It Started in the Sunderland

Case study

We are proud to announce that 'It Started in the Sunderland' is the recipient of a gold CASE Award for 2019

At Learning Environments, we believe that effective storytelling can help to create powerful connections and engagement within communities. With this in mind, we were thrilled to receive one of our most exciting requests to date in early 2018: a 30 minute documentary to be screened at the 50th anniversary reunion of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences (MDHS).

While the client came to us with a variety of ideas and potential leads, they trusted us to start from scratch in exploring the project’s direction. It was clear from the outset that we would need time to find real characters and to allow their genuine stories to blossom. And we were more than happy to invest that time, because, while some might find a large-scale project like this scary, we were delighted to be able to put our skills to the test on a bigger canvas with the creative empowerment to do such an exciting project justice.

'It Started in the Sunderland' trailer


For half a century, the Medical building on the corner of Grattan Street and Royal Parade in Parkville has been the home of the Melbourne Medical School and the nucleus for medical education at the University of Melbourne, including, more recently, biomedical education.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the building and the alumni community of the Medical faculty, we were asked to produce a documentary which looked into the rich history of the Medical building and some of the incredible stories that began within its walls.

The challenge

Our client’s aim was to showcase the 50-year history of the Medical building. This was quite an ambitious premise because, let’s face it: a building doesn’t have a voice. So, we had to find the voices that would bring that narrative to life. Considering that in its 50 years the triradiate building has seen over 14,000 graduates, this was no easy feat.

There was also another major factor to take into account: the project would feature Rob Sitch as the presenter. Rob’s involvement provided a great opportunity to inject the piece with humour, wit and professionalism. However, his presence also introduced an additional challenge: how would we integrate it all?

Sound recordist in front of shelves of jars

Our approach – seeking authenticity

The story hunters

Early in the process, a research team was assembled to source topics and stories, and select those that would make the cut. The team was composed of two members from MDHS and two members from Learning Environments, and the partnership worked out perfectly. While the MDHS members brought access to the alumni database, Learning Environments provided expertise on how best to approach each potential story.

William Faulkner famously said that “you have to kill your darlings”. This advice has become a powerful mantra for many writers and film makers, and it was essential to our process in tackling this project. We were lucky enough to speak to so many people with so many amazing stories, one of our biggest challenges early on was killing many of those darlings.

Eventually, after hours of extensive research, phone calls, Skype calls and plenty of brainstorming, we decided on our final cast and structure. The documentary would feature 12 short compelling stories. The subjects would be drawn from different cohorts throughout the last 50 years, with the aim of highlighting the school’s development over that time. The selected stories were also designed to highlight each subject’s sense of pride at being part of the Medical faculty, and perhaps most importantly what it means to be devoted to the medical profession.

Time is the answer

In a project like this that is based on real human stories, developing trust is essential. Investing the time required to develop this trust became a key part of our method, as we knew that compelling stories come from trust, and that trust doesn’t just pop up overnight. Therefore, we dedicated hours to working with our subjects, both prior to and during the filming, to ensure that all of them were totally comfortable and that we could capture their stories in the most authentic and genuine way possible.

All of our subjects responded to our method with great enthusiasm and generosity, and we are incredibly grateful to all of the individuals who opened their hearts, homes, and calendars to us in order to give us the time and attention needed to capture their stories.

We are also indebted to Rob Sitch and Working Dog Productions for the time and expertise they brought to the project. Learning Environments and MDHS met with Rob very early in the process and briefed him on the desired outcomes of the documentary. It was an absolute delight to work with him and we were invigorated by his rigour and professionalism both prior and during the shoot. We are still laughing at his jokes.

Film crew inside Medical building

The impact

One of our aims with this documentary was to capture what it means to belong to such a rich and wide alumni community. The sense of pride that each of these individuals have towards the Medical Faculty is absolute and overwhelming, and we are delighted to say that the response to the finished film has been just as overwhelming.

Beautiful work and congratulations. You have captured the essence of that place!! Associate Professor Elif Ekinci, Principal Research Fellow in Metabolic Medicine, The University of Melbourne, Director of Diabetes, Austin Health
It’s wonderful! Congratulations and thank you. I’m proud to be part of your film. Jennifer Hayes, Associate Professor of Topographic Anatomy, Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, MDHS

What's next

From this project’s inception, we knew that we wanted a film of this scale to be far-reaching. The finished documentary is a real celebration of the lives of a group of medical professionals who have gone on to achieve great things after having studied at the University of Melbourne. We envisage this film being used to inspire, educate and connect the many areas of the Medical faculty through the clever use of storytelling and who knows what wide-ranging use could yet be uncovered? Stay-tuned…

Man looks at honours board in the Medical building

Keen to know more? Meet the team

It Started in the Sunderland was only possible by the combination of skills of a dream team. From the director and the producer, to the DPs and the choir coordinator, everyone who was there was committed to give their best for this to be a success. Bringing together such an amazing team was perhaps the biggest success for the project!


Rob Sitch


Ian Anderson
Alan Chong
Andrew Chong
Elizabeth Chong
Tess Chee
Tanya Davies
Paige Dissanayake
Maria Dudycz
Elif Ekinci
Jade Goodge
Leanne Grills
Richard Grills
Jenny Hayes
Richard Larkins
Aidan Martinelli
Rob Moodie
Terry Mulhern
Jeff Robinson
Lynda Robinson
Shyrla Werdiger


Mariona Guiu


Sandra Macriyiannis

Executive producers

Elissa Gale
Kirsty Hooper


Filip Milovac
Sascha White
Jamie Morris
Joaquim Bel Pellicer

Additional camera

Leigh Tilson
Mark Richardson
Auryn Rotten


Sascha White


Mariona Guiu

Assistant editor

Katherine Hayhoe

Additional editing

Auryn Rotten

Sound recording

Jeremy Shaw

Voice over recording

Gavin Nebauer

Sound mix

Neil McGrath

Colour mix

Joaquim Bel Pellicer

Motion graphics


Script consultant

Eamon Evans


Anna Dunn
Cecilia Dowling
Sandra Macriyiannis

Aria choir

Michael Kamm
John McCorkell
Christine Rodda
Jillian Spargo
Elsdon Storey
Shyrla Werdiger
Simon Woods

Choir coordinator

Cecilia Dowling

Aria musical arrangement

Konrad Olszewski