Veterans skilling up for the film and TV industry

Article courtesy of Department of Defence

Since being cast as Will Scarlett in a school production of Robin Hood at 10, Lieutenant Commander Claire Baldwin (pictured, left) knew she wanted to be an actor.

Despite joining the Navy after high school in 2005 and becoming a maritime warfare officer, she found the theatrical bug never went away, and in 2015 she transferred to reserves to pursue an acting career.

Since then, she has performed on stage with the Australian Shakespeare Company and in TV shows including The Secrets She Keeps and Wentworth.

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Two women at a movie camera

She was also one of the first participants in a program designed to help veterans transition from Defence into the film and television industry.

The Screen Warriors Program aims to recruit, train and assist veterans to transfer skills into a career they may not be aware they would flourish in.

The program’s inaugural Introduction to Filmmaking Course took place at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) in Sydney in early March 2023.

Thirteen participants were given a taste of the jobs their military skills could lead to in the world of filmmaking.

It covered jobs in the technical side of the film industry, including production and unit management, location scouting, assistant directing, accounting, transport and logistics. 

The participants also tried out some of these roles on one of the AFTRS training film sets, and prepared, rehearsed and filmed a short scene in 90 minutes.

According to Claire, the course staff seemed ‘a little bit spun out’ at how readily the participants were able to work together.

‘I don’t think the AFTRS staff had ever seen 13 strangers come together and produce something viable quite so quickly,’ she said.

‘As Defence members, we are trained to work well in teams and collaborate quickly with people we’ve never met to get the job done – and that’s exactly what we did.

‘I think in that way we proved our worth as people who would thrive in this industry.’

Claire does reserve service with the Directorate of Navy Culture as a leadership coach, alongside acting and directing.

She said the film industry and Defence have a lot more to learn about what they can offer each other and, once that understanding matures, the program will strengthen.

Former combat systems manager Alee Scarfone (pictured) said the training was better than she could have anticipated.

‘They jammed a lot into two days, and I left with a really clear understanding of which Defence skills we could easily transfer into the film industry,’ she said.

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Woman sitting on film set with movie lights in background

An unplanned exit from Navy due to an epilepsy diagnosis led Alee to take up acting to help with her transition, after feeling lost outside of the Defence environment. After 22 years in the Navy, tapping into her creative side helped her find herself again.

Alee said even if they weren’t thinking about going into the film industry, veterans should give the program a go.

‘You really don’t know what you don’t know,’ she said. ‘You might be shocked at how much you might like it and how many opportunities there are.’

Screen Warriors was launched in 2022 by Warwick Young OAM, an actor, director and Australian Army officer, as a collaboration between the Veterans Film Festival and AFTRS CEO Nell Greenwood.

Warwick points out that the high-level training and experience delivered to Defence personnel equipped prospective candidates with the skills required in the many logistical aspects of production.

For instance:

  • Are you a Transport Supervisor or Driver? Your licences and technical experience could have you working in the screen industry almost immediately.
  • Have you ever been a Recon Officer? Then you are highly suited to being a Locations Manager.
  • Are you a Logistician? Then you could be a Unit Assistant or depending on your experience a Unit Manager.
  • Have you ever commanded and administered troops? Then you could be an Assistant Director.
  • Have you ever been in an administration or operations role in a headquarters? Then you could be a Production Coordinator, a Production Manager or a Production Accountant.

The two-day in-person course is held four times a year in Sydney. It is free of charge and is available to serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel and families.

The next dates for 2023 are:

  • 27–28 July
  • 10–11 August
  • 16–17 November

For more information, see the Screen Warriors webpage on the Veterans Film Festival website or email screenwarriors [at] veteransfilmfestival.com.