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South Australian Emerging Talent Spotlight: Sierra Schrader

02 June 2022
Sierra Schrader, image provided.

Sierra Schrader is a First Nations South Australian practitioner on the rise. Getting her start as a Director’s Attachment on SAFC supported Tim Minchin comedy series Upright, and later a Director’s Attachment to Rachel Perkins on hit ABC drama series Total Control, she went on to produce SAFC and ABC digital documentary short Deadly Family Portraits: Electric Mimili.

Recently Sierra was supported by the SAFC to undertake a Producer’s Attachment on the upcoming Netflix reboot of Heartbreak High in Sydney, and also to take the role of Associate Producer on upcoming feature anthropology film We Are Still Here, set to have its world premiere at the opening gala of the Sydney Film Festival on 8 June. During this time, she was mentored by Mitchell Stanley and Toni Mitchell from No Coincidence Media, gaining a deeper understanding of production and post-production.

In celebration of National Reconciliation Week 2022, and for the first instalment of the SAFC’s new SA Emerging Talent Spotlight articles series, we spoke to Sierra about her career aspirations, what she’s looking forward to at SFF, and what reconciliation means to her.

Tell us about your time working on Heartbreak High – what did it involve? What did your typical day look like on the production?

My role in the Heartbreak High production, first and foremost, was as a Producer’s Assistant. My daily routine would entail scheduling meetings for Producers, HODs, Directors, liaising with the production office, and any tasks that producers required me to do, which varied day to day.

Heartbreak was a fascinating opportunity. There were many new and interesting experiences so it is difficult to say what was my favourite part of the job, but overall I would say the creative process of seeing the teams working together to create this series was a highlight. The process of conceptualising an idea on paper and then bringing it to life on the screen is enthralling.

Did you learn any lessons or new skills working on Heartbreak High?

This series gave me the opportunity to enhance my skills in managing communications between Producers and HODs, scheduling meetings, exclusively working on Extras budget, insurance claims and personnel management, along with various smaller jobs like credits.

Understanding the hierarchy of production was an invaluable view into the production and the differentiation and functions within each role. It also expanded and strengthened my scope of understanding of the production process at a higher level than on previous assignments.

Recently you worked as Associate Producer on film We Are Still Here – how was that different from your Producer’s Attachment role on Heartbreak High?

On the set of We Are Still Here I learned the hard slog of production and the differentiation between independent and studio productions.

As an Associate Producer, I dealt with contracts, agents, cast, travel coordination, extras casting and managing communications. The two productions were very distinguishable, and my experience of them was considerably different due to the scale between large and small productions. 

In this Associate role I had greater responsibilities, which allowed me to feel more comfortable and inclusive in the project on a broader scale. This then expanded my role and management, which provided more pragmatic learning opportunities. Overall, both productions have been greatly beneficial to my career.

We Are Still Here is a cinematic response to the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival that addresses themes of colonialism and racism. What was it like as a First Nations person to work on such a project?

Participating in this unique collaboration between Indigenous cultures was a privilege. Trying to contextualise the theme of colonialism and racism in film is important to First Nations people; to have the freedom to express subjects that are personal and not mainstreamed has a strong impact and lets our voices be heard creatively, especially for foreign viewers.

With further reflection my experience on both We Are Still Here, and working alongside other filmmakers like Rachel Perkins on equally important stories about Frontier Wars and Australian colonial-settler times, give me hope that First Nations stories will continue to be told and understood.

Reflecting on these experiences has inspired and invigorated my desire to have an impact within the Australian film industry. As a First Nations woman, I will strive to be authentic in telling stories that can and should be heard worldwide.

What was the biggest challenge you faced working on the film?

It’s inevitable that we face challenges in this industry. When faced with a struggle, you have to find a suitable solution, especially in a fast-paced environment. We Are Still Here had its high-intensity moments. Personally, the travel involved was extensive but also a challenge which is an experience that I now appreciate, as it has set me up for future productions as I am now accustomed to it.

Moreover, a lesson that I gained through this experience would be the importance of people management. This was a skill set that I had to obtain quickly and now understand to be such a critical factor for productivity and proficiency in the film business.  

What’s your favourite production that you’ve worked on?

A highlight in my career so far has been shadowing Rachel Perkins on Total Control and, more recently, on The Australian Wars. Working alongside such a strong Aboriginal woman has been an inspirational experience and she is a role model for me, which I greatly value. Being involved with such diverse Indigenous stories, from current portrayals to historical events, has provided me with a broader range of cinematic and historical perspectives. 

What do you like best about working in the screen industry?

I love the collaborative process of film, meeting new creative people, and the variety of filmmakers and personalities on set. In this industry, you have the freedom to express yourself and showcase your talent and artistic expression in an innovative environment.

What are your career aspirations for the future? Where would you love to be in five to 10 years?

Personally, I feel the trajectory for my career aligns with being a Showrunner. Although not an official title, my career goal is to develop my ideas as a creator and writer and producer. I would love to be fully engaged within the Australian film industry, as well as work internationally, specifically in the US film industry.

What’s the most important piece of career advice you have ever received?

To keep at it, you keep moving forward.

What’s your top piece of advice for other First Nations creatives who want to get into the screen industry?

My advice would be to apply for as many initiatives and opportunities as you can, being local or nationally, with state agencies like the SAFC or with Screen Australia. Immerse yourself in any networking opportunities within the broader industry. If you know the trade you want to work towards, seek out mentors within that sector. Knowing my goal and being sure of what I want within my career has helped me immensely, but also seeking out experienced advice from industry professionals has been greatly beneficial.

I have been fortunate enough to be supported by SAFC numerous times, which put me in line for a career that I had envisioned since graduating from university. This entails my first ever production experience on the set of Upright as a Director’s Attachment. The same year I was involved in an initiative called Deadly Family Portraits in conjunction with ABC Arts iView and Arts South Australia. In addition, participating in a Screen Australia program called the Indigenous Producers Program, which was supported by Screen Australia and the SAFC. These initiatives and grants have been crucial in the progression of my early film career.

As we come to the end of 2022 National Reconciliation Week, what does reconciliation mean to you? Why is it important?

This year’s theme of “Be Brave, Make Change” strongly resonates with me. Reconciliation Week is a time of reflection followed by a time of action.

It’s a time of acknowledgment of our Indigenous culture and history, making change and, most importantly, reconnection to our culture. We can listen, learn and grow together, but each of us must take some responsibility within our own lives to build and develop the Australia we want into the future. We should reflect upon this and act upon our beliefs.

Interview by Olivia Butler.

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