Jason van Genderen on Short Films

Jason van Genderen Jason van Genderen

Jason van Genderen is a filmmaker, screenwriter, director, producer, presenter, and teacher. He’s half of the team delivering our Short Film Boot Camp: Develop, Deliver, Distribute! He is also the founder of the Pocket Film Academy, a filmmaking resource dedicated to the art of making movies with your phone. Jason was the winner of Tropfest 2008 for his entirely smartphone-made film Mankind is No Island.

When did you first decide you wanted to be a filmmaker?

I can’t say there was a singular defining moment, but definitely a growing sentiment whilst I was working in an advertising agency that my creative ideas needed to stretch their legs outside the confines of a 30second commercial spot. I have very early memories of being allowed to hold my Uncle’s Hi8mm camcorder when I was a kid. I remember the smell of the plastic still. The ‘whirr’ of the servos inside when you pressed a button or used the rocker switch to zoom. Even the way I held my breath a little when I pressed record and saw the counter in the viewfinder ticking over. That probably started some camera love, but as a writer it probably wasn’t until 2008 when I penned Mankind is No Island that I realised the power of language and imagery put together. It was a tremendous happy accident, really. 

What is unique about your filmmaking approach that students will learn from you in Short Film Boot Camp? What else can students expect from Boot Camp?

Soooo much. Like minds are going to explode! I’m going to take students on a day of discovery, starting on the triumphs and tragedies I’ve experienced, some amazing creative kick-starts and the secrets of starting with the bare bones of an idea. I’ll then progress through life as a professional FilmBreaker, my tools and tricks to creating amazing production techniques and we’ll review some of my game-changing short films. I’ll also chat about crowd-funding and social media and the impact they are having on growing creative industries like ours, and of course I’ll bring a delicious selection of Pocket Filmmaking gadgets to satisfy the nerdiest nerd and geekiest geek in the room. Plus to top it off I’ll share my secrets to entering the world of film festivals and how to actively make your film (and yourself) unforgettable when you get there. Phew… I’m exhausted already!

In your TEDx talk you gave your filmmaking mantra as “Dream big with little resources,” and talked about some of the creative solutions filmmakers such as George Lucas have discovered when forced to work within limited means. Is this still your filmmaking mantra? Would you care to expand on it?

I’ll be expanding on that all day Saturday! It’s really about letting your creative story be the backbone of everything… the tools, the gear, the crew, the methods, they’re all bolt-on components that are infinitely variable. My mantra is all about Making v Talking. I know so many creative guys who have spent years talking about making their hallmark film. They’re still talking it. I’m hoping students will walk away from my course with a complete new vigour and inspiration to start their next film the next day. I don’t say that to over-simplify a very intensive craft, I say it with all heart to let people know there’s MANY ways to make your film… and not all of them need to be hard.

Your Tropfest-winning film, Mankind is No Island, was shot on location in New York and Sydney - with a mobile phone. What draws you to smartphone filmmaking?

There’s a breathtaking immediacy to shooting from the hip. My style of storytelling can’t always be pre-produced or planned, so the ability to shoot on-the-hop has become paramount… in fact it’s probably become my signature. I’m well aware that smartphone cinematography is often shunned and dismissed in professional circuits, but I think that’s part of the allure for me. I’ve seen one of my Nokia films play on a huge screen in the O2 Arena in London and the audience had no clue it was a smartphone film, I love that. What I’m looking forward to sharing with my students is the accessibility Pocket Filmmaking will enable them with. There’s really no excuse for not making your film when your tools are already in your pocket.

What’s your favourite short film that you’ve made and why? What did you learn from the experience?

Ironically, I made a little short just recently titled ‘Why I’m a Filmbreaker’. Not only does it feature scenes shot from a whole variety of smartphones, but it’s pieced together from offcuts of all my previous pocket films, so I was pretty chuffed with that. It’s not a festival film or anything, but the process of making something from old pieces was just really enjoyable. I’ll play it to the students on Saturday and see what they think. Biggest lesson I learned from that was the beauty of being less literal with vision, and listening to story instead. Placing images on screen that make you ‘feel' something rather than ‘think' something is really powerful.

What are you currently working on? What’s next?

I’m still madly editing away on new Masterclasses for the Pocket Film Academy, and aside from that working on a web series called Terror Australis too – loads of fun. Its $0 budget, produced on sweat and tears alone and has 4 amazing presenters bringing to life the crazy amazing world of Cryptozoology. I’ve also been procrastinating for 5 years over my first feature doco called Me&Megan – that’s something I’m aiming to finish this year too. Oh and I’ll probably concoct some new short film idea or web series tomorrow too – that’s my greatest danger!

If you want to hear more from Jason van Genderen check out Short Film Boot Camp: Develop Deliver Distribute!


The Australian Film Television and Radio School would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners, the Bidjigal people and Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, on whose land we meet, work, study and teach. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and extend our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from all nations of this land.