From filmmaker to all-round director (Part 1)

Sarah Hadley, Master of Fine Arts (Directing) student at NIDA discussing her experience of coming to study at NIDA.

As a filmmaker, coming to NIDA with next to no experience in stage is a daunting exercise. In my first week, I outed myself in a tutorial. Attempting to get in on the dialogue between my peers, I confidently made the claim that the stage is basically the same as the film frame; its dramatic edge relies on spatial depth as well as the blocking and lighting of bodies. My lecturer was quick to correct me: ‘But it’s so much more than that!’ It seems the next 18 months will be a leap across the aesthetic divide to join people who say ‘chookas’ to each other, all the time.

I have been working in film and television for the last four years. Before my time on set, I completed my Undergrad in Media at UNSW. Before that, it was the family video camera. On Christmases and birthdays, I would ask for DV tapes; I proceeded to make my own short films as a teenager, encompassing the many talents of my less than enthusiastic siblings and friends.

I have always been technology-obsessed so when I finished at UNSW, I was determined to get into cinematography. Hours of cold calling camera assistants in Sydney meant that before long, I was working for free on short films and music videos, learning the ropes and making a lot of mistakes.

The camera department is the centre of activity on a hot running set. I remember my first gig as a camera attachment on an ABC comedy; I was so frazzled running video cables to get the director a picture before the 1st AD called ‘action’ that I ran face first into a closed glass door, knocking myself out. I regained consciousness, and, over the next two years, progressed to become a focus puller. One of the trickiest jobs onset, the focus puller works with the aesthetic of the camera move, the mathematics of the lens, as well as the unpredictability of the actor; all while the camera is rolling.

I quickly became obsessed with lighting, framing and lenses, as all cines do. But, at the same time, in the proximity of the actor and director, I began to observe performance and direction. I was feeling a pertinent pressure; an appetite to engage with performance and text. As I began creating my own content for the screen, I became impatient to cement a practice of my own as director. With a reputation for elite training in performance, direction and design, I set my sights on NIDA.

Even though the screen may not translate to stage as easily as I had thought, the two share an ally in the overwhelming importance of collaboration. As a creative making the transition between screen and stage, I will look to my peers to inspire and push my discovery of a stage practice.

After three weeks I am sure of one thing: NIDA, a small school by tertiary standards, runs like a giant set. I feel at home here.

All view expressed are the author’s own.

About the author

Sarah Hadley is Master of Fine Arts (Directing) student at NIDA.