For producer Hannah Ngo and writer-director AB Morrison, crafting SBS series Iggy & Ace was an exercise in balancing light and darkness; saying something meaningful while also making it entertaining.
The 6 x 10 minute Perth-shot dramedy, premiering today on SBS On Demand, follows two young, gay best friends who live, work and play together, inseparable in every way.
When Ace, played by Josh Virgona, starts to suffer debilitating panic attacks when hungover, he winds up at a gay chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous determined to get sober.
Iggy, portrayed by Sara West, is horrified, convinced that her friend has been indoctrinated into a religious cult, and views his rejection of their shared lifestyle as a rejection of her. Stung, she does everything she can to disrupt Ace’s recovery and keep her best friend close.
Joining West and Virgona are Roz Hammond, who plays Gwen, leader of ‘gay AA’; Joanna Tu, playing Justine, Iggy’s long-suffering vegan artist girlfriend; Dalip Sondhi, as ageing drug dealer Otto; Liam Graham, Ace’s sponsor, and new talent Aiden Hawke as Prince, Otto’s carer.
Producing with Ngo was Melissa Kelly of Factor 30 Films, while Monica Zanetti (Ellie & Abbie) directed with Morrison.
Iggy & Ace was developed via Screen Australia and SBS’s Digital Originals initiative, aimed at supporting writers with backgrounds underrepresented in the screen sector, and was the first project from the program taken to commission.
Ngo tells IF the story had been sitting in Morrison’s back pocket, and what is on the screen today is very close to his original pitch.
The series continues a collaboration between the duo, friends from their time at WA Screen Academy, including short film Tribunal, which was commissioned via SBS’s Short-From Content Initiative, and Carnal Privilege.
“My MO is that I want to make movies with my friends,” Ngo says.
“It’s really nice for us to be able to continue our friendship and our partnership in this way. I’ve not met anyone like AB in my life, and I think a lot of people would say the same thing. Meeting him, he’s just a very big personality. He’s so funny and he’s so talented.”
The biggest challenge for Ngo was producing Iggy & Ace through COVID. They pitched the show in February 2020, then had to navigate development through the pandemic. Then, on the first day of production, Perth went into a five-day lockdown, and they had to shutdown.
Casting through lockdown was tricky too, but in some ways it ended up being a blessing; it meant they stumbled across recent WAAPA grad Virgona as he was “stuck in the state, unable to go anywhere”. West was the only cast member they flew in, after seeing her tape.
“Sara’s tape was amazing, because she managed to navigate both comedy, but also some of the really tender moments of the series.”
Iggy & Ace‘s entry into the world has been more blessed, with the series screening in France’s prestigious Series Mania, where it played in the web series competition.
Locally, it bowed at WA’s CinefestOz, with Ngo reporting a warm reception.
“I received a lot of really nice emails, after it happened,” she says. “We were told people laughed in the right places, so that’s good. That’s all you can hope for.”
As for what’s next, the producer has a busy slate.
Me and Her(pes), a 6 x 5′ romantic comedy created and written by Gemma Bird Matheson and Kasia Vickery, and directed by Vic Zerbst is currently on hiatus due to the Sydney lockdown.
The series, produced in partnership with LGBTIQ+ health organisation ACON and backed by Screen Australia, sees Matheso play Saffie, who, after discovering she has herpes, reaches out to Bek (Vickery), who has ghosted her since their one night stand.
Ngo is also producing animated short film Bird Drone, directed by Radheya Jegatheva and written by Clare Toonen. It follow a lonely seagull looking for love, who struggles to accept that his newfound object of affection is a human-operated drone with a limited battery life.
Lastly, she’s developing another short-form series via the Digital Originals initiative; Let Me Help, written and created by Emma Myers, Nina Oyama and Angus Thompson. It follows two strangers with cerebral palsy who, after watching their care workers hook up at a bar, are determined to explore their relationships with sex and each other.
However, Ngo is keen to use the next few months to have a small break and upskill creatively. One of the participants in Screenwest’s Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling initiative, she is currently being mentored by Lingo Pictures’ Tess Novak.
“With Tess, it’s about bridging the gap in some of my knowledge that she can help with and introducing me to new people. Then just being my ear when I need some advice in terms of where I’m going and what I want to do, which has been really nice. She’s really kind, warm and very generous.”
Going forward, Ngo wants to make more projects like Iggy & Ace – works that have a message, but engage.
“I’m particularly drawn to something that has a bit of comedy in it. To directly quote AB, whenever we do these interviews, ‘In life and in art, there is lightness and darkness’. So it’s about navigating what you’re trying to say, but also making it entertaining.”