IT wasn't just the characters depicted on-screen who experienced major life changes during the making of feature-length film Rites of Passage in the Illawarra.
"The making of the movie was kind of a rite of passage for everyone," Albion Park Rail's Scott Hudson said.
"Everyone's giving something a try now."
Mr Hudson, 19, was one of about 60 Illawarra young people involved in making the film, which was mostly shot in the region.
Mr Hudson was part of the crew.
"I've got various reactions everywhere," he said.
"A lady came up to me crying, telling me about how the good the film was."
It was filmed during a three-year-period, with post-production completed in April.
Rites of Passage's six interwoven stories show teenagers negotiating the dangers and discoveries of their age.
Rites of Passage won Best Film at the Auburn International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults, as well as other international awards and being screened at overseas festivals.
Non-profit community, arts and cultural development organisation Beyond Empathy worked with the youths.
Each participant has their own story - from battling homelessness, alcohol or drug abuse, living in public housing or coming from families who have experienced disadvantage and hardship.
In late 2012, Beyond Empathy conducted a successful crowd-funding campaign to raise money for post-production.
A target of $25,000 was reached in just 10 days, with $30,950 raised in total.
Tiran Dingle, of Warilla, 25, plays the "thief" in the film.
"Rites of Passage is a 'street' film," he said.
"The stories come from our lives. We don't have easy lives, but that's what makes the film interesting.
"If you want to know what it's like to be young and from the wrong side of the tracks, ask us, watch our film - we are the experts."
Mr Dingle, who is unemployed, said his character was "just me, I'm a big kid".
"The film captures pretty much just the struggle.
"We're real people; none of us are actors. We're not paid, we didn't have no training whatsoever; we're just all fresh off the street. I hope they [audiences] learn something - open their eyes, see what things are really like."
Director Phillip Crawford said the 'authenticity' of the performances blurred the lines between fact and fiction.
"I think that's because they're not 'acting', like people act in a Hollywood film," the Port Kembla resident said.
"People, when they've seen it, say 'that was raw, gritty, relatable'.
"Maybe the hardest thing from my point of view was trying to keep a handle on the stories, because there was no script so we were making it up as we went along.
"As a youth worker for over 25 years, I have had the humbling experience to meet extraordinary people that have gone through hardships others would imagine impossible to cope with, but somehow they have this resilience that I find inspiring."
Participant Michael McKay, 23, of Warilla, also weighed in.
"Other young people who will see this film will think, 'I'm not alone. We're not the only poor family out here, not the only ones with mental health issues, not the only ones with childhood trauma'. They'll think, 'look what they did; they got off their arse and made a movie'."
Mr Crawford also said some of the young people also made their own short films.
Rites of Passage will screen throughout the country. Its Illawarra premiere was at Warrawong's Gala Cinema last Thursday; more screenings are planned on November 4 and 28. Each screening will include a Q&A . Tickets: visit ropillawarra-eorg.eventbrite.com.au.