The heady trajectory from the corporate world to Cannes and Netflix

From office life to MumLife, an alumna from the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) reflects on her journey post graduation.

‘I was working in the corporate world but I quit, without even knowing whether I would get into the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS), but I had this burning passion for film and I had to follow my dreams, and thank God I did,’ Claudia Shepherd tells ArtsHub. Shepherd graduated from a Masters of Arts Screen course in 2021, with a degree that proved instrumental in helping her land her present job as a production assistant at Netflix.

She recalls, with enthusiasm, attending the Open Day at AFTRS. ‘I thought I was just going to do a few short courses and then be on my merry way, but then I was persuaded by the Head of Producing at the time, Peter Herbert, to do the Masters as it’s the most all-encompassing course. I found out I would leave with actual film credits, mentorship, industry connections and job prospects. It was really scary leaving my old job, but I remember crying and thinking, “Yes, this is what I have to do; my whole life is going to completely change”.’

And change it did, but Shepherd first had to put in the hard yards in the two-year course where she studied a range of topics. ‘We did a screen studies portion, where you learn about the history of cinema, as well as learning what producing actually is,’ she says. ‘We had guest speakers with leading production companies, which was really invaluable. 

Read: MumLife – AFTRs student film scores world premiere at Cannes

‘There was also cross-collaboration with other disciplines; there are nine in the course and you get to learn a bit about all of them, including writing and production design. You also do practical exercises, like making short films. Then there was a research and development element that leads to a final exegesis.’

A career highlight was going to France after her graduating short film made it to the Cannes Festival. MumLife is a story (with musical numbers) about a woman with postnatal anxiety. Along with five other crew members, Shepherd ended up on the red carpet with high-wattage movie stars on the strength of this humble but ambitious short film.

‘We had dinner with Kate Winslet and saw Tom Cruise and Idris Elba. And hi! Anne Hathaway!’ says Shepherd, still awed at the memory. ‘You know, you’re rubbing shoulders with these celebrities and getting emails from Brad Pitt’s production company. I think the last Australian short film to get in there was in 2018. But then before that, there have not been very many…’

Shepherd’s been in her role on the production team at Netflix for six months, working on a range of titles, all the way through from development to delivery. ‘It’s really fantastic to see things from start to end. You have to be really organised in this role. So, I’m grateful for the training and experience that I had at AFTRS and the encouragement to multi-task,’ she says.

As a successful alumna, what advice would she offer to potential students? ‘You get what you put in to it,’ reflects Shepherd. ‘I treated it like a full-time job because that’s what we’re all aiming for: to get full-time jobs in the industry. I’d also suggest students be annoying as well; I was in the teachers’ faces all the time, asking lots of questions. I was also forming relationships with every single person I met at AFTRS. So, be curious, that’s something that I’ve held in every stage of my life.’

Find out more about studying film, TV radio and podcasting at AFTRS.

Thuy On is the Reviews and Literary Editor of ArtsHub and an arts journalist, critic and poet who’s written for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books, The Australian, The Age/SMH and Australian Book Review. She was the books editor of The Big issue for 8 years. Her debut, a collection of poetry called Turbulence, came out in 2020 and was released by University of Western Australia Publishing (UWAP). Her second collection, Decadence, was published in July 2022, also by UWAP. Her third book, Essence, will be published in 2025. Twitter: @thuy_on Instagram: poemsbythuy