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Uni Shorts 2014: my brilliant career

The Unitec-hosted Uni Shorts ran on the weekend, delivering excellence to disappointingly small audiences amid a few jokey comments about what it takes to get students out of bed on a wet weekend.

The opening panel, rather optimistically scheduled for a 9.30am start, offered up producer and director David White (Shihad: Beautiful Machine, I Kill), actor and prolific writer Thomas Sainsbury, VFX supervisor and filmmaker Lakshman Anandanayagam, and writer-director Max Currie (Everything We Loved), the latter making his third industry panel appearance in two weeks.

Panel members

Panel members (L-R): David White, Max Currie, Thomas Sainsbury, Lakshman Anandanagayam

Unitec’s Dorthe Scheffmann did the wrangling honours with the panellists briefed to talk to the predominantly student audience about their lives, careers, what got them started and the roads taken so far. All the speakers were engaging, entertaining and – with the exception of Anandanayagam, who’d had the good sense to qualify as a doctor before getting into the screen industry – impoverished throughout much of their careers to date.

As it turns out, love is blind and that urge to create (“an annoying yapping dog” as Currie described it) often seemed to have trumped the realities of life, such as taking day jobs to pay the bills. “I’m basically a hobo with a laptop,” claimed Currie.

Despite the different paths taken into the industry (some of which involved tertiary-level study, some of which didn’t) the advice based on experience was similar from all the panelists. Nobody said “Don’t do it!” but all acknowledged that, eventually, there was more to life than being a starving artist – not that any of them had set out to become starving artists.

Common themes included coming to terms with the arrogance of youth and the ridiculously unrealistic expectations people had had of their first ideas and first drafts, and a couple of practical suggestions. One: fail fast, by working on smaller projects rather than aiming for a feature straight out of the gate. Two: in the words of Nike, just do it.

While patience has rarely been regarded as a virtue by those young enough to afford it, it’s annoying to discover that there really is no substitute for experience. Practice makes you better, if not perfect.

All the panel members spoke of the huge number of jobs they’d done for the experience and little if any financial return. All acknowledged the importance of having done those jobs in bringing them to a position where they were now getting paid work and, more importantly, were good enough at what they did to deserve that pay.

The 30 or 40 plays Sainsbury has written, the weekly YouTube videos he’s made and uploaded; the years Currie spent making weekly segments for Queer Nation and writing and storylining on SPP’s Shortland Street; the number of TVCs and MVs Anandanayagam has seen through post; the productions White worked on as caterer, grip, AD (“I’ve got a loud voice”) … all honed the panelists respective crafts.

Thomas Sainsbury’s Frugal Personal Security
All the speakers acknowledged there came a time when the shotgun approach, throwing yourself at any project that would have you in any role whatsoever, became counter-productive. Becoming selective, taking only projects that would advance some aspect of “career”, became necessary.

Wrapping up with practical tips Sainsbury recommended learning to separate one’s creative self from one’s ego, so getting notes wasn’t such a painful experience. Anandanayagam suggested everyone learn to make really good coffee, because there’s no better way to impress a potential client. White recommended being really nice to your case officer at WINZ, “because you’re going to need them for years”!

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