There were a total of 5 students (myself included) in our course: Two from Brown University and San Diego State University in the US, and another two from Simon Fraser University in Canada.
During the one-month intense program, the five of us worked as a close-knit film crew: we were taught in the television studio which was part of the University of Auckland campus, and we learnt creative and technical skills to produce the first episode of a web series we came up with - we did everything hands-on from scriptwriting and location filming to directing, producing, multi-camera shooting, and digital editing.
Under the guidance of our experienced tutor John Callen, we came up with the script and storyboard of ‘Panophobia’, which we later developed into a roughly 15-min television episode. It was awesome to have John Callen as our mentor, as he was highly experienced in the film, television, theatre, and radio industry, working as an actor, writer, director, and voiceover artist for the past 44 years, and as an ‘industry’ tutor/lecturer for the past 20 years at a number of tertiary education institutions in New Zealand including the University of Auckland where I attended the program. Most notably, he performed the role of the dwarf Oin in the Hobbit film series directed by Sir Peter Jackson.
Apart from taking classes at the University of Auckland television studio on Shortland Street, we were lucky to have three field trips to further our experience in the industry of film and television as well as further our knowledge about the culture and language (Māori language) of the New Zealand people.
The first field trip was on the first day of our program - we were given a traditional Māori experience throughout the trip, learning about the Māori language, the history of the Māori people and its culture, visiting a ‘wharenui’ (communal meeting house of the Māori people), as well immersing ourselves in the playing of unique and original Māori instruments. We also had a chance to visit Piha Beach during our tour.
The second field trip was exciting - we first landed on the Hobbiton film set, setting eyes on the beautiful place of Matamata and the film location where the Hobbit series and the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. We were again given great hospitality and had the chance to have a banquet lunch in Bilbo’s 111th birthday party marquee. The five of us also interviewed John Callen in front of the Green Dragon Inn about his role as the dwarf Oin in the Hobbiton film series, which helped polish our skills in the use of the boom and camera as well. During our half-day on the Hobbiton film set, we were given a guided tour, which enabled us to learn more about how exactly the Hobbiton film series was made and the different challenges (and clever solutions) which Sir Peter Jackson and his crew faced and conquered throughout the filmmaking journey. The latter half of the day was spent at the world famous Waitomo Glowworm Caves on the North Island of New Zealand, where we were glided silently on the boat through the beautiful caves inhabited by thousands of magical glowworms.
The third field trip was, to be honest, the coolest and most rewarding of the three - we took a flight to Wellington early in the morning and arrived our first destination, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Given a general guided tour inside, we learnt more about the history, culture, and people of New Zealand. After the museum visit, we headed to the Stone Street Studios where renowned movies such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hobbit series, and King Kong were made. We toured around the two vast sound stages and green screen facilities used for major international film productions and were introduced to different crucial rooms for the film productions, such as ones made specifically for sewing, make-up, and props inside the studio. We also learnt about the diverse roles of vital crew members in a film production. We then headed down to the state-of-the-art Park Road Post-Production Studio and Weta Workshop, where the film professionals at the two locations opened our eyes to the hard work of important supporting members of any film, such as foley artists, motion-capture performers, sound mixers, and visual effects professionals. It was astonishing to hear the sharing of one of the few foley artists in New Zealand as well as a sound mixer and visual effects professional working at Park Road Post-Production, the famous film and TV post production facility owned by Sir Peter Jackson. At Weta Workshop, we also learnt more about post production work of films and even had some hands-on experience creating chain mail and viewing the cool design, makeup effects, and prosthetics work of various famous film pieces in the past. The trip to Wellington was indeed a memorable experience, as it took us a step closer to the film industry and its entire production process.
One of the difficulties I faced during my one-month filmmaking course at the University of Auckland would probably be the tight schedule that we had to finish our production pieces. We were given an intensive and demanding coursework time frame to simulate that of the real-world film industry, working on a 2-header scene from scratch for the first week as a group, and then moving on to scripting, shooting, and producing the first episode of a web series in the remaining three weeks. Although we were under a lot pressure, the intense schedule and learning experience actually built us up as a team and allowed us to learn to work under great pressure and expectation, which was surprisingly rewarding.
The skills I acquired through this program were not only limited to scriptwriting, creative, and filmmaking skills - I also polished my English (learning about different cool accents at the same time!) and learnt a lot about how to work effectively as a team and build strong friendships and bonds through looking after and understanding one another in tiny things.