News 18.08.21

FIRST NATIONS CREW SPOTLIGHT: SUMAH HURLEY



Third AD Sumah Hurley always knew she’d end up working in TV – and so did everyone who knew of her love for TV and her dog, Telly! Film Victoria talked to Sumah about why she moved to Melbourne from Goreng Goreng, her family’s traditional country in Queensland, as well as her inspirations and mentors, her favourite gigs to date and more.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I am a 3rd Assistant Director working in Melbourne and a proud Goreng Goreng woman. Television has always been a love of mine. I was glued to the TV from an early age, and I called my childhood dog Telly, so people are never surprised to find out I now work in film and TV.

“I grew up surrounded by family, culture and connection to country. My Dad is an Australian Indigenous artist and he inspired me to always be creative. While I can’t put paint to canvas quite like he can, I definitely found my own way.”

Sumah Hurley

How did you get started in the screen industry?

I knew I wanted a career in the screen industry so I studied Film, Television & New Media at Queensland University of Technology, but it was my move to Melbourne that really opened doors. As soon as I finished unpacking, I started emailing every Melbourne-based production company I could find. LateNite Films’ Chris Hocking, Nick Colla and Dan Daparis gave me some great opportunities and connections, which ultimately led to my first television gig and the rest is history.

You’re originally from Queensland so what brought you to Victoria?

Honestly two reasons: love and career. My now-husband moved for work – and I wasn’t letting that one go – and it just so happened to fit in with my plans to move to where the action was. When I was starting out, there wasn’t much outside of the big studio films in Queensland, so I felt like I needed to move interstate if I wanted to work in television. Melbourne has been my home for almost 8 years now and I wouldn’t change it for the world. 

Sumah Hurley filling in for an extra on Picnic at Hanging Rock.

You’ve worked as an AD on a range of Victorian productions including My Life Is Murder, Wentworth, Mustangs FC, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Five Bedrooms and three seasons of How to Stay Married. We’re guessing you’d find it hard to pick a favourite, but is there one that particularly stands out?

You’re right it’s hard to pick a favourite because I learned a lot from each one. I’m not going to lie, some productions are more fun than others, but three highlights are:

How To Stay Married, a Channel Ten comedy, has always been a joy to work on. My first big 3rd AD role was on season one and I’ve been fortunate enough to come back for all three seasons. It’s like returning home.

My Life Is Murder, also for Channel Ten, was a pleasant surprise. Not only did I find the episodic nature of the show fun, I felt I finally had the confidence in my abilities. Directing extras became a passion on this production and I worked alongside an amazing crew, who I still consider some of the best and kindest in the industry.

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t shout out The Wizards Of Aus. I produced this series with LateNite Films for SBS and to this day it is my most rewarding job. We had a CGI dragon and knights and goblins running all over Kryal Castle (a replica medieval castle just outside Ballarat, Victoria) – what more could you want?

You were 3rd AD on Blacklight, a feature film with Liam Neeson that shot in Melbourne and regional Victoria. How was that experience?

Blacklight was both challenging and eye opening as the scale of this film was like no other I had worked on before. Liam was very kind and generous – he was a real delight to work with.

Sumah Hurley on How to Stay Married.

Who have been your biggest industry mentors?

This is harder than picking my favourite job, as I’ve been lucky enough to work many wonderful ADs whom I look up to. 1st AD Marshall Crosby comes to mind though. Marshall’s ability to set the tone on set is inspiring. I’ve never once heard him raise his voice, instead he offers up a polite, yet to the point, “there’s too much idle chatter going on in here” followed by a gentle “shh shh shh”. You would be surprised how quickly that works. He trusts his team and will always thank you for your work at the end of the day.

One of my biggest mentors and supports through my career is my friend and fellow 3rd AD Elisha Rashleigh. She forged a career as a 3rd AD in Melbourne right after moving here and has been working consistently ever since. While she ‘made it’ first, she was nothing but supportive when I changed tack to become an AD.

“She inspired me to keep trying, even when it didn’t seem like I was getting any traction, and being able to share experiences, ideas, and working styles has been so important for us both.”

Sumah Hurley

What’s your favourite film?

Sister Act 2: Back in Habit is a film I watched many times when I was younger with my mum, and it always makes me happy. I still get excited every time I see the choir sing at the championships and eagerly wait to find out if they win, every single time.

What’s your favourite First Nations film?

I love a feel-good movie and The Sapphires resonated with me. The film follows four strong Indigenous women on an incredible journey, while highlighting the prejudices our people faced in 1960s Australia.

What advice would you give to fellow Indigenous Australians who want to work in the screen industry?

Don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than you thought to get into the industry. It’s all about timing. You might find that you land your first gig quickly, but like me, it took a couple of years of working hard before I landed a long form job as an AD. At the time it was frustrating. Every job wanted someone with experience, which of course you understand, but it can take its toll. In saying that, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything because it made me stronger, more resilient and a better AD.

Sumah Hurley on How to Stay Married.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

The older I get the more work/life balance I crave, but that’s one thing our industry isn’t very good at. However, with job sharing a possibility I could imagine myself balancing out work much better in the future. Alternatively, if I could get paid to watch TV, I wouldn’t be turning that down!

Want to find out more about filming in Melbourne with passionate and experienced crew like Sumah? Contact Film Victoria’s Manager of Production Attraction & Support Joe Brinkmann at [email protected]

Featured top image credit: Sumah Hurley on The Legend of Burnout Barry.