Griffith Film School alumnus Pete Cunningham has forged a successful career in the TV industry, crafting compelling stories for some of Australia’s biggest reality hits, from The Voice to Big Brother, Australian Survivor and Married at First Sight.
Cunningham is currently the senior story producer on Married at First Sight, the reality TV juggernaut that pulls in more than a million viewers each week.
Crafting compelling stories
As a story producer, he helps dial up the drama that keeps audiences tuning in week after week.
“My role is to help tell the story,” he said.
“Producers are often standing right behind the camera following the action, guiding the contestants, as well as directing the camera operators and sound recordists.
“On a lot of shows, we conduct interviews with contestants that act as the narration of the show, and this is where we really get to work – a great interview can make a seemingly dull scene interesting.”
Reality boom provides jobs
Cunningham said the reality TV explosion had opened up a range of new job opportunities for screen professionals.
After graduation in 2010, he started out as runner on a renovation show shot in Brisbane, before moving up the ladder as a researcher and producer on a host of hit reality shows.
“With each new show I worked on, I was constantly learning and evolving, and I still am.
“What I love the most about working in reality TV is that it’s so unpredictable. We are dealing with real people who are often put in intense situations that are quite out of the ordinary for them, and as a result, we can never really predict what will happen on any given shoot day,” he said.
A solid foundation for a sustainable career
Cunningham credits his studies at Griffith Film School with equipping him with the skills needed to make it in the world of commercial television.
“I always knew I wanted to work behind the camera, but I wasn’t sure I had what it took or how I’d get there,” he said.
“Studying at GFS was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
“The collaborative processes each student goes through are so important and incredibly reflective of the industry itself.
“It takes a village to make these shows happen, so you need to learn how to work with people and support each other’s work and creativity.”
Cunningham said he recommended young filmmakers get a solid grounding in their craft at university before making the leap into the industry.
“What I love the most about GFS is that each and every student is trained and equipped to really hone in on their skillset and figure out what it is they do best,” he said.
“Everyone there shares the same passion, and every student is encouraged to forge their own path.
“I learnt plenty of skills at GFS that I use in my job every single day – from writing and planning to shooting and editing. These skills put me on the front foot.
“There’s been many times when someone has thrown a camera at me and said “go and shoot that” and I felt confident with it because of what I learnt at GFS.
“When I did my first role as a post producer, I was able to build from the editing skills I learnt at GFS.
“Without that solid foundation, I would not have been able to confidently take on a lot of the job opportunities I have done.
After almost a decade in the television industry, Cunningham had some sage words of advice for current students.
“Be patient and remain positive,” he said.
“There are plenty of jobs out there, but they won’t come to you. You have to go out there and find them. Create an impressive CV that demonstrates your attitude and abilities.
“The learning doesn’t stop when you leave GFS. Take something new away from each experience that will help you in your next job.”
Next up for Cunningham is a move to Los Angeles to pursue further opportunities in the TV industry.
“LA is the true land of opportunity. It’s always been a dream of mine to live and work in the States, so I’m chasing that dream.
“A huge bonus to working in television is that it can take you anywhere in the world.
“Being a reality producer, you never know what your next job might be… but that’s what makes it so exciting.”