Screen Producers Australia were on the money when they named Hannah Ngo ‘one to watch’ in 2021. The Kalgoorlie-born producer may have only graduated her Masters at the WA Screen Academy in 2017, but you wouldn’t have guessed that from the success she’s had since.
After her SBS-commissioned short film, Tribunal, put her on the radar in 2019, Ngo was swiftly picked as Screen Australia’s Producer’s Attachment on the popular Perth-based series, The Heights. Soon after, Screen Australia and SBS selected her dramedy web series, Iggy & Ace, as one of three projects to be funded through their Digital Originals initiative.
This 6 x 10-minute production marked a welcome reunion for Ngo and writer/director AB Morrison, who met at film school. And while the series’ positive reception was no doubt a cherry on top, Ngo makes it clear her ‘MO is that I want to make movies with my friends’.
That said, the overwhelming worldwide response to her latest SBS production, Latecomers, has admittedly been ‘really wonderful’.
Released in December 2022, Latecomers follows Frank and Sarah as they navigate sex, each other, and the realities of life with cerebral palsy.
‘It was a project that really changed me’, Ngo says. ‘I hope that it breaks down a lot of barriers.’
Breaking barriers seems to be another common thread in Ngo’s work. It’s no wonder, then, that Screen Australia and Screenwest have encouraged and supported her as they have.
‘State agencies can be really helpful’, Ngo says, nodding. ‘[Screenwest] started funding my short films, which let me get to know their teams, which got me recommendations for attachments, which got me connected with people on productions who then recommended me to other people.’
However, the path didn’t always look quite so straightforward. Ngo acknowledges that the lack of security a career in the arts often entails made her question whether this was the path for her. She worked several odd jobs before deciding to give filmmaking a proper go.
‘I don’t think there’s anyone that feels genuinely secure in their position. [The industry] is kind of flippant like that, but I think the more passion, time, and hard work you put into it, the more it can reward you’, she says.
‘I think as well, when people first start in the industry, they’re specifically focused on writing, directing, or producing. But there are so many more elements of the film industry that you can aspire to, which help make it more sustainable and enjoyable.’
This thinking saw Ngo take roles in production offices and crew teams while she gained experience, despite knowing producing was where she ultimately wanted to end up.
Today, Ngo is in Melbourne, where she’s Associate Producer at Werner Film Productions. When asked what made the Perth girl make the move, she points to one specific moment.
‘I was working on a production in this funny empty lot in Sydney’s west, and in this building alone, there were three other productions happening at the same time. This was – in Perth scale – unheard of. You’d usually have three or four big productions happening across a year, whereas in Sydney, three or four were happening at once. The opportunities to upskill as a producer are really different.’
Yet, Ngo’s fondness for her home state is palpable – not least when reeling off the government initiatives and people to have contributed to the filmmaker she is today. It was through Screenwest’s Elevate and Generate programs that she made her early short films. It was through these shorts that she met those who introduced her to the Sydney scene. And it was through Screenwest’s program, Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling, that Ngo was mentored by Lingo Pictures’ Managing Director, Tess Novak.
Highlights so far
Given the terrain she’s covered in such a short space, I wonder what might be a highlight from the journey so far. Ngo pauses before conceding, ‘I personally really struggle with celebrating. I just kind of keep going – it’s both my strength and my weakness’.
Her answer to the advice she’d give her younger self comes more easily.
‘Uplift your people, keep learning, ask for help, and be kind to everyone around you.’
‘Finding a community you work well with is really important’, she adds. ‘I found working with my friends to be a really fortunate thing to do early on. It allowed us to hone our creative skills without the commercial stakes that I’m really considering now.’
Her four-pronged approach seems to have worked tremendously well. Hardly taking a breath between Latecomers and the following projects on her slate, we’ll next see Ngo’s magic at play in Me & Her(pes) and Bird Drone – both to be released later this year. Add to this the Werner Film series Crazy Fun Park, season two of The Newsreader, and the second season of Surviving Summer, and it’s clear that Ngo does, in fact, ‘just keep going’.
As to what she’s been watching herself lately?
‘The latest episode of the Last of Us’, Ngo says with a laugh. ‘Like everyone and their mum has been. But it’s very good. I know it’s satisfying when I start to get really vocal as I’m watching. I remember certain moments where my girlfriend would laugh because when it was particularly tender, sad, or scary, I would be like, “Oh yeah … That’s good writing!”.’