From Law to Lights, Camera, Action: A Story of Career Reinvention


Embarking on a journey of professional reinvention, individuals often find themselves at a crossroads where passion intersects with experience. For Jill Kingston and James Kwong, the trajectory of their careers took a turn from the world of law to the dynamic landscape of the Australian screen industry.

Leaving behind the familiar corridors of legal firms, they embraced a new chapter, driven by a shared passion for storytelling and creative expression.

Their transformative journey finds its nexus in the nurturing environment of the Master of Arts Screen: Business (MASB) program at Australian Film and Television School (AFTRS), where legal acumen merges seamlessly with the artistry of film production.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by AFTRS (@aftrs)

Lawyer-turned-producer Jill Kingston started her legal career as an associate to a Federal Court Judge before completing a graduate lawyer program at Clayton Utz. That led to a permanent placement in the public sector group followed by an in-house position in the banking sector. During this time, she also became passionately involved in acting and producing. 

“I did all the short courses I could find at AFTRS,” Kingston recalls, “countless acting lessons, theatre plays and short films. I loved it so much that I realised I wanted to make a career out of producing.”

Kingston subsequently enrolled in Master of Arts Screen: Business at AFTRS.

“There were two main facets of the MASB that appealed to me,” she says. “Firstly, the opportunity to get a thorough understanding of the Australian screen industry and, secondly, to learn how to pitch projects and work with teams on creative projects. I already had a fairly good grasp of the commerce and accounting side of things, but it was good to have a refresher and particularly in a screen-focused way.  

“The course examines the economic and tax incentives that have been used by the government to stimulate the industry over the years – from 10BA to the current offsets and rebates available to producers, the various incarnations of the screen agencies, as well as federal and state grants, policy initiatives, and funding programs. 

“It has been incredibly helpful when submitting my own grant and funding applications to understand the history, as well as the political and policy drivers that guide government decision making.”   

Kingston gained invaluable knowledge about pitching for projects (and indeed consulted her course notes during a pitch for a recent project) and cites the course’s Singapore Elective as a game-changer for her. 

“A group of us worked with a local Singaporean production company to come up with new ways to expand and diversify their business,” she recalls. “This forced us to work fast on our feet to understand the local operating environment, the company’s strengths and weaknesses and to strategise how we could bring our own perspectives and insights to their unique business areas.”

Image: Jill Kingston Credit: Supplied

Graduating from the course in 2022, Kingston says she was able to enter the screen industry with credibility as a result of the high regard that AFTRS is held in, as well as the connections she made with fellow students and industry professionals. 

Following the course, she’s been involved in a variety of film projects, working as a producer’s assistant for Bunya Productions and independent producer Matt Reeder on the Rebel Wilson musical-comedy, “The Deb”, in 2023. This year she’s diving into horror as she produces a found footage feature, “Welcome Back to My Channel”, with fellow AFTRS alumni, writer/director Jorrden Daley, and a comedy horror called “Scoby”

“They are both great films that I am so excited about and feel honoured to be involved with and are really testing the skills I learnt in the MASB!” Kingston says. “I love horror films and am hoping to carve out a bit of a niche in that genre.”

At one time James Kwong worked at a top-tier global law firm specialising in mergers and acquisitions, private equity, funds management, and capital raisings. During this time he put his own artistic pursuits (music, writing and comedy) on the back burner, but the commercial and logistical challenges of M&A projects gave him a new perspective on creativity. He produced his first short film, “Embarrassing Parents Anonymous”, and began looking for further screen industry opportunities. 

“During the COVID lockdowns I started to look at MBA courses hoping to find something at the intersection of business thinking and art making,” Kwong recalls. “None of the courses I could find came close – except the MASB program. What I value most about the course is the opportunity to apply business theory and models to the difficult questions of commercial art making. 

“When it comes to making money from movies the Hollywood adage is that ‘nobody knows anything.’ To some extent that is and will always be true, however the MASB admirably attempts to guide its students to their own answers. 

“The course takes you through finance, entrepreneurship, and leadership coursework, together with interrogation of the structure of Australian filmmaking and the development of quality entertainment, culminating in your personal research project – the Capstone. That Capstone project is unique to each student and focuses your individual journey through the various subjects.”   

Kwong joined Curio Pictures in 2022 as part of its legal and business affairs team supporting the company’s production and development slates. In the last two years he’s worked on projects including The Artful Dodger” for Disney+, “High Country” for Binge/Foxtel, and “Shark Tank Australia” for Network Ten. 

“Curio is a young company with a brand-new slate and I’m excited to see the variety of Australian stories with global reach that we’re developing move through to being shared on screens worldwide,” he says. “I’m particularly excited about “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” which has recently finished production.”

When asked what he would say to others from legal backgrounds wondering about careers in the screen industry, Kwong is effusive about the benefits of his time at AFTRS.

Image: James Kwong Credit: Supplied

“I have the MASB to thank for my current position at Curio Pictures,” he states. “Over drinks after finishing one of the weekend intensive subjects, a classmate working at Curio mentioned they were recruiting for a Legal and Business Affairs Executive. It was a step up from my existing role and while I was only partway through the MASB at the time, the greater understanding of the screen industry I had gained through the program bolstered my application. 

“Completing the MASB, and in particular the rigorous research that has gone into my Capstone project, while at Curio has been of immense value. My studies at AFTRS have complemented my growth into the role and continue to supplement the commercial, policy, and legal advice I prepare.”

Kingston concurs: completing the MASB at AFTRS helped her see the big picture about screen production quite literally…

“When I tell people about my career pivot, most people’s initial reaction is, ‘Wow that’s a big change,’ but so many of the skills you have as a lawyer are very helpful – and often necessary – to working as a producer,” she says. 

“From contract drafting and negotiation, interpretation of legislation – the industry agreements/statutes for cast and crew are very complex – through to insurance, risk management, and project management.

“There’s obviously the creative side to a film project, but this can only occur if the right resources and management are there to support it. Risk is a big thing on film productions and so much of the work I did as a banking lawyer was to advise on risk and compliance. 

“The same applies as a producer, obviously it’s a different context, but the same basic principles apply. It’s about how to maximise finite resources to ensure a project is delivered on time, without incident, and that it meets its goals and objectives.” 

Applications for Master of Arts Screen: Business close on June 3rd, 2024. For more details, head here