NIDA Acting graduate, Diane Smith, shares her journey from actor to producer
On 11 February, Matt Day’s black comedy 'The Mother Situation' took top honours at the 2017 Tropfest short film festival. Co-produced by NIDA Corporate Senior Course Manager and 1978 Acting graduate, Diane Smith, the film follows three adult siblings as they assist their terminally ill mother to commit suicide.
On 11 February, Matt Day’s black comedy The Mother Situation took top honours at the 2017 Tropfest short film festival. The film – co-produced by NIDA Corporate Senior Course Manager and 1978 Acting graduate, Diane Smith – follows three adult siblings as they assist their terminally ill mother to commit suicide. We caught up with Diane to discuss her journey from actor to producer.
How did your acting career progress once you left NIDA as an Acting graduate?
My time as a student here at NIDA was very exciting – those three years were the most unexpected, challenging and marvellous years in all of my education. Since then, I have enjoyed a constant and high-profile career in television and on stage.
The learning never stops though as I’m lucky to have had a number of really great opportunities – from rehearsing rough Shakespeare with Philip Parsons at the Wharf in a fortnight (no kidding!) and eleven short plays to open the Sydney Theatre Company wharf, to sustaining a long-running role in the television series A Country Practice, to singing on stage in front of an orchestra for Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, and then making the leap to travelling presenter for The Great Outdoors.
When (and why) did you start moving towards producing? And what have you learned so far?
As the performance work slowed in my late forties, I had to adapt – I began to diversify. I explored teaching with NIDA Open and NIDA Corporate, as well as other acting schools. And this is when I started producing. With each project came new skills and learnings.
My first venture, Peeled, was a one-woman show written for me by Cathryn Strickland. It took to several festivals and a season in Darwin at Brown’s Mart. That first experience served to highlight exactly the kind of mindset you need to produce. Never having described myself as an organiser, it became obvious that this was something I not only enjoyed, but also could manage well. The other great boon was that I was forced to tackle digital technology at a time when it was just beginning to reshape us all. Writing copy for marketing, editing videos and creating profiles on all kinds of social media platforms to promote the work – this is what most of my days looked like.
The next project, Stories for Grommets, was a series of children’s storytelling productions supported by a small Waverley Council grant. This opened my eyes to what’s involved in applying, distributing and justifying funding from a government body. Small successes, but a very big learning curve!
What are some of the challenges you have faced as a producer?
Over the years, I have learned quite a bit when it comes to producing and working on almost-there projects has become familiar territory. It’s all part of the job – watch the 2013 documentary Seduced and Abandoned. You will laugh; you may cry; but you will also see what goes into getting a film off the ground. For example, in 2014, I was approached by the director of Subject to Change, a half-hour pilot set in a contemporary high school, where some boys like boys and some girls like girls. This project, while so close to being picked up and in production, is still not signed off on that dotted line.
What are your plans for the future? Are there any exciting projects you’re working on?
I have produced three short films with actor/writer/director Matt Day. Matt had heard of the response to Subject to Change, and as we are both fledgling filmmakers, we teamed up. Both of us are trying to push the envelope as to what we can feasibly do in this industry we love in the uncertain future!
We entered several film festivals with Perry, which has been screened at St Kilda Film Festival, Palm Springs, Cinefest OZ and Flickerfest.
We then submitted The Mother Situation to this year’s Tropfest, and hope the film’s wins for Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Film will create some clout with our funding applications to develop a feature or a television project soon.
The advice we constantly get from other producers: ‘Just keep making stuff’ – which is what we intend to do.
The Mother Situation also included NIDA graduates Sacha Horler (Acting, 1993) and Harriet Dyer (Singer Dancer Actor, 2007), and won ‘Best Screenplay’ and ‘Best Actress’ for Sacha. You can watch it here.