Every Cloud Productions’ Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is one of Aussie TV’s most successful recent exports, having sold to more than 170 territories. The format has also been acquired in China, spawned a video game, and later this year, Every Cloud will begin shooting a feature adaptation for which more than $1 million of the budget was raised through crowdfunding.
One of the key elements to Miss Fisher’s appeal, according to producer Fiona Eagger, is that it is driven by a strong, female protagonist.
While set after World War I, Phryne Fisher, played by Essie Davis, is in many ways a contemporary woman, Eagger tells IF.
“She is like this first independent woman that isn’t married, is independently wealthy, has a social conscience and takes control of things for herself.
“She’s not the damsel waiting to be rescued, she rescues people. [She’s] quite a feminist character but isn’t didactic. She’s not judgmental, she’s quite glamorous, she’s got a lot of sense of fun – [that] has really captured the imagination of lots of people around the world.”
Eagger will give the opening address at this Friday’s Screen Makers Conference & Marketplace in Adelaide, where she will talk about her career, gender equity and cultivating diverse voices on screen.
Every Cloud, which has also produced East of Everything, The Gods of Wheat Street, Newton’s Law and Deadlock, was founded by Eagger together with business partner Deb Cox.
As two women, Eagger says it is natural that they tend to gravitate towards female-driven stories and creatives; the third season of Miss Fisher had a 75 per cent female crew. That was something she says happened organically, but once they realised, it was something they wanted to continue to promote.
Earlier this year, the company ran a campaign called Women in Front to celebrate women it has worked with on and off camera including actors like Davis, Georgina Naidu and Miranda Tapsell, and directors like Kate Dennis, Daina Reid, Jennifer Leacey and Emma Freeman.
“We’ve also worked with some fabulous male directors and we’ll continue to do so. [But] it is something we’re mindful of, it is something that we’re proud of – that we do try and promote women behind and in front of the camera. That’s a little ethic, but it’s just inherent in who we are,” Eagger says.
As a company, Every Cloud also runs attachment schemes via partnerships with organisations and institutions like VCA, RMIT and Screenworks, which sees an observer sit in every writers room, and it has mandated that a percentage of those will be female or from a background traditionally underrepresented in the screen industry.
“Our stories won’t change until our writers’ room starts reflecting more fully the Australia we live in,” Eagger says.
She is dismayed by what she sees as a current lack of female protagonists on Australian TV screens, in addition to the fact that protagonists tend to be very “white bread”. She is keen to see television – including that produced by Every Cloud – better mirror the population both on and off screen.
“We’re such a multicultural society; our cities are so rich in different religious and cultural backgrounds. Why are those stories so tokenistic on our screens? For me, going forward, that’s something I’d like to think about more and try to start addressing.”
Every Cloud is also passionate about creating stories that stem organically out of communities, of which its most recent show Deadlock is an example: it was conceived, developed and shot in NSW’s Northern Rivers, where the company also produced East of Everything and The Gods of Wheat Street.
Deadlock, a 5 x 12 minute youth-focused series for ABC iview, is based on a concept by EP Cox and was written and directed by Billie Pleffer. It follows a mysterious car crash which changes the lives of the teenagers it affects and each episode follows a different perspective.
The story is inspired by a real life tragedy; a car crash that happened in the region around a decade ago in which four teenagers died.
When researching the concept for the show further, both Cox and Eagger realised there were few places in the Australian broadcast landscape for a raw and serious youth drama.
“Deb just went: Why isn’t anyone telling these stories, and where are our young adults going to see themselves on screen?” Eagger says.
Both had loved the UK’s edgy E4 drama Skins, which was co-written and co-created by Bryan Elsley with his son Jamie Brittain. In 2015, they brought out Elsley to help lead a script lab for Deadlock in Byron in conjunction with multiplatform writer Mike Jones (who would go on to script produce), local Indigenous writer Jon Bell and the now stars of the show Danny and Michael Philippou (aka Youtube’s RackaRacka).
Cox and Eagger put a call out for emerging writers to participate in the lab and received 200 applications. The six who were selected were Pleffer, Michelle Law, Lucy Campbell, Seaton Kay-Smith, Shane Salvador and Tim Logan.
In addition, they invited in 16-18 year olds from the region as a “youth bank”.
“They were in the writers room, and they were invited to tell their stories. Bryan put us through our paces of how you generate stories and make it authentic. We kept that all through the production,” Eagger says.
Deadlock stars a range of new on screen talent from across the Northern Rivers including Bijou Gracie Henry, Audrey Spence, Paddy Swain, Theodore Bourgoin, Sophia Wright and Ned Sack. Regional screen organisation Screenworks also raised money locally to support nine attachments for practitioners aged 18-27 across directing, the production office, as well as the art, camera, sound, lighting, grip, costume and makeup departments.
“There was this mix of less and experienced and experienced people, and young performers, and it’s created what I think is a really intense, authentic, exceptional experience. We couldn’t be prouder of Deadlock,” says Eagger.
“It’s a different sort of Australian show; I don’t think there’s anything else like it coming out of Australia. It would be wrong to say our equivalent of Skins but it’s not far off it. It reflects the area.”