AACTA-award winner Blake Ayshford believes writers in the UK are more valued than they are in Australia.
That’s one reason why the screenwriter is heading to the UK in a few months to pursue the opportunity to work on an eclectic bunch of projects set in Europe, the Middle East and South America.
Not that Ayshford, whose credits include The Code, Devil’s Playground, An Accidental Soldier, The Straits and Crownies, is turning his back on Oz.
He intends to work part-time in the UK while juggling several Australian projects including adaptations of two popular Australian novels for the ABC. He's written an episode of The Beautiful Lie, a modern retelling of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to be produced by Endemol Australia’s John Edwards and Imogen Banks for the public broadcaster.
Ayshford, who won an AACTA award as one of the producers of Devil’s Playground, shared with Simon Burke and Matchbox Pictures' Penny Chapman and Helen Bowden, signed with premier UK agent Casarotto, Ramsay and Associates at the Toronto International Film Festival last year.
The writer was in Toronto to support Cut Snake, the 1970s-set crime thriller he wrote for Matchbox and director Tony Ayres, which stars Sullivan Stapleton, Alex Russell and Jessica de Gouw.
Subsequently he went to the UK, where he says he realised, “It’s a place where writers are much more valued than they are here. The writing culture is very different in the UK. The same writer often does an entire season, so it’s unusual to have a team of writers.”
He wrote the first draft of Cut Snake in 2003, which won an award for best unproduced screenplay from the Adelaide Film Festival. That was the catalyst which led to his meeting Ayres, Chapman (who gave him his first gig on Network Ten’s ill-fated comedy-drama The Cooks) and John Edwards (who hired him as a writer on Love My Way).
While he enjoyed working on Cut Snake, which eOne will release later this year, he says, “In films it’s usually about the director and the stars. In TV, writers have a lot more say.”
As an admirer of Tolstoy’s novel, he leapt at the chance to write an episode of The Beautiful Lie, a tale of adultery, scandal, manners and mayhem involving three linked families across three generations.
His fellow writers are Alice Bell and Jonathan Gavin. “The producers sent me the pilot episode by Alice, which is the best writing I’d ever seen,” he says.
Asked what advice he would give aspiring writers, he says, “Watch as much Australian film and TV drama as you can. If you like something, write down the names of the people who made it.”