departments on productions like Aunty Donna’s Coffee Café, Run Rabbit Run, Force of Nature and the second season ofWolf Like Me.  

“I did say I wanted to get away from the travel thing.  I know I’m good at it and I know everyone hates doing it.  But I want to learn about other things – like how they did call sheets, DPRs [Daily Production Reports]. 

“The good thing is you just get thrown in to it.  So it was, ‘Here, have this task to do’.  I’ve never done it before but I’ll go ahead and figure it out.”

She recently finished up on Surviving Summer – while doing a casual job on Nautilus as a post-production cast co-ordinator doing the ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement) co-ordinating at night.

So, when did she realise she had found an industry she could enjoy working in for a long time?

“I’d say it was the first time I saw the Shantaram set. We hadn’t been able to mingle with set staff and had been cooped up all day in an office.  One of the producers said, ‘Come on, we’re going for a walk and we’re going to have a look’.

“I remember thinking how amazing it was. Because it looked so realistic even though it was fake. It was the first time it really felt like you are making something you can actually see.”

She also has found a great group of people to work with and has advice for those who might make a similar leap.

“Just give it a go. It’s not as daunting as you imagine it to be. But also be prepared for the long hours.”

Denise Eriksen is co-founder (with Esther Coleman Hawkins) of Media Mentors Australia. 

The company has partnered with VicScreen to establish Set Educated, a new skills development initiative to prepare up to 400 Victorians to enter the screen industry in the coming months.  It offers an introduction to the screen industry and showcases the crewing jobs available and how to get them.  The first Set Educated session will be held at ACMI Melbourne on 20 May 2023 and a second in Geelong on Sunday, 21 May. Registrations are $25 and more information can be found here .

Update – Set Educated Events in Sydney: Saturday February 24, 2024 at ACE in Western Sydney and Saturday March 2, at NIDA in Central Sydney. An online event is planned for Saturday March 9.