Looking for a break in La La Land

The synopsis: Four driven, young graduates come together in a Hollywood house to pursue their movie dreams. Andrew Murfett takes up their story.

Alumni on the Hollywood walk of fame

Housmates (left): Robert Chislett, Joe Brukner and Charles Hopkins on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Picture: Dan Tuffs.

They share an address, an accent and an ambition to make it big in the world epicentre of entertainment – while also ensuring the pantry is well stocked with Milo and Vegemite.

These four housemates in Los Angeles – Joe Brukner, Charles Hopkins, Brigitte Wise and Robert Chislett – have something else in common: they are University of Melbourne alumni.

Through happenstance and connections forged through University social and career networks, these ambitious twentysomethings find themselves living together in a Spanish-style, two-level abode on a leafy street in Beverly Grove, bisecting West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, in the heart of the American film industry.

Of course, there is nothing unusual about Australians relocating overseas. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, more than 92,000 did so last year. And sun-soaked Los Angeles has long held an allure for Australians, particularly those enticed by its film and television production studios. Yet the strike rate for success here is predictably low.

“I simply hoped someone would employ me and I wouldn’t be homeless,” says Wise (BA 2011, JD 2014), who worked as an associate producer on Robert De Niro’s recent release, ­The Comedian. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

Wise and her alumni housemates have been able to carve out their own slice of home in LA and make headway in the entertainment industry. They share the spacious house with Tilly, a chocolate Labrador mix. It’s where they can commiserate with each other on bad days, or toast their successes on good ones. It’s a sanctuary in which to speak one’s mind, collaborate, solicit ideas, trade gossip and unwind.

Wise’s time there is dictated by her work. She can o­ften be found shooting a film on location. So far, she has travelled to Canada, Morocco and Manhattan, as well as film markets and festivals. When a film is in post-production, she may be holed up for days in an editing suite, or in a recording studio working on audio replacement with actors.

“O­ften I’m engaged in all of those stages at once on multiple projects,” she says. “Being out on set is generally my favourite time as we get to meet a multitude of talented people, from actors to costume designers to sound mixers and the countless army it takes to make a movie.”

She learns from them by osmosis, she says, simply by being around them and observing their work. “I like having people at home whose opinions I trust and who I can bounce ideas off,” she says. “We have intellectual discussions – and sometimes respectful arguments – about industry issues, and the guys are informed and working in the thick of it, so it’s an invaluable resource for each other. It helps keep me motivated.”

Charles Hopkins (BA(Media&Comm) 2010, JD 2013) moved to LA to pursue screenwriting and was the first to snare a spot in Beverly Grove, in mid-2014. “People here think it’s hilarious that we’ve rustled up four Melburnians to fill out a share house,” he says.

His screenwriting ambitions are on hold as he works as a junior executive at Shoreline Entertainment, a film sales, production and management company.

“I review script submissions, collaborate with clients and producers on projects in development and negotiate deals,” he says. “It’s really a practical education in independent film production. I chose to stay here for my professional aspirations and I’ve learned to love the city, the lifestyle and the people.”

Joe Brukner (BA 2012) is a prolific writer and producer, having written and produced music videos for pop artists such as The Fratellis and Jack Ü. He played key roles in supporting the production of blockbuster films such as Sony’s Ghostbusters (2016) reboot.

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