From Op Shop Camera to Successful Film Maker

Ella Burton. Image: Jed Dobre.

Growing up, Ella Burton (BCreatArts(Screen) ’20) always had a creative side, enjoying photography and taking art classes as a teenager. Her film making journey really started to take shape when at 15-years-old, she bought a 35mm film camera from an op shop for $8.

She says, “I used to take it out with me and took photos of all sorts of things like sunsets, family, looking from Brownhill Creek to the city, and walks with friends. I’ve still got that camera and I can still get it to work.”

Ella’s decision to study at Flinders was guided by her love for visual arts and photography, although she wasn’t sure where these interests would take her. She took a chance, choosing a course that aligned with her style of working.

Reflecting on her choice, Ella says, “I really liked visual arts and I really liked photography, but I didn’t really know where either of them were going to take me. I was hoping that (the course) would be a mesh of the two, and it worked out really well.”

“My screen studies course taught me all the technical aspects of being a film maker. I also learned what my strengths are, and what aspects of film making didn’t interest me.”

“What I wasn’t expecting was how much it would prepare me in the sense of becoming more confident in meeting and talking to new people. That’s a huge part of my job now and my experiences at Flinders played a big part in helping me develop my confidence and networking skills.”

Ella was mentored by Flinders lecturers who are still supporting her as she makes her way into the film industry.

“The first project I worked on out of uni was a really low budget short film called Downpour,” says Ella.

“It was directed by Tom Chalmers and Henry Reimer Meany (BCreatArts(Screen)’22). I remember working on that film and also trying to manage my almost full-time job.

“There was one night where we finished filming around 2am, and I had to be at work at 8am! We were still in the carpark talking at 3am and I remember not wanting to leave because I was just having so much fun.

“I thought to myself at the time, ‘I’m doing this unpaid and it’s such hard work, and really, really long days and I’m still wanting to stand in this car park and chat to all of you.’ I think that was the moment that I was like, yes, this is the right career for me.”

Today, Ella primarily works as a First-Camera Assistant in the film industry. She describes her role as being the ‘second brain’ to the Director of Photography (DOP), anticipating their needs and solving problems proactively. She finds the problem-solving aspect of her work particularly satisfying.

“I need to be switched on and noticing things that the DOP may not be aware of, or finding ways to do something that maybe the typical person wouldn’t think of doing. I really love that part of my job.” says Ella.

Ella has worked on six of the films in this year’s Adelaide Film Festival. This has seen her on set with the likes of multi-award winning director Scott Hicks and two-time Austin Film Festival winners Indianna Bell and Josiah Allen.

“I don’t know how I ended up working on so many films!” she says.

“I love this work and just want to get as much experience as I can. I’m constantly learning and improving and building my reputation in the industry at the same time.”

When asked what advice she’d give to budding film makers, she reflects on her own experience, “Just do it. There’s nothing stopping you!” says Ella.

“I used to feel a bit like the odd one out. Now I meet so many people who think the same as me. When I came to Flinders I thought ‘where have these people been?’ I can’t believe there are other people like me in the world, and now I realise there is a whole industry.”


Flinders Alumni can save 10% on tickets to the Adelaide Film Festival using the code AFFFLINDERS10.

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