Kirsty Stark

Winner 2010 NFSA-ACS John Leake OAM ACS Award
 Clair Hurford
2010 NFSA-ACS John Leake OAMACS Award winner, Kirsty Stark.

In the lead up to this year’s Australian Cinematographers Society National Awards on 24 May, we got in touch with the previous recipients of the NFSA-ACS John Leake OAM ACS Award, for an update about their careers and achievements.

As beneficiaries of the 2010 NFSA-ACS John Leake OAM ACS Award, Kirsty Stark and her production partner, Director of Photography (DOP) Vivyan Madigan, took full advantage of the opportunity the award presented them.

‘With the prize money from the award we actually made two short films – from film (L’Artiste (2011) and The Beekeeper (2010)). We shot in 16mm and started a production company (Epic Films).’

Stark also enjoyed a Rotary group study exchange in Sweden. ‘I learned about the Swedish film industry and got to see how the industry works over there compared to Australia.’

Although cinematography is still a male-dominated sector, Stark says she always felt welcome as a female cinematographer and camera assistant. ‘I’ve been assisted and ‘shown the ropes’ by both males and females and I think I am lucky to be part of a generation where others have paved the way, and having women in the camera department is normal, even if it is sometimes rare.’

‘My cinematography lecturer at uni was female, so I felt confident learning to shoot from her and I think that can often be the hardest step to take. Without her encouragement, I may never have tried to pick up a camera. However, after shooting and assisting on several student films, I had no trouble finding working in the industry and went on to work with many fantastic mentors, both male and female.’

But the intervening years have seen Stark transition from emerging cinematographer to accomplished producer.

‘I just found that producing suited me a lot more than cinematography did as a skill set’ she says.

‘Through that process of starting the company, I started to produce more of our films and (found I was) a natural fit into that area. We’re still shooting pretty much everything that we make through the company. It was great for both of us to be able to take that next step in our career path.’

Crowdfunding and a panda
Arcayus (Marcus McKenzie) & Rose (Mandahla Rose) walk on a disused railway line in Wastelander Panda © Epic Films 2013

Initially conceived as a joke between two film students during a university lecture, first time writer/director Victoria Cocks teamed up with Stark as producer and Madigan as DOP, together deciding to make a three minute Prologue of Wastelander Panda to launch online. Debuting on 24 January 2012, within three days the series had 100,000 views and was seen in 150 countries across the world.

Wastelander Panda started as a three minute web series and then it’s grown to a longer series that’s been commissioned by ABC and Screen Australia. That’s what we’re working on at the moment.’ ‘It was conceived as a ‘world’ as opposed to one individual thing – our long term goal has always been to make a full-length TV series that are either half an hour or hour-long episodes.’

Wastelander Panda has the distinction of being the first project in Australia to be funded by a government screen agency (the South Australian Film Corporation (SAFC)) based on the backing of an online ‘market’ rather than a traditional broadcaster or distributor. In addition, they raised over $25 000 in a Pozible crowdfunding campaign, supported by 353 people.

‘Crowdfunding is a great way for people to get their foot in the door and prove themselves and take the next step up in their careers but it’s not something that’s currently sustainable long term. Just the amount of funding that’s required to pay a crew and do things at a professional level is not sustainable in Australia at this stage. So I think traditional funding sources are still really important.’

‘Being in South Australia’s great, it’s really collaborative, you find that everyone seems to know each other and learned to help one another, share ideas and help people take that next step up. The SAFC especially has seemed to be more open than other states to trying to find unique ways to make things in South Australia which doesn’t necessarily have the huge funding or the talent pool that some of the states have.’