Expat filmmakers in Berlin – Adam Donald

A slight twist on the Expat filmmakers in Berlin theme we've started this year is our latest subject, New Zealander Adam Donald.

Born in Palmerston North, NZ, 2018 marks Adam's 5th year in Berlin and second year as the mastermind behind the Screen Acting Programme at dBs Film Berlin. The dBs Film Berlin school has been running since 2015. Starting out small (with just 10 students!), these days they have up to 46 students from 27 different countries and are expected to expand in the coming year. So, as Adam trained in NZ as an actor and director, we were interested to know how his life changed into running a course at a Berlin film school, and how his team represents talent from Down Under! 

Why the move to Berlin in the first place?

Adam - I moved to Vienna for love, but (unfortunately/fortunately) it didn't work out. My best friend and lead actress in many of my post drama school shows Brony was here in Berlin training at Circus School. So I came to visit, fell in love with the city and stayed. During my masters, I had a tutor who spent a lot of time here and said good things. I always wanted to check it out.

What were you doing in Berlin before dBs started? Was it hard to find work in the industry?

Adam - Yeah, it wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I worked in restaurants at first which was great for meeting people and learning the language in a hurry. Then I got on an artist visa so was forced to work in my field as a freelance actor/director, which was, in hindsight, the best thing ever. So then the adventure of piecing together a decent monthly paycheck began. I auditioned for a few German shows which had no budget but my German was not perfect and I was by then too poor to work for free. I got involved in some circus projects as a director and performed a show around Berlin for a while. I got a job working at the English Theatre Berlin (ETB), stage managing shows, directing for the Expat Expo and teaching through Theater und Schule (TuSch) with both ETB and Platypus Theatre.

I then got a job working at InterAct English where I would travel all over Germany going into high schools to direct week-long theatre workshops in English. This was amazing for me in terms of giving me lots and lots of practice at working in a hurry to write shows, particularly comedy, direct non-actors and put productions on the stage with no budget. InterAct English eventually began making films using a similar format so I would go into a school with a DOP and make a film with sometimes up to 30 teenagers in a week. We'd go into a class with no preconceived ideas, all think up a story collaboratively, the DOP would train the crew while I wrote the script with the actors and directed the performances. We'd start shooting Thursday and wrap Friday. It was madness but lots of fun!

How do you find 'life in Berlin'?

Adam - Berlin life is fantastic. There are always far too many things going on in the city for you to ever feel like you are missing out on by living here. I love how green it is and how many parks there are to jog around in. Riding a bike is awesome, there is a respect for cyclists that you just won't ever find back home. Winters can be tough, I'm not gonna lie, but I love all of the other seasons.

How did the opportunity to create a film course come about?

Adam - I was acting on a commercial shoot for a hotel north of Hamburg and we were staying in the hotel for 3 nights. We all had a great time and I got to talking with the director Malachi Rempen. Malachi just happened to be the programme lead on the filmmaking diploma course at dBs and had this crazy idea to start an acting course. I was in the right place at the right time I guess.

Where are your students from? Any Australian or New Zealanders? 

Adam - At dBs Film we have students representing 27 different nationalities. In my screen acting class, I had 2 Aussies, 2 Italians, 1 Dominican, 1 American/Dutch, 3 Germans & 1 Irish. 0 kiwi students which was a bit sad, but we do have 2 kiwis teaching on the acting course, myself and Sarah Bleasdale who directed the music video project and teaches movement.

What happens to your students after they finish? Do they stick around in Berlin, or head back home to conquer their own countries with what they've learned in Berlin?

Adam - A bit of both, and a bit of moving on to conquer new places. But with more and more students graduating we are getting lots sticking around. We all know how hard it can be to find your people and create a network in a new place, so our recommendation is to hang out in Berlin for a while and work together as alumni. One of the things dBs offers is a rich international community network, and our hope is that students will now have contacts all over the world, now and into the future. So yeah, we fully support graduates whether they stay in Berlin, go back home or go on to conquer the world somewhere else. We are sure that wherever they go they'll do great things. I'm actually currently in Portugal at Fest - Festival of New Directors in Espinho with 14 students who are about to graduate & 2 other staff members, Hannah Deans is also from New Zealand, she runs dBs Events and Gabrielle Szambelan from Australia who is the programme lead on the filmmaking degree. We are here supporting our students and alumni who have 8 films screening at the festival. All very exciting.

Thank you, Adam.

About dBs Film Berlin:
dBs Film Berlin are ever-expanding. They are starting a Visual Effects and Animation course in September as well as starting a Screen Acting Bachelor's Degree with Honours. Right now they make films, lots of films, all the time. This year as a film school they made an estimated 170 films! That means filmmakers directed between 4 and 5 films each, crewing on a whole bunch more and actors starred in over 20 projects. They also run a dBs 6-week summer school in acting or filmmaking! Interested in joining in? Head to the dBs website for more info.

(Header image: On set with Actor Julie Diadone (Dominican Republic), dBs tutor, DOP and Director Oliver Valante and Director Adam Donald; all images © Adam Donald)

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

2 thoughts on “Expat filmmakers in Berlin – Adam Donald

  • June 28, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    Adam is an amazing addition to this industry. He really thinks about how each culture makes good art which is few and far between.

  • May 23, 2019 at 3:31 pm

    Hey Adam –
    My name is Scott Coffey. I’m an actor/writer/director… recently moved to Berlin. I’d love to talk to you.
    Are you around?

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