Victorian Government announces $5.4 million skills and training package

Tony Osika and Lara Kose on the set of 'Neighbours'. (Photo: Fremantle Australia)

The Victorian Government unveiled a $5.4 million skills and training package aimed at professionals across film, TV and games today, including a $3.6 million plan to establish a specialist digital games and VFX school.

The government has opened expressions of interest for TAFEs and other education providers to develop and deliver this specialist training, which it hopes will keep Victoria at the forefront of screen education as the games sector continues to grow, and film and TV productions use more visual effects and animation.

The package, which forms part of the government’s broader $191.5 million VicScreen strategy, also includes paid training on the set of Neighbours and other workshops to help workers outside the sector transfer into below-the-line crew roles.

Regarding the school, VicScreen CEO Caroline Pitcher told IF it would have a design and technology-focused curriculum, addressing skills required as games, visual effects and animation continued to converge via use of engines such as Unreal Engine and Unity.

“We’re finding that there is a new set of screen jobs in the making and we’re yet to even see some of them actually appear,” she said.

“So what we’re wanting to do is, is get on the front foot and go to market and explore opportunities to stimulate a partnership where we can work with the right provider to develop a global best-in-class visual effects, animation and games school.”

With Fremantle’s Neighbours returning to production today for Amazon Freevee and Network 10, the Neighbours Training Program will cover above and below the line skills across directing, writing, production, post-production, art department, accounting, sound, lighting, and grips.

Previous participants of Neighbours programs include directors Tenika Smith, Iain Pirret and Guy Strachan, all of whom are working on the new chapter.

More recent graduates of the program include Harry Lloyd, who will return to direct a block of Neighbours in 2023, and Bridget Bourke, who undertook a sound department attachment.

Additionally, the scheme will see the return of previous directors’ placements Grace Feng Fang Juan and Lara Kose to further their training as directors.

Fremantle Australia CEO Greg Woods said: “Neighbours has been the cornerstone of industry training in Victoria for many years, setting a standard we’re incredibly proud of. We’re thrilled to join with VicScreen again to continue this tradition with full support of our partners Amazon Freevee, Prime Video and Network 10.”

From next month, the Set Educated program, delivered by Media Mentors Australia in partnership with Freelancer Promotions, will help up to 400 aspiring screen workers break into the industry, including those with transferable skills, such as accountants, electricians and designers.

(L-R): VicScreen CEO Caroline Pitcher; Victorian Minister for Creative Industries, Steve Dimopoulos; Media Mentors co-founders Denise Eriksen and Esther Coleman Hawkins, and Freelancer Promotions co-owner/director Andy Campbell.

Set Educated will kick off with two low-cost, in-person events in both Geelong and Melbourne, designed to give an introduction to the screen industry and showcase what kind of crewing jobs are currently available.

Participants will learn how screen content is made, the make-up of the Victorian screen ecosystem and role responsibilities, and receive hands-on experience with camera, lighting and sound equipment. The workshop will also cover CV writing and working with crewing agencies.

Set Educated will also offer tailored in-person and online workshops delivered by industry experts for specific roles which are in high demand, including location managers, grips and gaffers.

After starting in Victoria, Media Mentors Australia intends to then tour the program around the country.

“We recognise that there’s a huge pool of people who would love to work in the screen industries but have little or no idea about jobs beyond producers, directors and writers,” said Media Mentors Australia co-founders Denise Eriksen and Esther Coleman Hawkins.

“The jobs are out there, working in allied industries, with highly sought after skills. We’ll be introducing participants to a world of possibilities and providing them the knowledge they need to take their places on productions.”

Victorian Minister for Creative Industries Steve Dimopoulos unveiled the full training package today at Dockland Studios Melbourne, home of NantStudios’ recently-unveiled virtual production facility, which includes the largest LED volume in the world.

“This is about Victorian skills for the future and jobs right now. There is more work than ever in our screen industry and the demand for highly skilled creatives, crews and technical specialists continues to grow,” he said.

“Whether you are starting out or exploring a career change, this is a chance to call `action’ on a new screen career.”

Both the Neighbours Training Program and Set Educated are a complement to the $2.06 million Specialist Placement Program announced last March to address critical skills gaps.

Drama expenditure in Victoria has doubled in the last five years, reaching a record $556 million in 2021/22 compared to 2017/18’s $252 million. In that sense, Pitcher said there are huge number of new opportunities for people looking to join the state’s screen sector, which has supported 3,000 new full time jobs in the last two years.

Her hope is that programs like Set Educated will give newcomers to the industry a foundational set of training and experience so that they can hit the ground running, and give those who are considering a career change a taste of what the industry is like.

“We’re wanting to make sure people are job ready. Job ready in the short-term, innovative, creative, talented Victorians in the long-term, making globally recognised screen content,” she said.

Those looking to apply for writer and director opportunities on Neighbours can apply via VicScreen. Applicants for crew positions are encouraged to apply to VicScreen’s Professional Attachment register to be considered for Neighbours and other below the line training opportunities.

All applicants must reside in Victoria, be available to undertake paid full-time work on Neighbours for the training period and meet other eligibility criteria regarding experience and industry readiness.

The first Set Educated session will be held at ACMI Melbourne on May 20 and a second in Geelong on May 21. Registrations are $25.