Aussie Filmmakers in Berlin – Can you make it?

Whether you be a director, writer, cameraman, sound recorder, editor or gaffer, it’s hard enough in Australia to break into the filmmaking business.

So you want to work in film –

Some people, after they’ve finished their studies and put in the hard slog getting work, or even their own work produced, will still find it hard to break into the Australian film scene, if at all. Of all film studies university graduates in 2009, 60% went into full-time employment. Less than a quarter of that 60% was in the arts, design and culture sectors,  and only the minuscule percentage of 4.6% was in the actual film industry, the rest found full-time work in retail or hospitality.

If they’re not living the dream they expected, well, enough of the dream to quit their job waiting tables or selling shoes, many people head overseas to try to work there.

Hollywood, London…..Berlin?

Germany comes in at #9 in regards to which countries around the world are producing the most feature films, spitting out just over 200 per year. Surprisingly, the USA is only #3 at just over 800, with Nigeria #2, and the Bollywood film industry of India sits way in front at around 1,255 films per year: which is a rather extraordinary number. Australia averages at around 31 features per year, give or take.

For whatever reason Australian filmmakers come to the artistic Mecca that is Berlin in the hopes of finding industry work, this city is going to be one of the most inspiring places to do so. It’s not going to be easy, but it will be fun, and your experience will not be the same as the next person off the plane either. Everyone has their own particular strengths and weaknesses when it comes to work, ex-pat life, studying at film school in Berlin, learning another language, working in that language. Think you can handle it?


There are those who are actually living it –

Born in Sydney, Australian writer and director Brodie Higgs found that he couldn’t sell his product in Australia, as there just isn’t the audience for the type of film he wanted to make. Therefore, no one is likely to invest. The perfect place was Berlin. Coming to Berlin specifically for this project, his first feature, he and creative business partner Anya Watroba, sold their film hard and it payed off. Brodie lived in Berlin from 2012 for one year, and was able to produce the art house feature film Elixir, as a German/Australian co –production. Elixir was shown as the opening film for the Down Under Berlin Film festival 2015, as well as being featured in the Berlinale film festival. Brodie says that persistence is a big part of ‘getting stuff done’ “In one-way or another, the work will be done if you want to get something done. “ he says.

Naturally if you move countries first in the hopes of finding work, it’s a completely different story. Writer, director and cinematographer Paul Leeming from Queensland, has been living in Berlin for the last 18 months. After a successful working history in Japan, he moved for love and has been able to base himself in Germany’s capital. He has picked up a bit of work in town with his own company Visceral Psyche Films, whilst supplementing living costs by a side LUT camera supplies business, and taking on cinematography work in other European countries. But that doesn’t mean it has been easy.

Paul says “Australia tends to be hard to start working in professionally, as there is a culture of low to no pay, deferred payments (never been paid once for anything deferred!) etc. Berlin is a bit similar as it’s an arty, but mostly no-money, city, when it comes to video and film production, unless you happen to be in the top end of the industry here.”

It’s also a good idea to learn the language. Paul learnt German as a child whilst living abroad so it is pretty safe to say that if you already have that advantage, things can be a bit easier for you. So unless you are constantly creating your own projects and can surround yourself with who ever you please, you really need to learn German if you want to be employed in the filmmaking industry here.

Born in Munich, but spending much of his life in Australia, editor, producer and director Maximilian Raeder already knew the German language and came to Berlin to live and work five years ago. Maximilian, from Mad Hungry Robots, loves the fact that there are so many cultures living so close together in Europe, and stories to tell because of it.

“Berlin is a thriving, vibrant, open and fun metropolis with a great culture.” In regards to working here he says, “Pay might be low in the beginning, but so is the living cost in Berlin. Working can be a bit frustrating at first, but if you keep at it it’s fine. Once you get in, the work starts flowing in”

And the best way to get yourself out there? “Having people spread good “word of mouth” about you. Getting a gig that has a bit of exposure or is simply cool. When you can show you have made a few good films here (even if they are little), people will start contacting you. Also, be present on job profile sites (Xing, LinkedIn, etc)”

Should you do it?

Whichever way you look at working abroad, if you can gain a suitable visa and have a bit of drive and passion, you are bound to make it work one way or another. Having wonderful experiences and learning a lot along the way, working in the film industry in Berlin can often lead to working in other countries in Europe. That is a benefit on anyone’s CV, regardless of whether you stay on this side of the world, or head back to Australia to then conquer the sunburnt country with all your European experiences.

So, go get ‘em tigers.

Header Image: Paul Leeming on set. © Naotomo Umewaka

Charmaine Gorman is an Australian actress and writer living in Berlin with her family. As a content writer and editor, she works for many clients around the world, and along with her husband, is the founder and content manager of the online travel guide My Guide Berlin.