Griffith Film School grads are taking the plunge into the brave new world of online content.
It’s not all cat videos and viral home movies – the web is now a legitimate platform for young filmmakers who are attracting large audiences and scooping up awards.
Fresh, funny and irreverent
Griffith Film School graduate Connor McDuff is the creator and star of the Cracker Milk YouTube channel.
Last year, he produced the first web series on the Griffith Film School graduate slate. The resulting three-part comedy series, F****ed Fairytales, was nominated for an Australian Online Video Award last month.
“Most people do a short film for their graduate project, but I’ve loved online for years, and I thought I may as well make something I’m passionate about,” he says.
“I think you can create stuff for online that is irreverent, individual and unique.
“It was loads of fun and the biggest project of my career to date.”
The young filmmaker has been posting clips on YouTube since he was in high school, and has found that audiences of all ages are flocking online in search of fresh, funny content.
“I started when I was 14 with an old VHS camera and a tripod,” he says.
“People see a video go viral and put it down to dumb luck – but you have to work so long and hard before you get to that level.
“Some of my clips have had 400,000 hits, which is insane, and it’s crazy when people recognise you on the street.
“YouTube has changed everything, and it’s taking over a lot quicker than people realise – content creators need to adapt fast.
Connor says online content gives audiences the freedom to access content when and where they want.
“Cinema tickets are expensive and TV is riddled with ads,” he says.
“People can be watching stuff online 24/7, the content is available immediately, and they can respond straight away.”
Set in Brisbane, it follows a group of 20-something LGBT friends as they tackle big decisions about relationships, friendship, sexuality, careers.
Mary said the response to the series had been “heartwarming”.
“Two Weeks has been a fantastic ride,” she says.
“I’ve been working on it for the past two years, and it’s so heartwarming to see the response.”
Mary had specialised in sound design at GFS, and had never written or directed before. Two Weeks is her first venture into online content – although she has been an avid consumer of web series for several years.
“I started watching a lot of web content myself to see what was out there, and I loved the immediate connection you get with an audience – something which you don’t get with TV or film,” she says.
“I felt like I had something to contribute to the conversation – if all of those people could do it, so could I.
That’s not to say Two Weeks wasn’t without its challenges. Mary says online content has to be scripted and shot in a very different way to a film or TV project.
“It’s been very challenging – most of us have never made anything on this scale. It’s really become my life!”
“We had a long script development process, and made sure that we edited each episode to keep it lean and fast paced.
“You have to think differently with online content – we shot for smallest screen possible, incorporated phone texts to keep the story moving forward and made sure we created a hook at the end of each episode to keep people interested.”
Mary says online platforms allow filmmakers to take more risks and opens the doors for diverse voices.
“The shift towards an online model has opened doors for people like us – you can bypass traditional distribution, take risks, tell stories that may not get past the networks.”
There is diversity behind the camera too, with plenty of women directors on board, including fellow GFS grads Rachel Anderson and Isabel Stanfield.
“It’s a huge thing for us to have women behind the camera, we think it’s extremely important to tell these stories and for women to be in these positions.
“The beauty of web series is that everyone is at the table – people with no experience, people with backing from the screen agencies and streaming services.
“It’s a really interesting space to be.”
Recognition for Griffith content creators
He says student content creators are increasingly interested in making online content, and are receiving recognition for their efforts.
“This form is still in its infancy, but we’re starting to see students realising the potential of online,” he says.
“Young filmmakers have a means of putting out content that wasn’t available even five or ten years ago.
“With the proliferation in online content, we are seeing a corresponding increase in the number of online film festivals and awards.
“I think being recognised at this level legitimises the form.”
Helping young filmmakers find an audience
Griffith Film School lecturer Sue Swinburne teaches a course in screen distribution, and says online content has opened up a whole new range of opportunities for emerging filmmakers.
“Traditionally, young filmmakers struggled to cut through, but the internet has really opened things up, and people are starting to find new ways of distributing their work,” she says.
“It gives emerging filmmakers a chance to find their voice and test whether their ideas connect with an audience.
“Once they show what they’re capable of, screen agencies, film distributors, brands come on board.
“Online removes some of the risks associated with innovative or niche work – investors can see there is an audience.
“It’s a wonderful proving ground that allows for different approaches, different ideas and diverse voices.”
Ms Swinburne says media companies have had to reimagine their businesses to play catch up with changes in technology and consumer behaviour.
“There has been a quantum shift in audience behaviour as people have begun to consume content via the internet and mobile devices,” she says.
“The only real constant is change.”