Filmmaker on her way


Film can play an important role in everyone’s life, Gamel O’Brien says.

It is used to highlight issues and teach lessons in self­ reflection, as well as for escapism.

‘‘It’s like teaching in the most beautiful and punk rock way possible,’’ she said.

O’Brien (26) has recently finished studying at the New Zealand Film School in Wellington and was back in her hometown of Oamaru last week sharing her new knowledge and skills with secondary school pupils, helping them explore the issue of domestic abuse through the medium of film, as part of the White Ribbon Waitaki Youth Film Challenge.

Pupils from Waitaki Girls’ and Boys’ High Schools and St Kevin’s College went head-to­head writing, storyboarding, acting, filming, editing and delivering their own micro­movies, with a theme of anti­violent relationships.

The young filmmaker helped the teams with the technical side of filmmaking, storyboarding, choosing shots and filming the story in a logical sense.

‘‘They did so well and every team came up with a different treatment for their message of anti-violent relationships,’’ she said.

‘‘We focused on gender inclusive messaging, promoting the idea that any sort of physical, verbal or cyber violence from one person towards another is 100% not OK.’’

O’Brien grew up in Oamaru and moved to Dunedin to study at Otago University when she left Waitaki Girls’ High School.

While she enjoyed gaining her bachelor of arts degree, and the student life in Dunedin, nothing ‘‘really clicked career-wise’’.

So, after graduation, she decided to go backpacking around Europe.

While living in London, she did some short courses at the University of the Arts in production set design for performance, interior design and photography.

‘‘That was great, I got to study at two beautiful locations, and I learned a lot,’’ she said.

She also worked at the National Portrait Gallery, where she was surrounded by ‘‘amazing art and culture’’.

When O’Brien returned to New Zealand, she moved back to Oamaru and made the decision to study filmmaking in Wellington after some ‘‘great experiences’’ in her hometown.

‘‘I got involved with A Stone’s Throw Production Company, working with them in schools and entering into film festivals,’’ she said.

‘‘I worked with the Waitaki Multicultural Council and Etu Whanau to make a documentary about life as a newcomer in the Waitaki district, and I worked on the local stage production of Mamma Mia! where I was a stage hand and got to see a consortium set first-hand.

‘‘I also met my partner [Ryan Algar] while working on Mamma Mia! and he wanted to move to Wellington too, so the art capital of New Zealand seemed to be a pretty good choice.’’

She decided a diploma in film and television at the New Zealand Film School in Wellington would put her in the right circles to make connections and find a job in the industry.

Her year studying in Wellington had been ‘‘crazy’’— in the best possible way.

‘‘I’ve been working 10 or 12 hour days — unpaid, of course — and not feeling tired or bored.

‘‘Every day is different and I love the challenges that come with that.

‘‘One of the industry professionals who come in to tutor us said to me ‘Making a film should never be fun. It will be hard, and there will be moments of pure euphoria, but it should never be fun, because it’s work’ or something like that. I totally agree, and I love it.’’

As well as learning about all of the big roles on a film set, she wrote and directed The Tragedy of Ginger Rogers, was the production designer of Man Up! and editor of Wrong House.

Multi-talented . . . Gamel O’Brien strikes a pose on a set she designed and built. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

She was also a joint recipient of the student’s choice award and The Film Career Education Trust grant for most outstanding student.

Now, she is looking for opportunities in the industry in Wellington.

‘‘I really enjoy doing the smaller jobs like mentoring in schools and doing independent projects, but I’m setting my sights on the big productions,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s a dream of mine to work on a big budget film, so fingers crossed.’’

And she is enjoying living in the capital city.

‘‘It’s a great little city,’’ she said.

‘‘I think we all struggle with the idealistic versus realistic. If my 17-year-old self could see me right now, [she] would have been so impressed.

‘‘In reality, I’m just a normal person trying to afford groceries. It’s an attitude thing, and I think understanding that is super important for my mental health. I’m a bit of a workaholic, so once I get a foot in the industry I’ll update you on my romance with Wellington. It’s a slow burner.’’

★ We’re putting out another call for ideas for the Postcard Home series. Is your son/ daughter or former neighbour or schoolmate doing something interesting somewhere around the world? Email us (rebecca.ryan@oamarumail with suggested stories and contact details.affiliate tracking urlNike