To kick off another iteration of Media Mentors' My First Job series, we interviewed Lisa Wang (Please Like Me, The Family Law). Lisa has over 30 years of experience in the film and television industry. Currently, she is the Company Director of Black Sheep Films, a production company that aims to give voice to the misrepresented and underrepresented.
She is also the curator of Screen Presence 23 - Chinese New Year Film Festival happening 29 January, which you can still purchase tickets for.
Given her extensive experience, how did she start? Read on to find out!
What inspired you to get into the screen industry? Funnily enough, I was inspired by my desire to feed my kids.
I had a successful business running my own fashion label, but then left the workforce to become a full-time mum of three. When I returned to the workforce at 37 as a single mother, everything had changed, and I was now the sole provider of the family. I had to learn how to make money from anything. I made children’s clothes, stenciled bespoke furniture, catered for wakes and even became a Tupperware consultant! But when I got fired from my job at a desktop publishing company, one afternoon without warning, that’s when I got desperate.
Another mother at school heard that I’d lost my job and offered me a part time job assisting her husband, Film and Television Composer Frank Strangio.
So, I guess you could say that I wasn’t as inspired as much as I stumbled and fell into the industry and found my way from there. But what I’ve found is that being in the screen industry is like nothing else. No one goes into the industry knowing what they’re capable of, but it pushes you to a point where you get to find out.
In the end, what has inspired me to stay is having the power to surround myself with talented creatives and fostering a creative family to come into work with every day.
What was your first official job?
Production Accountant for Frontline Series 1. (1994) A satirical look at the ratings-obsessed world of TV news starring Rob Sitch and Jane Kennedy on ABC Australia.
How did you get it? I took the advice of a producer and put my name on the WIFT job register. Not long after, I received a call about a Production Accountant position. On the day of my interview, I was terrified.
I met with Executive Producer Michael Hirsh and told him that I hadn’t worked in accounting before. He looked me dead in the eye and asked, “Can you start straight away, are you willing to work hard and are you prepared to work overtime?” Determined to land my first full-time job in the industry, I replied, “yes”, and he hired me. I cried every night on my drive home until halfway through Season 1.
Even though I had so much business experience, I was totally out of my depth - the terminology, contracts, budgets, cast and crew awards, cost reports – I’d never even used Excel before! But you know what they say, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”.
I went on to work as an art + SPFX coordinator, production manager, line producer and producer, whilst simultaneously enabling me the freedom to work on my own projects.
Do you have any advice on how others can pursue careers in this industry?
Accept any job to get in. Be okay with starting small or in a completely unrelated department. Relinquish the idea that you need to be the best or most successful ASAP. It is actually a really privileged position to be a small fry and watch everyone else make all the big mistakes first.
It’s also your low-stakes opportunity to show that you are reliable, a good collaborator and fun to be around. If people like you, they will want to keep you as part of their production ‘family.’
What’s the most recent Australian production you watched? Mystery Road: Origin