Category Archives: Television

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.”


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

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


Essential Media returns to drama space with Essential Scripted

Essential Media Group (EMG) has re-activated its drama arm with the mandate to produce premium international TV dramas and theatrical features via the newly-
unveiled Essential Scripted.

Michelle Hardy, who produced the International Emmy® Award-winning multi-
platform ABC2 comedy #7DaysLater, has joined as vice president of scripted,

Australia, while Simonne Overend continues as VP of scripted, US.
Essential Media has also signed a first-look deal with Hardy White Pictures, a joint
venture between Hardy and director Erin White (Sando, Little Lunch).

The move marks a return to the scripted sphere since founding partner Ian
Collie departed last September and Essential sold its drama slate and catalogue to
Easy Tiger Productions, launched by Collie and FremantleMedia.

It follows the acquisition of EMG (formed by the merger of Essential and Quail
Entertainment) by Canada’s Kew Media Group for $32.8 million, a deal which is
expected to close next week.

EMG CEO Chris Hilton said: “We’re relishing the prospect of our return to drama
production in Australia and the US at a time when the opportunities have never been
greater. We have an exciting new slate and with the support of our new partners at
Kew we’re looking forward to bringing more premium scripted content to audiences
around the world.”

Hilton recalled that he and Collie started from scratch in drama in the early years at Essential Media and Entertainment, producing a raft of shows including Rake, Jack Irish and The Principal and the Disney movie Saving Mr Banks on the back of the company’s factual slate.

Essential Scripted is working with new and emerging writers including Yolanda
Ramke (Cargo) and Chris Squadrito (who worked on Hoodlum Entertainment/
Netflix’s Tidelands) on a slate which includes six TV dramas and as many features.

Hardy has been working unannounced for Essential for some months so some
projects are in advanced development or are close to the pilot stage. The projects are
being developed in partnership with networks and distributors.

“Australian broadcasters are aspiring to produce dramas that are comparable to
those screening on Netflix,” Hilton tells IF. “That means you need sufficient quality
to attract pre-finance from European or US broadcasters or a deep-pocketed

Hilton has identified the need to develop the next generation of writers partly
because creatives such as Andrew Knight, Sarah Lambert and Kris Mrksa are tied up
with their own projects. His plan is to put emerging writers together with
experienced writers and showrunners.

Overend is working with Ramke as she develops a TV series based on a crime novel
and a feature screenplay. Hardy’s credits include Skit Box’s Wham Bam Thank You
Ma’amand Back Seat Drivers, a comedy entertainment series for ABC2.

She worked with Greg Quail, who is now EMG’s chief content officer, on several
projects including Timothy, a half hour narrative comedy that was part of Mental As,
ABC’s Mental Health Week.

Last year she produced a low budget feature film in Los Angeles for Essential,
working title Wild Woman. The survival saga set in the desert from writer-director
Nick King is yet to be released.

Hilton is discussing several feature films and feature docs with Kew Media’s
international theatrical sales company, observing, “Being part of a large group means
we can leverage their resources.”

06 July, 2018 by Don Groves INSIDEFILM

Go West: Seph McKenna on his vision for Screenwest

Formerly the head of Australian production at Roadshow Films, Seph McKenna left
the east coast to take on the role of Screenwest CEO in January, succeeding Ian

But the former exec says he’s no stranger to Western Australia. Roadshow has been
involved with many recent films that were shot in the state, including Bran Nue Dae,
Red Dog, Paper Planes and Red Dog: True Blue. It acquired Simon
Baker’sBreath and will distribute upcoming See Pictures film Go Karts, shooting
in Busselton.

McKenna particularly credits regional film festival CinefestOz for luring east coast
distributors and producers like himself into the west’s regions over the past seven or
eight years.

“It woke all of us up in the east to the potential of the west,” he says.
Western Australia has grown as a production destination over the last decade. Ten
years ago it was averaging about one feature-length film a year. In 2015-16,
Screenwest supported a record seven feature-length films to shoot in WA, and in
2016-17, the production of four and the post of two others.

McKenna says that while he was at Roadshow they found their biggest films, in terms
of indie Aussie fare at least, came out of WA.

“Red Dog was the standard bearer there – until Lion came along it was the highest
performing independent Australian film of the last 20 years.

“What we found was because Western Australia is a big outdoor canvas for our
filmmakers, all of Australia really embraces the film. It feels like they are big, epic
Australian films of scale on the big screen, because you have these phenomenal
landscapes. You don’t run into any rivalries between Sydney and Melbourne.

“Films that are made here are just intrinsically Australian, and we found we could
sell that to audiences successfully.”

Vision and new opportunities

Given its varied and spectacular landscapes, WA is a natural home for the outdoor
film, says McKenna.

“If you’re looking for a big canvas to paint on, you can’t lose in WA. And we have
both experienced crews now and post facilities to do everything here.

“I think there used to be this presumption – I used to have it years ago at Roadshow
– that you could do some things in WA, but you couldn’t do everything here. Now
you can do everything here.”

McKenna praises his predecessor Booth, and Screenwest head of development and
production Rikki Lea Bestall, for the uptick in production activity and the growth of
infrastructure in WA.

“Including – and they so often don’t get the acknowledgement because you don’t get
the big splashy roll outs – our documentary producers who are the vanguard of
selling to international.

“Our documentary companies are the bedrock of the Western Australian screen
sector. In the feature land we can learn from what they’re doing because they’re
having such success.”

In his new role, McKenna is keen to capitalise on that level of production nous and
capacity that now exists in WA.

He says his time at Roadshow has left him with a sense of what works in the market,
what doesn’t and why. It’s a skill he believes will be important at Screenwest now
that it has transitioned from a government agency into an independent non-profit

“I do think there is a sense of cautious optimism about what the new Screenwest
structure can bring, and it really is on me to deliver.”

Under the new non-profit structure, Screenwest continues to receive funding via the
WA government and Lotterywest. However, McKenna envisions the agency will now
have the flexibility and opportunity to ramp up its production attraction by building
partnerships with organisations in a way that may have previously been in conflict
with government policy or restrictions. This includes market and fundraising

“When I say fundraising, I mean going out and trying to raise funds around either
specific films, helping producers go out and do that, or finding pots of money that
can come in and partner with us in a general slate way – something you absolutely
couldn’t do in government.”

McKenna argues these partnerships will help Screenwest to find potential flagship
projects to “sell the state on” that will play both in Australia and find a home

Small screen

While the west has seen a strong upswing in feature production, there isn’t much TV
drama being produced in the state at present – with some notable exceptions like the
ABC’s Mystery Road.

For McKenna, drumming up more is a key focus. In particular, he’s keen to see a fan-
driven drama in the vein of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries that would attract fans to WA to visit the show’s locations – just as they might visit Hobbiton in New Zealand or Highclere Castle in the UK, where Downton Abbey is shot.

“I would not only love to see that, I’m actively looking for a production or
productions that could fall into that category.

“And I think we’re probably more likely to find a television series of scale than we are
to find a movie of scale. But of course we’ll take either, or both.

“But for crews and consistency of work, nothing beats television. Series television is
becoming more and more difficult Australia wide to find, produce and fund. Our
most natural partners in that are the ABC and SBS, and we are working closely with

Just as CinefestOz was successful in luring east coast feature film execs to the WA
around seven or eight years ago, McKenna says there is more work to do to bring
those working in TV in the east over to the west to show them what’s possible.

“I think once they get familiar with the opportunities, the place and the locations,
they’ll start to see that. So it’s about getting our east coast TV people comfortable
with the idea that you can shoot in the west and that’s okay.

“And we have WAAPA, and WAAPA brought us Hugh Jackman. I think we have the
best acting school in the country here – don’t tell NIDA. But it’s certainly producing
strong students who go off to do amazing things. There’s a wellspring of talent here
and they’re happy to stay here if they can shoot here.”

Challenges and promise

Lotterywest, which runs the lottery in WA, supports both Screenwest and the Perth
International Arts Festival, as well as other cultural activities in the state.

However, The Australian reported in late January that lottery driven revenue was
declining in Western Australia by almost $300 million per year and that $16.5m out
of $25m multi-year grants issued by the state arts department were due to be funded
with revenue from Lotterywest, but a nearly $2m gap opened up between what it was
able to be eventually delivered.

“Younger people aren’t buying lottery tickets at newsagents, they are either not
gambling or they’re gambling online; it’s just a declining source of revenue,” says

“Lotterywest funding is really what has supported the organisation’s funding into
production for quite some time. So that’s a concern to everybody, and everybody’s
well aware.”

However, McKenna says the Western Australian Regional Fund – “purpose-built to
bring work into the nine different regions of WA” – is healthy and been “quite a tool”
for Screenwest.

Established in 2016, the $16 million Western Australian Regional Fund is designed
to support high quality international and Australia feature films, high-end television
series and documentaries to shoot in regional WA. It’s already helped to attract Ben
Elton’s Three Summers, Mystery Road and the upcoming Go Karts to the state.

“Everyone is pretty excited by that because it absolutely has been successful in
bringing in productions,” says McKenna.

The fund does have defined rules – you have to show economic and cultural benefit
to the region, and it has a minimum 2:1 spend – so McKenna says it can knock out
productions that are sniffing out extra funding from any old place.

However, he says for the productions that are aligned to a region, it can be a terrific
fit that can overcome the higher costs that can be associated with shooting in the
west if people need to be flown over. “That’s major for us.”

As for what is working else to attract productions, McKenna says: “We’ve got money,
we’ve got weather and we’ve got locations. That’s the west sell.”

The challenge for interstate or overseas producers shooting in WA will always be the
tyranny of distance, but McKenna counters: “It’s just being away from home, which
is something all producers face as they run around the world for places to shoot.

“The good news for Australian producers that need otherworldly landscapes is you
can find it here in Australia. You don’t have to go abroad; it’s here.”

18 May, 2018 by Jackie Keast INSIDEFILM

Australian director Kate Dennis continues to triumph

Melbourne director Kate Dennis, now based in the US, has continued to triumph with an Emmy nomination for The Handmaid’s Tale. This article by IF Magazine’s Don Groves talks about her dilemmas in choosing the projects she will work on after being deluged with offers of work.

Dennis continues to work in Australia as well, having directed Queensland based but global focussed Harrow, a co-production with ABC and Disney-owned ABC Studios International, which screens in Australian on March 9, according to Groves.

See article here:

Kate Dennis, go-to director for US networks, lands another US gig

Kate Dennis, go-to director for US networks, lands another US pilot
12 February, 2018 by Don Groves INSIDEFILM

If there were an award for the hardest working, most travelled and in-demand
Australian director in US and international TV drama, Kate Dennis would be a prime
candidate. Next month in New York she starts shooting an untitled, character-driven
medical drama for NBC that follows the maverick director of the city’s Bellevue
Hospital, her seventh US pilot which also happens to be the first shot on US soil.

Her burgeoning career got an adrenaline shot last year when she was nominated for a
prime-time Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale after directing episodes of multiple
series including Fear the Walking Dead, CSI: Cyber, Suits and TURN:
Washington’s Spies.

Last year Dennis was the set-up director of Harrow, Hoodlum’s 10-part crime
drama commissioned by the ABC and Disney-owned ABC Studios International,
which premieres in Oz on March 9.

Ioan Gruffudd plays Dr Daniel Harrow, a forensic psychologist who harbours a dark
secret, alongside Mirrah Foulkes, Remy Hii, Darren Gilshenan, Anna Lise Phillips,
Damien Garvey, Ella Newton, Hunter Page-Lochard and Robyn Malcolm.

Dennis was directing an episode of Marvel/Netflix’s Jessica Jones when Hoodlum’s
Tracey Robertson offered her the gig but she was initially reluctant. “I told Tracey
that procedurals and me are probably not a good mix but I read the script and
thought this one was different and out of the box,” she tells IF via Skype from her
home in LA. “It’s very character-driven and there is the mystery of the man at its
core. I was very attracted to it.”

She created the look and tone of the show co-created by Stephen M. Irwin and Leigh
McGrath with Robert Humphreys, who was the DOP on the first five episodes
(Simon Chapman shot the remainder).

Dennis directed the first episode while Tony Krawitz (The Kettering Incident), Tony
Tilse (Wolf Creek, Underbelly), Daniel Nettheim (Doctor Who, Broadchurch),
Peter Salmon (Doctor Doctor, Rake) each handled two and Catriona McKenzie (The
Warriors) did one.

It was her third collaboration with Hoodlum following Secrets & Lies and the US
remake of the crime series created by the prolific Irwin.

The NBC drama is inspired by Dr. Eric Manheimer’s memoir Twelve Patients: Life
& Death at Bellevue Hospital, a facility billed as the only one in the world that can
treat Ebola patients, prisoners from Rikers Island and the US President under one

She’s excited to be collaborating with David Schulner (Desperate Housewives, Trauma, Emerald City), the writer/creator and co- executive producer, and co-executive producer Peter Horton, who set up Grey’s Anatomy.

The creative team includes DoP Stuart Dryburgh (who was Oscar-nominated for The
Piano) and production designer Kristi Zea, a frequent collaborator with Martin
Scorsese. She likens the tone to West Wing in a hospital.

Her US credits include I’m Dying Up Here, the Showtime comedy/drama set in the
Los Angeles stand-up scene of the early 1970, which screened here on Stan; Damnation, a 1930s-set drama shot in Calgary about a preacher who rallies the townsfolk in Iowa to stand up against industrialists, which aired on the USA Network and on Netflix internationally; and GLOW, another Netflix show which revolves around US women wrestlers in the 1980s.

She also directed an episode of Heathers, a black comedy inspired by the 1988 movie
of the same name, which will premiere in the US on the Paramount Network on
March 7.

Dennis has just come back from Belfast where she directed Krypton, the story of
Superman’s grandfather as he fights for justice on his home planet, for the Syfy
channel. She was much impressed with the super-efficient showrunner, Australian
Cameron Welch.

Asked about the criteria she uses when deciding whether or not to accept offers,
particularly the barrage she has received since the Emmy nomination, she says, “I try
to keep myself out of a genre box. I like taking all sorts of work. It can be a high-risk
way to approach things but luckily it seems to have paid off.”

Number of women directors up slightly in 2017 but still only 11%

This article from Screen Daily by Orlando Parfitt (11 January 2018) indicated that there has been virtually no change in the participation of women directors.

Patty jenkins gal gadot clay enos dc comis

Source: Clay Enos, DC Comics. Patty Jenkins directing ‘Wonder Woman’

Women directed 11% of the 250 top-grossing films in the US last year, rising from 7% in 2016.

The figures come from an annual report by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University.

The study, entitled ‘Celluloid Ceiling’, shows that women comprised 18% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films, a rise of 1% from 2016 but unchanged from 1998.

25% of all producers for the top 250 films were women, (up 1%); 16% of editors (down 1%) and only 4% of cinematographers (a decrease of 1%).

The number of women writers was down two percentage points, to 11%.

Once again, the report also flags up that almost all blockbuster films are directed by men. Only one film directed by a woman made the top 20 highest grossing films: Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman, the third highest grossing film of the year in the US with $412m.

The next highest was Pitch Perfect 3 directed by Trish Sie, at number 34 in the US chart.

Some more statistics from the study:

  • 88% had no women directors
  • 83% had no women writers
  • 45% had no women exec. producers 28% had no women producers
  • 80% had no women editors
  • 96% had no women cinematographers
  • 30% of films had no or 1 woman in the above roles

As in 2016, no women directors were nominated for a Golden Globe or a Bafta this year.

The Celluloid Ceiling report has been published annually since 1998.

Read more: Baftas 2018 – full list of nominations