Ewen Leslie and Emma Booth filming The Gloaming (Photo credit: Stan).
For Vicki Madden, Blake Ayshford, Glendyn Ivin and no doubt myriad other content creators, the challenge is to find unique Australian stories which resonate internationally and can cut through the worldwide glut of English-language drama.
More broadly, Madden calls for more respect for writers from some producers and networks, telling IF: “At times there is too much interference and the stories become bland and impersonal.”
Ayshford welcomes increasing collaboration between experienced writers and newer voices and predicts: “I think the next few years could be transformational for our industry and usher in a new generation of voices and stories.”
Ivin is excited by the competition from streaming services but wonders how many consumers can afford to spend more than $100 a month to subscribe to multiple platforms.
However Ivin, the director of The Cry, Safe Harbour and Penguin Bloom, the upcoming feature adapted from the novel by Bradley Trevor Greive and Cameron Bloom, worries about the future of Australian drama on the commercial free-to-air networks.
“SBS and ABC are producing great work and have decent on-demand services but watching drama on commercial networks feels like a test,” Glendyn says. “I have teenage kids and they have never watched FTA by choice.
“Sitting down at a specific time and day and being pummeled by ads every few minutes has never made sense when there are other, more flexible options. FTA does reality shows well, where the stories’ immediacy is part of the lure and where the ads and the program kind of look the same. But for drama where story, tone and atmosphere are key, why would you?”
Ayshford, whose latest gig was lead writer/script producer on the second season of the ABC/Bunya Productions’ Mystery Road, laments the trend to associate reality shows with commercial broadcasters and drama with streamers.
“While I think Australian writers are producing great comedies and miniseries, the well-made drama that reaches a wide audience is the kind of story we could do with more of and FTA have been great at this in the past,” Blake says.
At a Screen Forever panel last year Fremantle CEO Chris Oliver-Taylor said the FTA networks and Foxtel are putting enormous pressure on budgets by paying licence fees of $440,000 an hour for drama (although they say they often pay significantly more than that).
In Oliver-Taylor’s view this forces producers to rely even more heavily on international partners and runs the risk the international partner could exert more creative control than the Oz broadcaster.
Madden, the creator of Stan’s The Gloaming, says: “One area that is tricky is walking the line of making an ‘Australian’ show with international money. We need to balance the budget so we can retain and maintain the Australian voice.
“I’ve had experiences where I’ve had to address some colloquiums and subject matter because of international money being the loudest voice at the table and I think this is a shame and is wrong.”
Ayshford says: “I still think the only chance we have of making dramas that resonate is to tell stories about this place, from this culture. Projects that look too much towards an international audience tend to the bland, or just recycle tropes of American culture.
“You only have to look to the success of Indigenous filmmakers for inspiration and lessons: no one in the world writes like Steven McGregor or Kodie Bedford or Warwick Thornton, and that’s what makes their work international. Indigenous storytellers seem to have confidence in who they are, and the stories they want to tell, and this confidence shines.”
Ivin is looking for film and TV projects that are wholly original, bold and risky. “We should embrace our cultural specifics and the things that make us uniquely Australian but approach the material and the production with an international point of view,” he says.
“I want to be able to make things in Australia but for an international audience. The more specific, the more universal it becomes.”
Echoing the mantra ‘TV is the new cinema,’ Ivin adds: “As a director I’m inspired to keep pushing and treating the medium in new and exciting ways. I’m excited for what the next couple of years is going to bring.”
Madden says: “The voracious appetite of the marketplace means there are huge opportunities for content makers right now, but also intense competition. So the challenge for Aussie producers and networks is to come up with very specific, exceptional stories.
“It is about allowing writers to have their voice when telling stories. For me it is about finding some connection to whatever story I am telling so that I can imbue it with that same connection to the audience.”
Next month Madden plans to visit the US and UK as her agents are setting up meetings on future projects with international producers.
She has optioned a book of quirky supernatural short stories, which she thinks would suit a short-form platform, and a short story in the horror/fantasy realm which she intends to develop as a feature.