‘Lean Filmmaking Panel Discussion’ / Balloon Tree Productions

‘Lean Filmmaking Panel Discussion’ / Balloon Tree Productions

In July I attended a panel discussion at Balloon Tree Productions, an event that covered the subject of lean filmmaking and how far it can take you in Australia. The panel included emerging filmmakers Molly Daniels (Tomorrow When the War Began), Andrew Mills (The Leftovers), Hiball (A Nice Place To Stop) and Felicia Smith (Romper Stomper, Offspring). 

Balloon Tree Productions has posted the full panel discussion for free on their podcast channel ‘How Do You Do You?’ for you to listen: HDYDY: Emerging Filmmakers [Panel].

On October 11, the production house is inviting a new set of panellists who participated in this year’s MIFF Accelerator Program to discuss writing a short, budgeting and festival strategies. You can find more information on the event here.

Michelle Melky, the wonderful production assistant and studio manager at Balloon Tree Productions, explains her motivation for organising the lean filmmaking panel:  

To bring more people into this new space, to get to meet new people and to say ‘we want to help you, we want to give you good rates on your space, we want to meet new creatives.

It’s just better for everyone in the long run, to foster not a competitive feeling between filmmakers but a collaborative feeling. It is extremely competitive here, and it can lead to a lot of animosity and bum people out so we wanted to get rid of that and create more of a community.

The second reason we wanted to do it, and this is my personal driving factor, is that I went to an AACTAs panel a month ago about working in television in Australia- it was a really interesting panel and everyone on the panel was super knowledgeable, they were all famous and it was great, but all of their advice was 20 years old and it was how to get a job at ABC 20-30 years ago when it was easier. The landscape now is nothing like it was back then, and I thought ‘this was a really cool panel and they said really interesting stuff but I can’t use any of that’.

Yeah, I even find that in a university sometimes, like, all lecturers will bring in this advice and I think ‘this is not how any of us have been able to work on set’.

Totally, it’s like ‘Oh, I went to film school, there was one film school, there were ten of us in the class, and then all of us got jobs at ABC, SBS, channel 9, channel 10 and that’s what happened. And now, 50 years later, or 20 years later, I’ve made a bunch of movies and TV shows’, which is amazing and they still have very valid advice to give, especially on how to treat people in the industry and larger things like big funding and contracts and payment and guild and unions.

In terms of getting that foot in the door I was like ‘I can’t use any of that’ so I wanted to put on a panel with people who were near my age, near my level of experience, but maybe two steps ahead, and then try to get people who were at my level, which is you know ‘I’ve made something, but I haven’t been funded for anything yet’.

After the panel ended I spoke to some of the people behind this event, their experiences in the industry and asked what kind of advice they would give to young aspiring filmmakers.


Felicia Smith is a a cinematographer based in Melbourne who started as a camera assistant and worked for five years on countless commercials, TV series such as Offspring and Romper Stomper and on feature films like West of Sunshine and Plague.


Could you please tell me a little bit about your freelance work, and how you have gathered your equipment over the years to become a freelancer?

We’re in such a weird environment where gear is so important if you’re a DP, it’s like you need gear otherwise you’re not gonna get the job. I used to own a camera, I mean, it wasn’t the biggest and best camera it was a Sony FS7 so it was enough to get away with corporate pieces and some smaller budget short films, music videos, things like that.

After I had that for two years I was like how do you afford the costs of paying off the loans, paying off the insurance… it ends up being a lot of money and I think that’s something not a lot of people think about when they get into this, when they go ‘oh I need to buy a camera’ to do work. I sold it, and I got rid of it, and then shortly after doing that I realised that you don’t actually need a camera.

So, this online magazine that we run, it’s designed for young creatives to share their work. Is there any advice that you would give to young creatives jumping into an industry that can often feel daunting to get into? This could also be in respects to finding the confidence to jump into a project.

I could say the general thing of just keep trying. But, as you were just saying, confidence levels and stuff as well, women, any minority, tend to look at a job and say, ‘I don’t have enough experience for that’.

Yeah! It might be that imposter syndrome

But then a lot of men just go ‘I’ll do that!’

I tick every box!

Even though they can’t. It’s really unfortunate that it happens, so I think that if you are feeling this way and you are trying to get into the industry and you think ‘I don’t have any experience for that’ just try it anyway, just put your hat in the ring anyway.

I had one recently where I applied for a job and I got shortlisted for it but I wasn’t qualified for it; I was just like I know I’m not qualified for it, I know I haven’t done what they want to see, but I just stated my experience and said ‘Hey, I’m really interested’ and they got back to me.


HIBALL is a creative film studio helmed by filmmakers Stanton Cornish-Ward and Alexandra Kirwood. Creating highly detailed, stylized worlds within their pieces they work across experimental film, art direction, film production, fashion film and fashion design.

Tell us a little bit about Hiball and how it began…

A: So, it started a year and a half ago. We had been working together after university, we met in uni and we were helping on each other’s projects. Then, we were just kind of thinking of doing a project together and were just like why don’t we just work together because it’s what we already do.

Yeah, it so helpful to have someone to motivate you and say, ‘let’s get this shit done’. And, going through that grant process of the really nitty gritty stuff, it would be so nice to have someone there.

A: I don’t know how you do without it to keep motivated as well. Especially knowing your skillset and someone else’s in that collaborative relationship, it’s really good to be creating split roles. We are pretty chameleon in a way, we slip in and out of job to job. We don’t really have a hierarchy between the two of us, which is the benefit as we have known each other for like seven years now.

If there was some advice you could give to young emerging creatives what would it be?

A: Definitely just putting yourself out there and actually reaching out to people. A lot of people we have just reached out over social media saying, ‘I’d love to work with you’ and they are like ‘oh, I’ve been meaning to message you but I didn’t know’.

Yeah, it’s so nice coming to these spaces where you’re just having those conversations with everyone, sometimes it can feel kind of isolating but then you remember there is an amazing network around us.

There is like a thread of people. Recently, we were up at Clip Festival in Sydney. The festival was really good but the real benefit was just meeting people who we had been following on Instagram as well and actually getting to meet them in real life, there has been a lot of that. And, then some of them came to our screening- it’s good to follow each other and to see others work but also that human connection is really nice.

What makes you want to reflect your hometown in your work?

A: I mean, boredom really. I hated Coffs Harbour when I was growing up. I would go home for a holiday and saw it was a really cool location. Stanton is from Freemantle and had a really similar upbringing.

S: Even when we went up to Coffs Harbour it was like ‘oh this is just like this part of Freemantle, and this is like this, and I guess when you don’t live in a town and you are away from that environment it’s like it puts your hometown in a different light. Compared to Melbourne as well, I think when you come from the country or come from the coast you have a different upbringing.

A: It’s helpful to make stories that you know, about your upbringing, especially when you are starting out it’s really good to go for what you know. I felt like even through uni I kept on going back to it and it was really pissing me off that I kept referencing it, and I was like I don’t want to reference that, I need to get it out of my system. Go make the film so then you can stop thinking about it and move forward from there.

S: We learn a lot about the environments and how we grow up about that. Especially going back to your hometown is a really palatable experience of that. I mean it’s kind of based on certain things, but a lot of it is just abstract as well.


Matt Smolen is the founder of Balloon Tree Productions, and has worked on everything from national TVCs and campaigns, socials media content and even training videos- all for some of Australia’s largest and most successful companies. Award highlights include being an alumni of the 2019 MIFF Accelerator Lab and a finalist in the Entrepreneurial Talent category at the 2018 Mumbrella Next Awards.

How did Balloon Tree Productions begin, what is your aim behind it and why did you want to hold tonight for young emerging creatives?

I’ve been running Balloon Tree for about eight years. I remember when I started I didn’t know anybody, and it was all about kind of meeting people and trying to grow that network. So, having opened this studio about a year ago we have created this space where we can foster that creativity and community and really just bring people in, share what we know, share the people we know and really collaborate and foster the community.

Yeah, and I feel like community really does come back to it a lot for the film industry, or even just creatives in general, it’s all about those voices coming together and learning off each other.

Yeah and, you know, some of those questions at the end of the panel discussing the issues that people are facing, without having people to talk to about those problems, you’re kind of lost in this little echo chamber.

Yeah, especially if you’re trying to do freelance work or trying to start from grassroots, it can feel like you are jumping into the deep end and you’re kind of unsure so it’s about having those people to talk to.

Yeah, exactly. We’ve got the space to be able to do something like this and it would be bad of us not to put on something like that. So, it’s nice because I see myself eight years ago and go ‘I wish I had something like this’.

To read more about the panellists:  


Felicia Smith

Molly Daniels

Andrew Mills

Check out Balloon Tree Productions here  

Interview by Athina Wilson

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