Five filmmakers selected for inaugural Hollywood Talent Development Lab

Amelia Carew-ReidSydney

Image: Charlie’s Talent Escalator Lab participants l-r: Julie Kalceff, Darlene Johnson, Mithila Gupta, Monica Zanetti, Brooke Goldfinch, courtesy the artists.

Five mid-career and established NSW screenwriters and directors have been selected to participate in the debut Charlie’s Talent Escalator Lab, a new opportunity for professional screen development taking place in two stages, through a partnership between Screen NSW and Australians in Film (AiF), with support from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

The lab is designed to support local screen talent develop their career pathways, foster networks in the US screen industry and provide opportunities towards execution of screen projects and stories.

Screen practitioners successfully completed Stage One – a customised virtual five-day development lab in mid-August. The online structured program included pairing each participant with an industry mentor based in Los Angeles, practical assistance from those working in Hollywood as well as unprecedented access to leading Hollywood experts, including Senior Executives at major US networks, studios and streaming platforms and award-winning writers, directors and producers. For Stage Two in 2021, participants will be invited to travel to Los Angeles to meet with their industry mentor.


Lab participant Mithila Gupta said, “The Charlie’s Lab gave us access to some of the most ambitious content makers and buyers in LA. During the week I grew as a writer through the practical advice and insights offered – but the biggest gift has been the confidence imparted on us all. Each fabulous speaker and mentor urged us to stay true to our voice, no matter how difficult it feels to get it over the line. That’s made me reframe my entire career and I can’t wait to get stuck into it – with a new crew of amazing mates and collaborators to boot!”


Lab participant Darlene Johnson said, “Participating in the lab was fantastically inspiring as the industry professionals shared their unique insights and wisdom about the US filmmaking landscape. The experience was invaluable and will shape my future approach to my storytelling which will stay with me forever.”


In Stage Two, lab participants will be invited to travel to Los Angeles for the opportunity to meet with their mentor and spend time in the field, attend meetings and network at Charlie’s in Raleigh Studios in 2021 when health guidelines permit. Travel advice provided by NSW Health and the State and Federal Government will be followed.


Recipients of the Charlie’s Talent Escalator Lab 2020

Mithila Gupta

Mithila is an Indian born, Australian bred screenwriter who started her career in the story room at Neighbours in 2010 – where she introduced an Indian family to the regular cast of Ramsay Street. She went on to script edit and write for the show.

Mithila most recently wrote on both seasons of Five Bedrooms (Ten, Peacock & BBC1), Bump(Stan, Roadshow Rough Diamond) and was Head Writer on Aquarius Films’ The Unlisted (ABC & Netflix) on which she wrote several episodes including the pilot. Both series feature Indian leads and celebrate family and culture.

She’s also written on Doctor Doctor (Nine), The Heights (ABC), Playing for Keeps (Ten), Winners and Losers (Seven), Home and Away (Seven), Trip for Biscuits (ABC), and Toybox (Seven). She was the assistant script editor on Cleverman (ABC).

Currently, Mithila is developing a colourful slate of original ideas including an Aussie-Bollywood feature film Salsa Masala, which gained Mithila entry into Film Victoria’s Catapult Concept Lab in 2012 and has since received development funding from Film Victoria, Screen Australia and Scripted Ink. Mithila’s also developing several television series for the global market with a specific focus on India. Mithila is passionate about diversifying our screens – both in front of and behind the camera. She believes true inclusion begins on the page, through story. Mithila is a founding member of the Australian Writer’s Guild’s first ever Diversity and Inclusion committee.


Brooke Goldfinch

Writer and director Brooke Goldfinch was an ABC reporter in Sydney when she decided to drop everything and move to New York to pursue her dream of becoming a filmmaker. A scholarship student in NYU’s prestigious graduate film program at Tisch School of the Arts, she was taught by Spike Lee, Todd Solondz and many other notable professors.

Brooke’s most recent short film, Outbreak Generation was the result of her receiving the 2016 Lexus Australia Short Film Fellowship, with the film premiering at the 2017 Sydney Film Festival. She is currently developing several projects, including Splitters – a feature length dramatic-thriller produced by Truant (an Animal Logic Company) and Arcadia, which has previously been supported by Create NSW, The Beginning, a television series formerly with Stan and Fremantle, and Matchbox’s Attempts, a dramedy series she has co-created with Corrie Chen, which was selected for the Create NSW and ABC Half Hour Drama Development Initiative.

Brooke’s narrative short films have screened in festivals around the world, including Edinburgh and Rome. Brooke received a Screen Australia Talent Escalator Grant for her short film Red Rover, which earned her Best Director awards at the Sydney Film Festival, Flickerfest and St Kilda, as well as AWGIE and ADG nominations.

Brooke was selected by actor James Franco to write and direct a segment of the compendium feature film The Color of Time, starring Franco, Jessica Chastain, Mila Kunis and Henry Hopper. She was also mentored by Ridley Scott, working as his Director’s Attachment on Alien: Covenant.


Darlene Johnson

Darlene is the recipient of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association grant. Her career as writer/director started with the internationally acclaimed Two Bob Mermaid winning Best Short film at the Australian Film Critics Circle Awards and nominated for the Baby Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival. Darlene moved into documentary writing/directing Stolen Generationswhich was nominated for an International EMMY Award; the making of Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence; Gulpilil – One Red Blood and the supernatural drama Crocodile Dreaming featuring the first-time pairing of legendary Aboriginal actors David Gulpilil and Tom E. Lewis.

Her moving portrait, River of No Return was the opening night film at ImagineNative in Canada. Darlene has produced documentaries for the ABC’s Message Stick series and wrote, directed and produced the independent documentary, The Redfern Story. Her short film, Bluey won 13 awards at numerous Australian and International festivals.

She was the first recipient of the Inaugural Shadow Directorship, an ADG and Screen Australia Gender Matters initiative directing on Home and Away. She went on to direct episodes of The Heights for Matchbox Pictures and episodes of Neighbours, Australia’s longest running TV series. In 2019, Darlene won the Inaugural Australian International Screen Scholarship in New York City, awarded by the International Screen Forum and the American Australian Association.

Darlene is currently developing Obelia, her first feature film inspired by her Aboriginal mother and Aboriginal grandfather and is developing a supernatural crime thriller TV series with Aquarius Films entitled The Secret and the Sacred, which she created. She is also developing her short film Bluey into a feature.


Julie Kalceff

Julie Kalceff is an award-winning writer, director, and producer. A graduate of AFTRS, Julie is best known as the creator, writer, director and producer of the international hit online drama series Starting from Now, and writer, director, and co-producer of children’s television series First Day. Attracting both critical and popular acclaim, Starting from Now is one of Australia’s most successful online projects. It has amassed over 130 million views, been watched in 230 countries, and was sold to and played on broadcast television in Australia. Julie was the sole writer and director on all 30 episodes of the series.

In 2017, Julie was commissioned by the ABC to write and direct First Day, a stand-alone television episode about a 12-year-old transgender girl starting high school. First Day won the MiPCOM Diversify TV’s Excellence Award for Kids’ Programming, 2018, and the Gender Equity Prize at the prestigious Prix Jeunesse International Children’s Television Festival, 2018. In 2019, First Day was commissioned by the ABC as a 4 x half-hour children’s television series. Julie was the sole writer and director on the series, which was broadcast in March 2020. It is the first scripted television series in Australia to star a transgender actor in the lead role.

Julie is the founder and director of the Sydney-based production company Common Language Films. She has helped raise public awareness around the lack of diversity on screen and has paved the way by embedding diverse characters in stories with broad appeal.


Monica Zanetti

Monica Zanetti is an award-winning Australian screenwriter and director. Her debut feature Skin Deep, screened at over eight international film festivals and was honoured at Austin Film Festival with an award for Best Narrative Feature. The film also earned Monica an AWGIE nomination for Best Original Screenplay, a spot on the 25 Screenwriters to Watch list by US MovieMaker Magazine and was released internationally in 2016.

Monica then went on to work in various story rooms before joining the writing team for the Channel 10/Netflix series Sisters. She was a writer/producer on the ABC Comedy series Tonightly with Tom Ballard and wrote an episode for the CJZ series My Life is Murder.

Monica’s second feature film, Ellie & Abbie (and Ellie’s Dead Aunt) was the recipient of the Frameline Completion Fund in the US and was the first Australian film to ever open the Sydney Mardi Gras film festival; it will be released in 2021 after screening as part of Melbourne International Film Festival 2020. She is a co-director of the production company Clever Rabbit Productions alongside Geraldine Hakewill.