Where were you raised and what influenced your career?
I grew up on a farm in Central Victoria. One side of my family is steeped in the hard work and grit of the land, the other has roots deep within the arts. My maternal grandmother was an opera singer and the whole family was heavily involved in the theatre. You need grit and creativity to navigate adversity on the land and I've drawn on to endure the hard times running a creative business. Witnessing the cyclical hardships of the land also means I keep an eye on the future if things are tough because there will be a time of reaping what you have sown. It's also influenced my desire to tell real and impactful stories which are ingrained in to our country's history and fabric.
Your career path?
My first jobs were scrubbing dishes at Sizzler and acting in film from age 12-17 years. There was a decent stint in hospitality before I moved from Melbourne to Sydney to study journalism for its capacity to tell real stories. I then found work in television as a journalist. A varied journey in many ways, however screen was always my preferred medium and it always will be.
How did Rollingball begin?
Rollingball was an idea my (now) husband and Rollingball co-founder Paul Donnelly and I discussed in 2004 literally on the day we first met. It represented a dream to have autonomy and the capacity to decide what stories to tell, produce work that aligned with our interests and values and allow us to pursue independent projects with impact. Idealistic and naive, in 2009, the company was formally established and we've tried to spend every day living up to our dream ever since. It's not until you stop and look back that you can see how far you've come. There's plenty left to do.
It's now 11 years since you started. What have been the highlights?
Working with a core and incredible crew in Lainey Donnelly, Andy Grieve, Guy Robinson, Alison Steen, Emily Lau and Garth Quick is one of the biggest highlights. They've been there from the start and are not only incredibly talented group, they're also the legends who allow the company to be a well-oiled machine. Some of our clients have also been with us from the start and may never know what they mean to us. I hope they know who they are. Collaborating with actors and experts like Jack Thompson, David Gulpilil, Assoc Prof Kelvin Kong and Prof Harvey Coates, to name just a few, means we have brought some visions to life with some of the best. We have travelled or collaborated with passionate people across Australia and some corners of the globe and that freedom is invaluable for us creatives. Meeting the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service crew who go out daily and save lives is a privilege we will always cherish.
And toughest moments?
Many years have challenged us but 2020 was likely the hardest. Weathering economic downturns and unforeseen changes in your client base is tough. Production is creative and physical, you pour yourself into every piece so you need to ensure balance and your health is prioritised alongside keeping the business steady. It is hard, but if you have the energy to turn up, the reward is to collaborate with amazing people and the impacts can be lasting.
What is key to survival?
Keeping the team small with the ability to scale where needed. Our crew are so capable and have such diverse backgrounds and skills. When you play to their strengths and get the mix right, it's amazing what a small team can deliver: extraordinary work comparable to bigger agencies.
You have Melbourne and Sydney outposts. Why is Newcastle your base?
COVID has been good for one thing: it's shown us the possibilities in remote working. But Newcastle will always be one of our business strongholds. Our preferred collaborators are largely here, so too the groundswell of talent locally and access to diverse shoot locations. Let's not forget the lifestyle we can have in Newcastle, while enjoying ease of connectivity to other domestic creative hubs. Our work take us to all corners of the country and our client base includes collaborators in the Pacific and Singapore, which in pre-COVID travel times was possible in one connecting stop. Now we work via Zoom and remote.
How did you pivot in the pandemic?
We adjusted our processes and the way we do shoots. The impacts that weigh heavily on us are more creative arts industry-wide - we'll see that play out over the coming year. The amount of industry support and funding opportunities that have been released to keep the industry buoyed is comforting. In lockdown we took an old feature film project out of the draw and developed it. There's always light in the dark.
There's always light in the dark.April Howard
What is in store for 2021?
It's looking good! We're developing and producing more long format projects and documentaries which should have a positive flow on for the region. We've just landed two accounts over far larger metro agencies so we are seeking applicants for a junior camera operator and editor, plus an experienced account manager and long form producers. If anyone is looking for work please get in touch. The recent success feels like a nod to the strength in what we do and to our story-telling capacity as well as what we've learned and navigated to stay open for the last 11 years.
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