Necessity is the mother of invention. After 2 years of pandemic-driven travel restrictions, Flinders’ Screen staff no longer wanted to keep their yearly collaboration with the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts (HKAPA) on hold. Adapting to the new production landscape, the team became creative and changed the format of their study program to continue allowing students to connect across borders in a meaningful and tangible way and produce five creative short films.
In 2017, Flinders was awarded a New Colombo Plan grant by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for intensive offshore-travel study programs within the Asia Pacific. In collaboration with HKAPA’s School of Film and Television MFA in Cinema Production program, Flinders Screen students travelled to Hong Kong and shot a series of micro-documentaries over a 2-week period.
Screen Senior Lecturer Dr Nicholas Godfrey elaborates, “The collaboration was a great success the first two years it took place. During the pandemic, we then put our thinking hats on and after several discussions with HKAPA, we found a way to revive the program online last year. Given we weren’t able to fly overseas, we tried our best to provide the students with the most meaningful experience to produce films collaboratively and also work in an international context, which I think is really valuable.”
“Previously our students would go to Hong Kong, and together with the local students they would work intensively and make a 3-minute documentary. It was a much more intensively contained experience. Obviously, this iteration has been a lot more expansive.”
Kickstarting the collaborative filmmaking process
Flinders selected an interdisciplinary cohort of 25 undergraduate – mainly from the Bachelor of Creative Arts (Screen) and Bachelor of Creative Industries (Film and Television) but also a few from the Bachelor of Creative Industries (Theatre and Performance) and the Bachelor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) – to simulate a real-life creative process. “We had five groups, four of which were predominantly from Adelaide. The students took on various roles. Two creative writers worked as screenwriters on their respective projects. The drama students appeared on screen and also contributed to screenwriting, costumes and sets.”
In early September, Flinders students had their first online meetings with their collaborators in HKAPA’s Master of Fine Arts in Cinema Production – a cohort including students from Hong Kong, China and Mexico. Meeting their international counterparts for the first time, the students first got to know each other and shared their interests, influences and cultures, before developing a shared concept for an anthology of short films. Screen Senior Lecturer Dr Tom Young was happy to see how well the students collaborated, “Our students embraced the chance to work with the students from Hong Kong, from day one they were keen to discover how the cultural exchange may work and gather input on their projects”.
The students discussed how to unify this group of films and arrived at a concept around an artisan tea set from colonial times, which was scattered between Hong Kong and Australia. Besides each film featuring a piece of said tea set, there was also a shared production component across the films. The footage that was shot in Adelaide needed to include an element from Hong Kong and vice versa. These shared production assets could be a shot taken at a particular location or the recording of a piece of music or sound.
Refining the concepts and shooting
In October 2021 the groups then pitched their ideas to a panel of academics. From the Flinders side, Screen Lecturers Nicholas, Tom and Rebecca Edwards along with Hong Kong academics, Mohit Kakkar and Yuin Shan Ding, listened to each pitch and gave feedback, before inviting the students to respond.
This was also an interesting experience for our academics. Both Rebecca and Tom valued seeing how academics overseas offer feedback and guidance on creative work, providing a unique insight into their teaching and assessment styles.
The shoot largely took place in December 2021 and January 2022 – the height of South Australia’s COVID-19 lockdown. Presented with a number of challenges, the students managed to overcome the production obstacles, shooting the majority of their footage on campus but also around Adelaide’s CBD and Port Adelaide. Similarly, the HKAPA students largely shot around their campus at Wan Chai as well as in Hong Kong’s Central District.
“Once the students had their first rough cuts, we had a streaming of all of the cuts and again, academics from both institutions gave feedback on the works in progress. Finally, the project resulted in five 10-minute dramas which we are very happy with”, Nicholas tells us.
Mohit was impressed by the students’ attitude from both schools, “Everyone was involved, motivated and kept an open mind. The lack of physical meetings did not in any way reduce the quality of work being produced. This was a remarkable achievement.”
BCA Screen student Kris Lucia, too, loved the collaboration, “For our film, the highlight was the scene that the Hong Kong students shot for us. Not only was the international collaboration successful, but the scene enhanced our film with an authenticity that would have otherwise been unachievable”.
How do students benefit from this experience?
One of the unique merits of the topic was the necessity for students to imagine and enquire outside of their lived experience to explore the culture and history of their collaborators via independent research and shared stories. The concept stage raised important discussion points such as cultural appropriation, movie tropes and script research strategies to avoid stereotyping in films.
Yuan Shan explains, “We always strive to explore new collaborative opportunities that bring students of diverse cultural backgrounds together. As their completed films demonstrate, cinema is a universal language that can overcome geographical, cultural and pandemic obstacles through the advance of digital technology”.
Nicholas points out “This is a great chance for students to work outside of their comfort zone. Many haven’t had the opportunity to go overseas before or haven’t had the opportunity to work with international teams and collaborators, so this project stretched them to think and work in different ways with a group of peers, coming from very different contexts, and then also using these new technologies to facilitate this in a simultaneous way. We can’t be in the same place but we’re still working together on the same project to achieve the same ends.”
Kris agrees “Filmmaking is all about problem-solving. Being students of film, the greatest thing that can prepare us for our careers is experiencing new obstacles. Language barriers, cultural sensitivities, video chat connectivity issues… There are plenty of obstacles involved with international collaborations and I am grateful for experiencing every single one of them.“
“In the film industry, this type of collaboration has been happening out of necessity due to Covid. That’s why we’ve developed this project in this way”, Nicholas explains. “But also, the processes of post-production, certainly, and, increasingly, production are so fragmented, they can be done piece by piece across different countries, synchronously, or asynchronously. So, this is really preparing the students for the way many of them will work in the industry.”
What are the future plans?
Nicholas hopes to continue developing international film collaboration projects involving staff and students, potentially utilising Flinders’ state-of-the-art motion capture and virtual production facility The Void as a studio location. “I can see, for instance, directing students in Hong Kong to shoot certain exteriors there, which then could go onto the LED screens in the Void as live-action backdrops, in front of which we can shoot the performers here.”
Tom adds, “I hope there will be a chance to expand this project in the future, to broaden the range of students from different creative backgrounds and invite other international partner institutions to work in collaboration. One possibility is a future international student filmmaking collaboration to jointly produce a feature film or TV pilot while working remotely and sharing all aspects of the production online.”
Mohit also has some ideas on how to shape the program, “We could consider a blended mode of delivery i.e. have some elements online such as the pre-production process, but have the shooting process face-to-face. This would build an even stronger connection, bond and learning amongst the students. Some students could go on a student exchange to Hong Kong and some to Adelaide.”
No matter how the program continues, keep an eye out for this year’s short films – the team predicts the individual groups will be pursuing film festival opportunities after a simultaneous screening for both the Adelaide and HK students.