Turn a dream career into a reality  

Skye Leon on set of AFTRS Bachelor of Arts Screen Production graduate film 'To Be Silent'.

Skye Leon had always been interested in film and television, but as a young Indigenous kid growing up in the ’90s and early 2000s, it didn’t seem an accessible career. 

After leaving school, she spent a decade working as a youth and community worker. Eventually she realised she should follow the advice she was giving the young people she worked with: Follow your passions and be part of the change you want to see in the world. 

With little knowledge of how to segue into a career in screen, in 2018 she decided to attend Open Day at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS). 

Fast forward, and Leon has just completed a Bachelor of Arts Screen: Production. In the process, she produced an award-winning short film, Sunnies, and via AFTRS’ Graduate Program, worked in the ABC Children’s department, gaining valuable insights into commissioning and production decisions.

Now Leon is working in the industry as a freelance notetaker and developing her own projects with peers she met at AFTRS, including a comedy series about youth workers – as they say, write what you know. 

Rather than course descriptions or brochures, it was talking to other students at the AFTRS Open Day five years ago that encouraged Leon to take a punt on her dream. 

“I remember speaking to a current student about how he found the course accessible because of its balance of practical and theoretical teaching. I also met someone from the Indigenous (now the First Nations & Outreach) department and heard there was a Koori club and scholarships available for Indigenous students. 

“Then I spoke with a number of lecturers who made me confident that, although I was still recovering from a significant health condition, I would be supported to manage a full-time course load. I left feeling very excited and significantly less intimidated than when I arrived.” 

This year, AFTRS Open Day is back on campus for the first time since the pandemic, and the focus is on the hands-on. There will be student film screenings, a string quartet playing film scores, and a live radio broadcast.

A group of current Bachelor of Arts Screen: Production will also take on the daunting challenge of taking a project from script to screen in just five hours. Over the course of the day, the students will write a script, shoot it with the assistance of Open Day visitors as cast and crew, and then edit, mix and deliver it to the projectionist in the AFTRS theatre at 3.00pm for the world premiere in front of the Open Day audience. Students will then participate in a panel discussion to reflect on the experience, their time at AFTRS and answer any burning questions.

The Open Day is designed to be an “access-all-areas” event, with program to also include information sessions, discussions, demonstrations, and guided tours. Prospective students are able to meet and casually chat with both staff and students to find out what life at the school is really like. For those who can’t make it to Sydney to attend in person, sessions also will be live streamed online.

AFTRS Open Day.

As an AFTRS alumna, Leon stands among the likes of Jane Campion, Gillian Armstrong, Warwick Thornton, Rachel Perkins and Phillip Noyce. With the school boasting such an impressive cohort of graduates, Leon wrestled with a familiar emotion to many a creative during her study: impostor syndrome. Reflecting on her time, she wishes she hadn’t put stock in it. 

“I think a number of different factors caused myself and many of my peers to doubt that we deserved to study at such a prestigious school. I struggled with anxiety regarding my performance a fair bit, but eventually learned to understand and manage it better. I suppose I wouldn’t have been able to do so without undertaking my degree.”

Studying at AFTRS has given Leon not only the screen and technical language necessary to navigate the industry, but an understanding that a successful creative career requires an appreciation of things that don’t necessarily always float her boat – like screen business. 

“I went in wanting to be a writer/director but my time at AFTRS taught me how strategic it is to share a producer’s mindset. Being mindful of constraints and conditions in the ideation and creation phase can help me to make choices that respect and empower my production team and increase our chances of connecting with audiences.”

While at AFTRS, Leon produced Sunnies, written and directed by fellow student Ismail Khan from the Master of Arts Screen program, which won the CAPA Best Film – Fiction prize. CAPA is the Asia-Pacific Association of CILECT, the International Association of Film and Television Schools. While awards are nice, it’s the connections that Leon made at the school that she considers most valuable. 

“While Sunnies has had well-deserved success, and I’m so thankful for the recognition our team has received, I’m most proud of being able to encourage and support my talented peers during what has been a tumultuous three-and-a-half-year journey. 

“I’m not an ambitious person, though of course I desire to make an impact with the stories I want to tell. But to me, true success is when the teams I work with experience an empowering culture of respect, kindness and responsibility.”