Making Australia’s first show starring a transgender kid


Speaking on the phone from lockdown in Sydney, writer-director Julie Kalceff feels incredibly fortunate. Her four-part kids’ series First Day was shot in Adelaide in July last year, and premieres on ABC ME this week.
‘I really feel for all those people whose films were getting into festivals and now can’t screen, and all those productions that have shut down,’ she said. ‘We’re lucky it hasn’t affected us much, apart from having to do cast and crew screenings by Zoom.
In fact, more kids will be at home now watching TV than they were before.’
Produced by Kirsty Stark and Kate Croser, First Day is a 4×30 min show about about a 12-year old trans girl starting high school and having to deal with the many issues that arise. These range from not being allowed to use the girls’ bathroom, to being bullied and outed on social media, as well as the normal terrors of entering puberty, making friends and being the new kid at school.
The show stars trans actor and model Evie Macdonald, who many will recognise as
Australia’s most visible trans kid, having appeared on TV shows like The Project in response to Scott Morrison’s comments about ‘gender whisperers’ in 2018.
Macdonald also starred in the one-off standalone episode of First Day, also written and directed by Kalceff. That 20-minute piece of television, made by the ABC in 2017 to commemorate the International Day of the Girl, went on to win the MIPCOM Diversify TV Excellence Award for Kids Programming, and the Gender Equity Prize at the prestigious Prix Jeunesse International Children’s Television Festival in 2018.

The Origins Of First Day
Previously, Kalceff had never made children’s television. She was best known as the creator of the low-budget lesbian web series, Starting Now, which has had over 130 million views in 230 countries.
She remembers seeing the callout from Screen Australia and the ABC in 2017, looking for pitches for 20-minute standalone episodes that had a female protagonist and were aimed at girls. ‘Initially I dismissed it. After all, I’d spent the past past three and a half years making five seasons of a lesbian web series that was definitely not children’s television! But something stuck with me.

At the same time, a six-year-old child of a friend was transitioning, and I knew her mother was trying to do the best to support her and she wasn’t sure what that was. [These parents] didn’t known anyone who was transgender and they felt very alone. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if there
was a kids’ television episode about a trans girl, so they could watch it and not feel so bad?”.’
Kalceff put together a one-page pitch and sent it to Adelaide-based Kirsty Stark (Wastelander Panda: Exile, A Month of Sundays). They hadn’t worked together before, but had met through both being makers of online web series. Stark read it and loved it, and they sent it through to the ABC.
‘I didn’t for one minute think that they would do a story about a transgender girl for children’s television,’ Kalceff remembers, ‘but they did, and Libbie Doherty, who was then commissioning editor and now head of children’s television production, said that they were wanting a story about a trans girl but didn’t want to put that in the call, because they thought if they did they’d get all these stories that were trying to exploit that fact, being opportunistic, instead of telling a story they really believed in.’

Casting Matters
It was always essential to cast a real transgender girl in the lead. The idea of finding a 12-year old actor who fit that bill was daunting, but when Stark put out a call on her Facebook page, the post got shared 350 times and 12 girls applied for the role. Kalceff skyped with the girls to narrow it down.

‘Some of them, it was very sweet, thought it might be a good way to come out to their friends on television,’ she remembers. ‘So I spoke to them about the reality of that, and a few of them pulled out. We then had six girls who did a screen test and Evie Macdonald was by far the best. Her mum Meagan had rung me beforehand to make sure that it was all legit and wasn’t trying to exploit the story of a kid. Also Evie and her family had been on Inside Story so Megan had sent me that story to watch. Evie was young, about nine then, but you could already tell that she was a natural in front of the camera. We knew that her family was out. Meagan runs support groups of
parents of trans kids, so we knew they were in a good position to deal with anything that came out of it.’

Kalceff has nothing but praise for the young actor, and says, ‘the power of storytelling is that it’s an opportunity to create empathy and perhaps change people’s minds. For some people it might be their first exposure to a transgender person. And looking at Evie, she’s so wonderful and engaging that you can’t hate her or see anything other than this gorgeous kid.’

She also notes that the young people involved in the show are all very much protected from any flak, and the ABC are ‘very big on issues of duty of care.’

Controversy
After the screening of the standalone episode in 2017, there was a little bit of controversy. Kalceff remembers a couple of articles in papers like the Daily Telegraph and The Australian, ‘saying things like “taxpayers money is being spent on a story of a transgender girl”. The ABC knew they were coming, and Meagan knew it was coming, and to be honest, you’d probably be a bit disappointed if you didn’t get that pushback. If we’re not making stories that push some buttons then what are we doing?’

She says the angriest people are in the conservative Facebook groups where they feed off each other’s rage.
‘Someone there even shared my photo,’ she says. ‘Evie doesn’t see any of that. Meagan protects her. The parents cop it more than the kids because people see it as a form of child abuse and believe there’s no such thing as being transgender. Whereas the reality is that if you don’t support your child through transition, odds are that they’re going to end up committing suicide or suffering from depression because they’re forced to live as someone that they’re not.’

The ‘Luxuries’ Of Shooting For A Broadcaster
Kalceff says that with her background in making a web series outside of traditional funding, she was used to being nimble and resourceful, so having a broadcaster attached brought new resources, but also new responsibilities. ‘When I’m shooting a web series in my house, I’m not answerable to anyone, but when you’re working with a broadcaster you have all these people you have to be accountable to, more investors, more sets of notes on each draft of the script.’

She says what helped her in this process was having a producer she’d worked with before, and having Amanda Higgs, who was the script editor.

While the standalone episode was shot in Sydney on a very tight budget of $80,000, moving to Adelaide with a series proper, for the ABC, brought with it a larger though still extremely modest budget, which nevertheless allowed for some luxuries, like a casting agent and location scout. A key location proved to be Marryatville High School, where Stark went to school.
The move to Adelaide came because, ‘we had ABC, Screen Australia, Australian Children’s Television Foundation on board, and we needed that state funding body and Kirsty’s in Adelaide and she has a great relationship with the SAFC. Courtney Gibson was CEO then, and I knew her from when she was at Screen NSW, and she was very supportive and welcoming and loved the story.’

A 23-day shoot in the middle of winter 2019 was tough. A key priority was shooting around Evie Macdonald’s needs as a 14-year old who could only work 8-hour days and needed to be in almost every scene. An 18-year old stand-in helped a lot. Meg White, the DP, worked hard to create a shot list that supported the young actor but didn’t overshoot or exhaust her.

The Look Of The Show
Having a female DP was a priority, as the filmmakers wanted to give someone her first TV credit. ‘Often people complain there aren’t many female DPs and they can’t give someone work who hasn’t done TV yet, and now Meg she has, and it was fully deserved and she was ready for it.’ The brief given to White was to keep things realistic and based in reality.
‘I think sometimes with queer content, it’s over stylised, and then that puts the audience at a distance. It says to them, on some level, “we’re watching a show about a Queer.” Whereas, I wanted it to really speak and feel like it was grounded in reality so the audience forgets that and just engages with the character and has empathy with her as a person. At the same time, I wanted to elevate it, and not make it look like cheap over-lit television. Meg was great with that, she lights things beautifully.’

Trust: What Shows Do I Want To See?
As for what’s next, Kalceff says she’s writing a second series outline for First Day, just in case that’s called for. ‘Because we’re working with kids, if we want to do another series we have to be quick because they’re all growing up. Evie will be 15 next month. If there is an opportunity, the more prepared we are the better. If we leave it too long she’s going to be able to drive herself to set, which is too old to play the character!’

She also has a feature script she’s working and a couple of other series. Her advice to other writer-directors struggling to make TV is all about trust: ‘What keeps me going is to trust that there are people out there who want to see these kinds of stories. Trust that there is an audience who is under serviced and who is looking for stories they haven’t seen before.
When I left film school, I spent a long time trying to write shows that were already on TV and that was my biggest mistake. From the beginning I should have asked, ‘”What shows do I want to see? What stories do I believe in?” It was only when I started doing that – ten years after I left film school – that I started to find an audience and get things made.’

First Day Production Credits: Written and Directed by Julie Kalceff. Produced by Kirsty Stark and Kate Croser. Co-Producers Kate Butler and Julie Kalceff. ACTF Executive Producer Bernadette O’Mahony. Starring Evie Macdonald as Hannah. An Epic Films production in association with KOJO Entertainment. Principal Development and Production Funding from Screen Australia. Financed with the Assistance of the South Australian Film Corporation. Distributed by the Australian Children’s Television Foundation. Developed and Produced in Association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Rochelle Siemienowicz – ArtsHub – Tuesday 31 March, 2020

TV dramas (all platforms) to look forward to in 2020


Free TV is a brutal race: a nightly, ratings-driven marathon from February to November, after which there is little time to celebrate. The score sheet is reset to zero, and all the competitors – the good, the bad, the exhausted and the creatively bankrupt – are lined up again waiting for the starter’s pistol.
The unrelenting exchange of blows between Seven and Nine, which seems to define the Australian television narrative, has little respect for who won the decade previous, as both have now learned in the most bruising fashion. Instead, everyone lines up their ducks in a shooting gallery which seems to give everyone an even chance, or something resembling it.

Certainly as peak TV peaks, competition pushes the streaming space to seam- splitting capacity and consumer demand for new content pushes the volume of new shows to unprecedented levels, the one thing viewers cannot escape is choice. We seem swamped by it, almost to breaking point.

Some future highlights:

The Secrets She Keeps (Ten)

A six-part “domestic noir” based on the book of the same name by author Michael Robotham. The Secrets She Keeps is about two women from different worlds who share one thing: a secret that would blow both their worlds apart.

“Both will risk everything to conceal the truth,” promises the marketing material, “but their worlds are about to collide in one shocking act that cannot be undone.”

The series, starring Jessica de Gouw and Briton Laura Carmichael, is directed by Jennifer Leacey and Catherine Millar from scripts by Sarah Walker and Jonathan Gavin.

Stateless (ABC)

Cate Blanchett, Yvonne Strahovski, Jai Courtney and Asher Keddie star in this drama about four strangers in an immigration detention centre: an Afghan refugee fleeing persecution, an airline hostess escaping a cult, a young father escaping his own life and a bureaucrat swept up in a national scandal. Created by Blanchett, Tony Ayres and Elise McCredie for Matchbox Pictures, the series is directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse from scripts by Elise McCredie and Belinda Chayko.

New Gold Mountain (SBS)

A murder mystery, directed by The Hunting’s Ana Kokkinos, and produced for SBS by Goalpost Television, which is the “untold true story of the Australian gold rush from the perspective of Chinese miners who risked everything for a chance at unlikely wealth in a strange land”. The series will shine a light on the largely untold story of Australia’s Chinese migration wave in the 1850s and, in addition to creator Peter Cox, will feature a writing team that includes Benjamin Law and Yolanda Ramke.
Between Two Worlds (Seven)

From Packed to the Rafters creator Bevan Lee, Between Two Worlds is described as a “high concept thriller” about a woman who lives in a high-powered, bitter world and is trapped in an unhappy marriage. That world, however, seems to become enmeshed in the world of a widow and her two children who seem to live an idyllic life. The cast includes Hermione Norris (Cold Feet), Philip Quast (Picnic at Hanging Rock), Sara Wiseman (A Place to Call Home) and Aaron Jeffery (Wentworth).

Informer 3838 (Nine*)

The highly anticipated drama based on the story of Melbourne police informant Lawyer X will star actress Ella Scott Lynch in the central role. Though the series is not being produced under Nine’s long-standing Underbelly crime drama brand, it will lean into the Underbelly world with reports that original Underbelly castmembers Gyton Grantley and Robert Mammone will reprise their roles as Carl Williams and Tony Mokbel. Lynch described the role as “dynamic, divisive [and] complex”.

Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Stan*)
The new 10-part comedy from Australian comedian Josh Thomas, commissioned originally for the Disney-owned US channel Freeform, about Nicholas, a neurotic 20-something Australian who is visiting his father and teen-aged siblings in the US when their father unexpectedly dies.

That tragedy leaves the group struggling to cope, and Nicholas to the realisation that he has to move in and hold his younger family together. Like its forebear, Please Like Me, the series is created and written by Thomas and stars Kayla Cromer and Maeve Press as Nicholas’s sisters.

By Michael Idato SMH January 5, 2020

Guesswork TV urges more industry support for writers

The screen industry needs to stop cutting writers’ fees and to do a lot better in providing career paths for writers, according to Guesswork Television MD Kevin Whyte.

Chiming with the concerns of the Australian Writers’ Guild and CJZ executives Nick Murray and Matt Campbell, Whyte tells IF: “Working out how we can make Australia an attractive and lucrative place to be a television writer, which means we put stories and ideas first and foremost, is critically important.

“The struggling artist cliché is wearing a bit thin. The industry should focus on creating career paths, not just so people stay but to entice people in into the industry.

“I am not saying there is an easy solution but as our budgets come under more and more pressure it’s often the creatives whose fees are cut. Often they put their hands up to take $10,000 out of their pay packet if it gets their project over the line. We need to not let them; that should be out of bounds. If we continue to save money on writers that is at our peril.”

The company had such a hectic production schedule when Todd Abbott joined last March as director of programs and development he could not devote as much time as he wanted to his primary goal: driving development.

Home to Hannah Gadsby’s NanetteGet Krack!n’, Hard Quiz, Corey White’s Roadmap to Paradise, The Edge of the Bush and The Weekly with Charlie Pickering, Guesswork was named 2018 Production Business of the Year at the Screen Producers Australia Awards; it also picked up the Comedy Series Production of the Year gong for Rosehaven, a co-production with What Horse?

So from the start of this year Abbott has been nurturing a stack of projects, some in the early workshop stage, others at or near script delivery. “Depending on how budgets pan out with networks over the next few months, hopefully that means we have a big second half of the year in terms of production,” says Abbott.

Guesswork is in the fortunate position of being able to draw on a sizable pool of talent whose careers are managed by the parent company, the Token group.

“The discussions we are having with the networks are that they are incredibly keen to develop local content, in particular comedy,” says Abbott. “Apart from the ABC, which is flying the flag with comedy, the other broadcasters are very conscious that they could be spending more time on comedy.”

The Guesswork financing model typically involves teaming up with an international partner such as SundanceTV on Rosehaven and the now defunct Pivot network on Please Like Me.

‘Get Krack!n’

Whyte is looking for a new home in the US for Get Krack!n following the closure of NBCUniversal’s Seeso network. He was especially gratified by the positive feedback to the third episode of the current series which dealt with disability.

“We are constantly talking to the international players,” says Abbott. “We have to be creative in looking for ways to fund shows.”

Whyte observes there are fewer prime-time slots available on the commercial free-to-air broadcasters given the preponderance of stripped light entertainment shows.

The Guesswork execs are delighted with Frayed, the six-part comedy-drama commissioned by the ABC and Sky UK, a co-production with Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford’s company Merman Television which is now in post.

Australian comedian Sarah Kendall (a Token client) created the 1989-set show in which she plays Simone Burbeck, who appears to have the perfect life with a mansion in London, husband and children. After her husband has a fatal heart attack during an encounter with a prostitute, the true state of their finances is revealed. Simone is broke, homeless and a social outcast.

With no other options and two children to care for, she is forced to return to her family home in Newcastle. It turns out Simone’s past isn’t quite the story that she told everyone in London.

The cast includes Matt Passmore, Kerry Armstrong, Diane Morgan, Ben Mingay and Robert Webb. Kendall wrote the series produced by Nicole O’Donohue and directed by Jennifer Leacey (Reckoning, Rake, Bite Club) and Shaun Wilson (Rosehaven, The Ex-PM).

Abbott says: “Nothing else like it has been on Australian television for a long time. There was a conscious decision by Sarah and Merman to make sure that for a show set in the late 1980s there was no parody of the fashions or the clichés of that era. We brought over from LA a bunch of Panavision lenses from the 1980s that had been reconfigured so they are compatible with Red digital cameras. It looks gorgeous.”

‘Rosehaven’

Season four of Hard Quiz is in production for the ABC and the company’s sales arm Guesswork Distribution is looking to sell the format internationally. Shooting will soon get underway on the fifth series of The Weekly with Charlie Pickering.

In its third series, Rosehaven continues to rank among the most popular ABC shows, which Whyte sees primarily as a tribute to the superb scripts by Luke McGregor and Celia Pacquola. Already the co-creators have started to think about storylines for series four.

Whyte is an executive producer on Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, a 10-part comedy created, written by and starring Josh Thomas. Commissioned by Disney’s young-adult US cable network Freeform and currently scripting, the show will follow Thomas as Nicholas, a neurotic 25-year-old Aussie who lives at home with his single dad and two teenage half-sisters, one of whom has autism.

When their dad becomes terminally ill, he realises the responsibility of keeping the family together falls on him. “It’s wonderful to see Josh build on Please Like Me by taking his unique vision into a new market,” Whyte says.

IF Magazine. 11 March, 2019 by Don Groves

The conundrum facing TV writers: How to carve out a career

CJZ MD Nick Murray and CEO Matt Campbell’s observations on the shortage of top-class TV writers in light of the continuing talent drain overseas have triggered a lively industry debate.

There is general agreement that it is tough for emerging writers to get enough screen credits to establish themselves. While the ABC and some production companies are mentoring writers there are no ready solutions.

Some creatives say there are plenty of skilled writers but networks and producers are often reluctant to back new talent.

“TV in particular rests on the credits of established writers,” contends Ben C Lucas, who co-directed Fighting Season after helming the features Wasted on the Young and Otherlife.

“It’s not that there is a shortage of writers, it’s that there’s a shortage of writers established enough to bankroll a series. What few there are already have their own show so when it comes to financing, yes, there’s a shortage.

“The risk adverse nature of the business is such that newer writers are themselves looking for established writers to back them and their own ideas. I don’t see that there’s a way to break this cycle, short of commissioners taking the occasional punt on someone new – itself the exception, not the rule.”

To be fair, the heads of Matchbox Pictures and Easy Tiger Productions in recent interviews with IF stressed they are developing a raft of projects with emerging writers and producers.

Noting that writers such as Tony McNamara, Andrew Knight and Kris Mrksa are working on international projects, Easy Tiger founder Ian Collie said: “Our big focus is working with tomorrow’s talent, the wonderful emerging writers and creators who hopefully will be the next generation.”

Matchbox Pictures MD Alastair McKinnon noted: “Talent development has always been a priority for Matchbox.”

‘The Heights’ (Photo credit: Ben King).

The Heights, the 30-episode serial produced by Matchbox Pictures and Peta Astbury’s For Pete’s Sake Productions for the ABC, is a template for giving opportunities to new talent: actors, writers and directors.

The ABC is encouraging all producers to bring new people, particularly from diverse backgrounds, into their story rooms, according to Sally Riley, ABC head of drama, comedy and Indigenous content.

“The majority of the shows that we do have new or emerging writers in their story rooms, who sometimes start off as note takers or observers and then progress to writers,” Riley says.

“It’s a long process to become a writer and it works best when you have new writers working alongside experienced people. You have got to be prepared to nurture and mentor people, let them make mistakes and let them grow.

“We have done that on The Heights, Mystery Road and on [Roadshow Rough Diamond’s] Les Norton. One of the main reasons for doing The Heights was to develop new talent, on and off camera.

“We are also doing initiatives with grassroots organisations such as CuriousWorks and I.C.E., in Western Sydney, and they have unearthed some talented writers. You also need to watch who is coming out of film school or short films, and to theatre and playwrights in terms of tapping new talent, such as Nakkiah Lui.

“While we are losing some of our experienced writers to the UK and LA, we are also finding new writers, but it takes a long time for people to develop their skills and craft.”

Chris Squadrito, who was a script editor on Tidelands (he also co-wrote one episode) and on Fighting Season, agrees with Lucas, observing: “The issue at heart is there are precious few opportunities to train and develop newer writers to such an extent that they rack up the credits and become established enough to mount a series.

“There does seem to be more awareness now among prodcos that the fostering of new talent – partnering them up with more established practitioners, as is done often in the US – is required to keep the industry alive beyond the boomer generation. But talking about wanting to foster new writers is not the same as actually doing it. Like most aspects of this industry there is a lot of complacency, inertia and hot air floating around.”

The Nine Network’s co-head of drama Andy Ryan acknowledges that while it has always been tough for writers to get their first credit the rise of short-run drama series has made it harder to consolidate that initial success.

“The problem is not unique to writers. Directors and editors, for example, face similar hurdles,” Ryan tells IF. “One of the major challenges facing the industry is to help emerging writers build viable careers and gain a breadth of experience here in Australia.

“Producers and broadcasters are acutely aware of the problem. There’s no quick fix but I think we’re seeing a renewed focus on mentoring and supporting emerging talent, both from within production companies and from external groups such as Scripted Ink.”

Actor Jonny Pasvolsky, who has devised a bunch of original concepts which he is yet to pitch to producers, says: “So many passionate, brilliant people I know who just want those in ‘power’ to know they exist. Maybe the methods they are using to seek out writers and concepts needs to change. Getting an audience with these types of people is one of the biggest challenges.”

Film director-writer-producer Heath Davis believes there is only a handful of writers and directors in Australia that the networks consider worthy. “That is why our commercial TV is so stale and way behind the UK and US and why people watch Netflix and streaming sites for drama,” he says.

Nonetheless Davis is keen to try his hand at TV drama after being bowled over by Mr Inbetween, the Scott Ryan- Nash Edgerton series commissioned by the FX network.

Squadrito is grateful for the opportunities he’s had, including spending three and a half years with Collie and Rachael Turk at Essential Media, where he worked on such shows as Doctor Doctor and The Principal.

But many of his contemporaries have not been as fortunate. Like Ryan, he points to smaller episode orders combined with higher costs per episode which, he thinks, has meant few new writers are being hired.

“I’ve also been told by producers that networks just won’t approve new talent, and conversely, I’ve been told by network folks that production companies aren’t presenting them with new talent,” he says.

“I’m sure the reality is somewhere in the middle. Everybody talks a big game about fostering new writers but the proof really needs to be in the pudding. Ultimately I feel it comes down to series producers and script producers being willing to back newer writers – of which there are plenty – even if it may mean more work for them through the development process.

“I acknowledge that’s a big ask, but it’s really only with that backing that network approval can hopefully occur.”

IF Magazine . 05 March, 2019 by Don Groves

Has Australian TV found an answer to Scandi noir?

Victoria Madden was eight years old when she created her first distinctly Tasmanian story. It was the 1970s and researchers had come to the rural station in the state’s rugged north-east where her mother was the cook, hoping to confirm sightings of the extinct Tasmanian tiger. Possessed of a fierce imagination, Madden told them she had seen one at a nearby dam and led the way there. She got hours of companionship and conversation before they twigged.

Nowadays Madden’s reach is far wider – and the narratives hold together far more convincingly. As the co-creator of 2016’s The Kettering Incident and now the driving force behind The Gloaming, which premieres on Stan on January 1, Madden is presenting a vision of Tasmania to the world via brooding police procedurals, supernatural-tinged history and foreboding landscapes. On her shows, the island state looks like nowhere else on Earth.

“I always say Tasmania is a revelation,” Madden says. “I’m trying to think like an artist or a graphic novelist to make the landscape a character that’s slightly antagonistic. If you get it right, with the right directors, it does a lot of the work for you. I tell everyone that I want a sense of the unsettled, that you can’t quite feel comfortable.”

The Gloaming, which stars Emma Booth and Ewen Leslie as police detectives whose murder investigation draws them into a past crime they’re connected to, may well be the tipping point for Tassie noir. The show was commissioned by Stan and will be sold around the world by ABC Studios. It presents Hobart as a cosmopolitan city while the surrounding landscape – snow-covered peaks, dead trees twisted like gnarled bones, and thick forests that grasp the dark – possesses an unsettling grip.

Greg McLean, who directed The Gloaming alongside Michael Rymer and Sian Davies, says Tasmania was a unique place to shoot in. “It doesn’t look like Australia, he says. “The imagery we put out around the world has this red outback, but Tasmania has a different quality because of the nature of the weather system there, the different forests, and the different plants. It feels ancient and has a strange vibe to it.”

Having directed various iterations of Wolf Creek in the outback, and the feature film Jungle in the far edges of Colombia, McLean was used to intriguing locales, but as a newcomer to Tasmania he was fascinated by the way Victoria Madden’s story intertwined with the landscape. In her first visual briefing with the directors and director of photography Marden Dean, Victoria Madden referenced both the menacing topography and the often bloody colonial history.

“It was my first time in Tasmania, so I looked at it with very fresh eyes and got very excited about the architecture of Hobart and the light and the landscape,” McLean says. “We wanted to be as cinematic as possible, and Tasmania has this quite hard, clear light. It’s very beautiful, but also very sharp. Everyone we wanted to capture was uniquely Tasmanian looking in terms of the design, and the feel, and the atmosphere.”

The Gloaming represents the crest of a wave of productions that feature Tasmania as a locale. It began with the feature film The Hunter in 2011 (where the plot also involved the Tasmanian Tiger), and gathered energy with The Kettering Incident, the ABC comedy Rosehaven (where the crimes are very different), the feature film Lion and parts of Foxtel’s Lambs of God.

Alex Sangston, the Executive Manager of Screen Tasmania, which invested in The Gloaming, says the each of the last three years has come close to a record year for the volume of screen stories produced in the state.

“The pitch that I usually give when I’m talking to filmmakers, producers or financiers is that we’ve got locations you haven’t seen, talent that hasn’t been tapped, and a wonderful lifestyle to base yourself in while doing the work,” Sangston says.

Victoria Madden is central to this, but she had to leave Tasmania to define her vision. As a child she was obsessed with the countryside, which sometimes felt threatening. She remembers trips when her single mother, an English immigrant, would seek work only to miss out, so they would sleep that night in the family car.

“Tasmania’s ruggedness and harshness and the Gothic quality I see it in began with that insecurity as a child, when it felt like we were at the mercy of the landscape,” Madden says.

She moved to the mainland at age 17 and gained her initial writing credits on shows including Heartbreak High and Water Rats. She began to think more about Tasmania during long stints in London, where she was a story producer on The Bill, and then Ireland, which had a connection to Tasmania through the state’s history as a British penal colony. She was also watching Scandi noir television series such as The Killing and The Bridge, and visited Scandinavia before returning to Tasmania and settling in Launceston.

In The Kettering Incident the troubled lead character, Elizabeth Debicki’s Anna Macy, also returns to Tasmania from London, but by comparison Madden has prospered. She’d just begun to outline The Gloaming when she met Keli Lee from ABC Studios at a conference in Melbourne. The American executive, who’d helped assemble the likes of Modern Family and Scandal, was a fan of Kettering and wanted to work with Madden.

ABC Studios did not want a homogenous setting – they wanted a backdrop global audiences hadn’t seen before. Lee came to Hobart to spend the day with Madden: the sky was blue, but the mist hung low. There was snow on the nearby mountains and air was cold and crisp. Madden drove Lee up to Knocklofty Reserve, to look down on West Hobart – there is a similar shot in The Gloaming. They went to the MONA art gallery and had lunch on the water at the Glass House restaurant. Lee was excited. “We’re going to do this,” she told Madden.

Madden had given Lee more of The Gloaming, in which the crimes invoke Tasmania’s colonial history, and Lee wanted the grimness – “There’s a lot of murder,” she told Madden, who replied, ‘Yes, I guess there is” – to be counterpointed by the beauty of Hobart. It was exactly what the showrunner wanted to hear.

“That’s why I wanted to set it in Hobart, because it’s ridiculously beautiful, with a darkness underneath,” Madden says. “I’ve always been drawn to dark subjects. Unsolved mysteries, missing people, have always intrigued me. But being away from Tasmania, I saw the beauty as an adult I didn’t appreciate when I was younger. It’s an awe-inspiring place.”

The Gloaming – Streaming on Stan from Wednesday, January 1.

By Craig Mathieson SMH December 11, 2019

How much do networks pay for local drama?

The average cost of making an hour of Australian drama is $760,000, up 7% on 2018
according to the Screen Australia Drama Report*

The minimum license fee a network must contribute is $440,000 per hour.
Increasingly for producers, it is also the maximum a network will pay, meaning other
investments such as overseas sales, or co-productions, are required to meet budgets.
Recently at the Screen Forever conference a number of TV and Drama execs were
asked when will they contribute more?

Here’s what they said….

Brian Walsh, Foxtel Executive Director of Television:

Quite honestly we’ve never walked away from a project that we wanted to do because
of the money. We’ve always found the money if it’s the right idea. I acknowledge
that’s the minimum spend, and for a lot of colleagues in the industry, that’s the kind
of ceiling spend. But for us if the idea is right, if it’s going to sell subscriptions, if it’s
going to retain an audience we’ll find the money. It’s never been a barrier to Foxtel.
We like to pride ourselves on creating and commissioning shows that are different,
that are better, that are special, that will grow our Pay TV universe.
There are various ways to achieve that. You either dig deeper into your budgets or get
partners on board who also believe in the idea, that will carry your story, in some
places, to a global audience.
We picked up A Place to Call Home, which had two seasons on the Seven Network
and we recognise that show would be great for our audiences because a lot of our customers have been with us for quite a long time, and are in the older segments.
They’re not necessarily well served by commercial Free to Air.
That cost us well over a million dollars an episode and we believed in the show, we
believed it would resonate with our customers and we didn’t walk away from
spending that kind of money.

Nick Forward, Stan Chief Content Officer:

I think if you’re just talking about the Australian territory you’re limiting the
conversation. The opportunity’s got to be (in) the rest of the world, bringing on
partners who buy into the idea as much as you do and pursue a similar vision.
Every decision you make in commissioning is a balance between creative,
commercial, timing and what else you have coming up. So there’s a whole world of
things that go into that.

Sally Riley, ABC Head of Drama:

$440,000 per episode is kind of the starting point. That’s what we would expect
someone to bring in a finance plan to us, and generally there’s a gap. We have put
equity in, in the past. But we have a Charter to support Australian stories and want to
make stories that will resonate around the world. So we are looking for the best
ideas, the best creative teams. Riot was a show we thought was culturally significant
and we needed to subsidise the show to get it over the line, because we thought it was
very important to do.
So it’s a case by case basis. If it’s a story that we are absolutely committed to, an
amazing show, we’ll think about it. But ultimately, we’re trying to stretch our dollars
further so we can make more content.

Marshall Heald, SBS Director of TV & Online:

We’re making shows where the total cost per episode historically, is probably around
$1.5 million. We probably put in about a third into each show and cap it out at a total
investment of about $3 million, whether it’s 4, 6 or 8 episodes. Australian Drama is
very well regarded internationally. There’s very strong interest from distributors
from international networks trying to do co-productions. If you’ve got the right kind
of idea, and you have an entrepreneurial approach to it, you can break the traditional
glass ceiling.
*The Australian screen industry provided 44% of the finance to this year’s Australian
TV and online drama titles – $219 million to 73 titles. 44% is the lowest proportion of
total finance since 2000/01, while also being the second highest year in terms of
titles produced (73). The increase in titles is largely driven by the inclusion, since
2016/17, of online drama. The largest proportion of finance (and the largest from any
sector) came from the commercial free-to-air networks. The largest contribution
from a single broadcaster came from the ABC, which, as a first release broadcaster
provided finance to 28 titles, including seven ABC iview originals. Subscription
television financed three titles for first release broadcast. SBS/NITV financed four
titles – one for SBS on Demand. Stan financed four titles. Distributors and
production companies provided the rest of the industry finance.

November 26th, 2019 By David Knox, TVTonight

Here’s Why This Young Cannes Director Pre-Shoots His Entire Movie

After seeing Beanpole, you’d never imagine that Kantemir Balagov got his start on YouTube — or that he was 26 years old when he directed it. The film, which won the Un Certain Regard Best Director Award at Cannes earlier this year, has the kind of visual sophistication and narrative confidence that directors spend a career cultivating. But Balagov is far from an established auteur; Beanpole is only his second film. Balagov’s unseasonable mastery may, in part, be explained by an unusual element of his filmmaking process.

To pre-visualize their films, some directors draw 1,000 storyboards. Others build scenes with Legos. Balegov, however, pre-shoots his entire movie.

The preparation is writ large onscreen. Beanpole is rich with intentionality; each frame is meticulously designed, from the period details of the set to the cinematography, which carries the characters’ emotions in every camera movement. Set in Leningrad just after the end of World War II, Beanpole stars Viktoria Miroshnichenko as Iya, an inordinately tall young nurse (hence the nickname) who suffers from unpredictable bouts of paralysis as a result of an injury she suffered in the war. In the hospital where Iya works, soldiers beg to be euthanized. All across the city, fractured psyches cling to humanity by a single thread.

Even though Russia has emerged victorious, the war has wreaked unimaginable havoc on the bodies and souls of its citizens. Further proof of this devastation comes barrelling in as Iya’s friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) returns from the front lines with the energy of an unstable nuclear element, bringing with her the chaotic, emotionally-charged, selfish nihilism of war. What ensues is a cat-and-mouse game of emotional debt-paying, romantic inclinations, and a futile quest for meaning in a world that seems indifferent to anyone’s future, let alone two young girls named Iya and Masha.

No Film School sat down with Balagov at this year’s New York Film Festival to discuss why he pre-shot the film, how he used the camera to capture the fraught intimacy between the characters, and more.

Beanpole
‘Beanpole’

Kantemir Balagov: I just wanted to be a director! [Laughs] I was trying to find myself through photography and video games. I made some YouTube series and sent them to Alexander Sokurov [the Russian director, whose movie Russian Ark was filmed in a single shot]. One day, he took me into his studio.

“I wanted the cinematography to look like paintings.”

NFS: So Sokurov was kind of your portal into the industry?

Balagov: He created me as a person. He gave me self-awareness. He showed me a love of literature and it helped my filmmaking. He helped me find my voice.

NFS: So, you made your first feature with Sekulov, and this is your second. How did you come to the topic of Beanpole?

Balagov: I came to this topic a while working on my first feature, actually. I read the book, “The Woman, The Face of War”, in 2015. At the time, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to make my first film about The Second World War because it would be too expensive of a production.

My first feature, Closeness, premiered at Cannes, and after that, I thought I could start working on Beanpole.

NFS: When you were thinking about the way that you wanted to bring this world to life, what were your visual inspirations?

Balagov: Dutch paintings. With my first film, I had visual references in documentary photography. For this one, I wanted the cinematography to look like paintings.

Beanpole
‘Beanpole’

NFS: What was your process with your cinematographer to create this look?Balagov: We just tried to find a unique style for a period drama. There’s a lot of war movies about the Soviet Union. Our film looks unique because we wanted it to loo watchable for a young audience.

NFS: You have a lot of scenes that were one takes and I thought those were really well done. How did you approach those on set?

Balagov: For the one takes, I tried to put close-ups and wide shots into the same take. Like a montage inside of the frame. It’s hard to film because each actor and crew member has to move in the exact same way at the exact right time.

“Producers don’t want to take risks and invest in a new director.”

NFS: How do you get this precision?

Balagov: Before shooting, we pre-shoot the film. We took a video camera and all the actresses and just shoot the whole film.

I don’t do storyboards because I do prefer to work with real spaces. So when we had our locations, we do the pre-shoot. It helps me to cut some scenes before the actual shoot. It also helped actresses to feel the mis-en-scene, and how they should move in each frame. It helped the DP, too. Everyone was prepared on set—everyone knew how they should set up the lights and what we were going to shoot.

Beanpole
‘Beanpole’

Pre-shooting also really helped me understand that the film was too long—the pre-shoot cut was 3 hours and 15 minutes.

“Pre-shoots are especially important for first-time directors.”

I think pre-shoots are especially important for first-time directors because you feel comfortable with the material and confident in yourself.

NFS: How long do you do the pre-shoot for?

Balagov: I think two and a half weeks.

NFS: And this is instead of doing rehearsals with the actors?

Balagov: No, we do rehearsals after. The pre-shoot was just for the physical understanding for the actresses.

NFS: How did you cast the film? I’m not sure if the two main actors were trained or if you found them a different way.

Balagov: They were studying. They were the fourth year, I think. But Sasha, the boy, used to sell the book in bookstores. We found him on social media. Also, the doctor is not a professional actor. He’s a musician.

Beanpole
‘Beanpole’

Balagov: I would say that sometimes untrained actors give richer performances than professional actors because there’s more life in them. But there’s a risk that they won’t remember things from the take to take, so adjustments can be more difficult.

When I’m casting, the important thing to look for is charisma and personality.

“Sometimes, untrained actors give richer performances than professional actors because there’s more life in them.”

NFS: Do you have any advice for a new filmmaker who wants to make festival fare films, like you have, but doesn’t have a traditional path there?

Balagov: It’s really hard because producers don’t want to take risks and invest in a new director. And I’m saying that because with my first feature, even though I worked at Alexander’s studio, no one gave a shit about my script. I had so many no’s. It’s hard to make your first film. I just got lucky.

Some advice that Alexander’s studio gave is that you should read more books and watch [fewer] movies.

NFS: Do you think that you will continue to make films in the vein of your first two films?

Balagov: I really want to make an animated movie. I’m also really interested in directing a film inspired by a video game. I’m really into video games.

Samantha Lang joins Garth Davis/See-Saw Films joint venture

Lion and Mary Magdalene director Garth Davis and See-Saw Films have launched a production co-venture with Samantha Lang as head of development.

Entitled I Am That, the partnership will develop feature film and TV projects for Davis to direct and produce alongside See-Saw founders Iain Canning and Emile Sherman.

The president of the Australian Directors Guild, Lang has started work already, based at See-Saw Films’ Sydney office. “This is a really great fit,” Sam tells IF. “I really admire Garth and Emile and we look forward to creating beyond beautiful, large scale international film and TV projects together.”

Davis said: “I Am That stems from my long-standing relationship with both Iain Canning and Emile Sherman, who have been incredibly supportive of me in my filmmaking journey and are wonderful partners.

“I also feel very lucky to have the talented Samantha Lang by our side in this new chapter, helping us unearth compelling stories for film and television. Bec Smith and Keya Khayatian of UTA continue to be an indispensable part of my team.”

In a statement Canning and Sherman added, “Garth is that rare director who has an auteur’s eye, can build complete worlds and is at home in the intimate creation of character and performance.

“We are also so pleased to have found Samantha Lang to drive the creative acquisition and development of projects across film and television. Her creative talents and intelligence are second to none and our tastes are all deeply aligned.”

As IF reported last year Lang has been developing several projects including Kill the Messenger, a romantic tragi-comedy adapted from Nakkiah Lui’s play about the couple at the centre of a post-colonial interracial love story; and Lucy and Linh, scripted by Michelle Law and based on the young adult novel by Alice Pung about the daughter of a Chinese migrant family who goes to an exclusive girls’ school dominated by a cabal of white girls known as the Cabinet.

See-Saw recently produced 10-part drama The End for Foxtel and the Emmy Award-winning State of the Union.

Its upcoming slate includes Jane Campion’s feature The Power of the Dog for Netflix, Francis Lee’s period romance Ammonite starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, Andrew Haigh’s BBC miniseries The North Water with Jack O’Connell and Colin Farrell and John Madden’s World War 2 drama Operation Mincemeat with Colin Firth.

05 November, 2019 by Don Groves IF Magazine

Writer Matt Cameron kicking goals

It is so great to read how screenwriter Matt Cameron is gaining power and influence in the Australian industry.

Along with a select band of writers such as Belinda Chayko, Jacqueline Perske, Shelley Birse, Victoria Madden, Blake Ayshford and Andrew Knight, Cameron is one of the ‘go-to’ writers when producers need a top creative for a new TV series.

This IF article describes how in the recent past, Cameron had zero involvement in the production of a show. But now he is a presence in ongoing meetings about the creative realisation of the original concept.

Cameron’s recent credits include Bloom, Secret City and Jack Irish, but he is hardly an overnight success, with his first drama credit coming in 2000 with SeaChange.

Matt suggests that this shift to including writers in production reflects the international trend to have writers as showrunners, a model still not completely embraced in Australia.

He says that we still face problems in Australia created by low budgets for our drama shows compared to overseas series. But it is heartening to see great work being made despite those issues.

The full article is here:

Writer Matt Cameron makes the leap to a bigger canvas

 

New drama TV announced at Channel 7

New Australian programs for Seven’s main channel include Secret Bridesmaids’
Business (an adaptation of Elizabeth Coleman’s play, it tells the story of three friends
who are inextricably changed when one unwittingly invites a malevolent stranger
into their world); Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries (a spin-off of the popular
ABC drama, it centres on Phryne Fisher’s niece, Peregrine, and is set in 1960s
Melbourne); and Between Two Worlds (a scripted series from Packed to the Rafters
creator Bevan Lee, which promises to “push the boundaries of popular commercial
drama”).

From Michael Lallo, SMH 26 October 2018