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Lights, Camera and Action: Toi Ōtautahi Incubator Programme

Arts Access

Hannah Herchenbach knew she wanted to be involved in film. The problem was, she wasn’t quite sure how to go about getting into the industry.

Enter Toi Ōtautahi and its Incubator Programme.

“I was surprised that I got picked to be honest,” says Hannah. “I didn’t know what to expect at all. I thought at the very least it would be good experience to throw my hat in the ring and see what happened, but what I discovered was that the programme was open to people who had ideas and it didn’t matter about experience and so I got in.”

Hannah was one of twenty participants in the 2022 Incubator Programme that spanned three disciplines: Music; Writing for Film; and Performance.

Hannah, who had a couple of ideas for screenplays, was paired with industry professional Irene Gardiner – whose wealth of experience across television and production was of huge benefit for Hannah.

“It was an incredible experience,” says Hannah. “Thanks to this programme, my work was put to the attention to the head of SPADA – The Screen Producer and Directors Association – and Irene actually became president of that organisation while she was mentoring me. It was a serendipitous pairing – because we had a bond through music. She helped me in so many ways from learning to focus on one project, to writing proposals, to learning about getting approval from media outlets – this was a foreign world to me.”

For Irene, the process of being a mentor was one she enjoyed.

“I’m in the later part of my career, I enjoy working with newer, younger people and helping them develop things,” says Irene. “I would have liked to have been able to do something like this when I started my career. There is a real value in it. I was lucky with my mentees in that they both took it seriously –they showed up and did all the steps. They both had good ideas, and I think they both got value from the process.”

The pilot Incubator Programme kicked off during Covid restrictions, which brought with it some challenges, the most obvious being the mentor meetings were usually held online.

It was up to each of the pairings to decide how often they would meet and what the session would entail.

“We would catch up on Zoom on a monthly basis and of course that was down to Covid,” explains Hannah. “But as I get more involved in filmmaking – it’s interesting that all the meetings happen on Zoom. It’s the new normal. So actually, it turned out to be good training to learn how to network beyond your regional capacity and also online.”

Hannah has since gone on to be involved in film and is currently involved in Sundance as a Collab Community Leader, among other projects.

Her advice to anyone contemplating whether or not to apply for this year’s intake is to go for it.

“You have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain. It’s an opportunity to make something happen. It’s not just the mentorships that are valuable, the horizontal networking is amazing – you have a cohort of people who generate their own momentum – and that is key to being a creative.”

Irene Gardiner agrees – and also has some advice for those wanting to make the most of the opportunity.

“It’s good to have a little bit of focus. Think about what you really want to get from it. The other thing I would say is take it seriously. Mentors are there to give you advice and help from years of experience, so really take it seriously – and you’ll get the most out of it. “

This year’s Toi Ōtautahi Incubators include Street Art, Performance and Film and Music. Applications for the programme are open until Sunday 27 August.


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