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Features  29 Apr 2024

Writer and Director Thomas Charles Hyland’s new documentary, This Is Going To Be Big, presents a cinematic portrait of underrepresented teens (rarely invited to perform centre stage) in the spotlight. The result is an impactful demonstration of smashing expectations and redefining capabilities. 

Writer and Director Thomas Charles Hyland

Filmmaker Thomas Charles Hyland keeps returning to the wisdom he gleaned from the “deeply intelligent” subjects of his latest documentary, This Is Going To Be Big. The most pertinent takeaway: never let someone else determine your capabilities. 


Thomas found himself gravitating towards socially conscious projects early on in his career. It made sense then, that his debut feature film would hinge on the themes of inclusion and equal access. “It just takes so long to make anything, I can't fathom the idea of making a film that didn't capture my full, living attention.” When you spend years working on a single idea, it needs to completely sustain your interest, Thomas explains. 

Thomas Charles Hyland and Cesar Salmeron

The film that ended up doing just that was This Is Going To Be Big – a documentary that follows five teens on and off stage as they prepare for their final performance of a John Farnham inspired musical. What follows is a unique and poignant insight into the emotional worlds of a carefully cast group of neurodivergent and intellectually disabled students. 

The cast of This Is Going To Be Big

A lot of people might underestimate someone in this camp, Thomas thinks. “I'm well aware of what the statistics suggest in terms of employment for someone with neurodiversity or an intellectual or physical disability. But it's hard not to fall back on the great perspective of the students themselves. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It’s pointless, hurtful, and meaningless to judge an entire set of people as if they are one.”


After attending a school production in support of his sister, who is a music teacher, Thomas was captivated by the world and high stakes of high school productions. “I wrote a treatment without having a school attached. It was one of five or six ideas that I was toying around with, and I couldn't get it out of my head for about two years. So, I thought, ‘Well, I just have to try and do it.’” Thomas then applied for, and received, development funding from VicScreen, which helped refine the film’s parameters and allowed Thomas to shoot a teaser for his evolving concept.  

“There are so many ideas and projects that I'm always working on, but part of what gives me the confidence to follow through with them is that institutional support. Whether it’s from the production companies or VicScreen who see the value in the idea, that symbolic tick of approval has a power that sort of legitimises the project in other people's eyes.” For Thomas, the success of filmmaking often boils down to the momentum of a project. “The finances are huge,” he says, “But so is the belief.”


With his newly refined treatment and proposal, Thomas partnered with Jim Wright at Melbourne production company Truce Films, and Josie Mason-Campbell and Greg Woods at FremantleMedia. “I really wanted enough perspectives [across the production team] that we created a sort of Venn diagram of skills and viewpoints.” 

Thomas then reached out to Bus Stop Films – who make films with, for and about people from diverse backgrounds and abilities – and they came on board as a pivotal production partner. “Bus Stop Films ended up influencing a lot of production elements, from crew education, attachments and establishing post-production priorities to ensure tropes weren’t slipping into the narrative.” Director of Photography Alex Serafini was also on board from day one, Thomas explained.

Once Sunbury and Macedon Ranges Specialist School was confirmed as the school, Thomas set about finalising his film’s cast. “The only criteria that I had was that I wanted the students to be able to tell their own story…I think it's an incredibly vulnerable position to be in when you are the subject of a documentary. So, I tried to display a lot of vulnerability myself. I didn't expect to meet such emotionally intelligent young adults.”

Elyse (centre) and students at Sunbury and Macedon Ranges Specialist School

Most of the film was shot on the school grounds in Bullengarook, about 70 minutes from Melbourne. It was important for Thomas to find a community outside metropolitan Melbourne that showcased the diversity of Victoria as a state. 


The prevalence of mental health issues is a central theme in this film, Thomas explains. “When I think back to being 16 or 17, I don't think of myself as being able to articulate mental health issues like these students can. I think about Elyse talking about anxiety, and how she explains it with such perspective and knowledge; I found that incredibly moving.” It’s an increasingly relatable subject that should appeal to a broad cross-section of our society, he thinks. “The students reminded me that it's a powerful thing to talk about our feelings, rather than the bottle-it-up mentality which belonged to generations before us.”

Halle in the final performance in This Is Going To Be Big


This Is Going To Be Big made its world premiere at Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) 2023, and collected two coveted awards in the process: the MIFF Audience Award and the MIFF Youth Jury Award. “I couldn't have imagined a better way to have had the film poke out into existence, it’s been amazing.” Thomas said. “I'm a behind the camera person. So, I used all my powers of deflection to not really think about the awards whilst the festival was going on, but the week after, I just felt really warm. Anything that helps the film find an audience is huge. And on a purely sort of wondrous level, that little kid inside me would be super proud to have a movie playing at MIFF.” 
Importantly, this film helped Thomas reconnect with his teenage self. He didn’t expect to return to that high school place, on the precipice of chasing his own big dreams, as often as he did. But that emotional drive helped motivate the production team working on This Is Going To Be Big to make a truly special film that their cast would be
exceptionally proud of.
 Thomas Charles Hyland and the cast of This Is Going To Be Big at the MIFF 2023 premiere

This Is Going To Be Big was a MIFF Premiere Fund Film and also collected the coveted Best Feature Documentary Award at this year’s AIDC conference. Producer Jim Wright at Truce Films first pitched the project to production partner Fremantle Media at a previous AIDC marketplace, Cut to the Chase. He described winning the award at AIDC 2024 as a full circle moment and evidence of the conference’s success in initiating effective collaborations.


This Is Going To Be Big is predominantly for two groups, Thomas thinks. The first is parents, who are helping guide their children through the storms of adolescence, and the second is teenagers who are in the midst of the turbulence. “It’s also for anyone who has ever been 16 or 17, and by that, I mean, everyone.” Thomas says, laughing. “I think everyone can relate to that idea of having dreams that you cannot contain, and not being sure if the world is going to let you chase them.” 

There are many other themes in the film that Thomas and the broader team are really proud of. “But at its core, the point of the film,” he says, “is just about being yourself.”

This Is Going To Be Big is currently streaming on ABC iview