Film Victoria hands out two awards

21 March, 2014 by Press Release

Film Victoria presented producer Joanna Werner and experimental games developer Alexander Bruce with the Greg Tepper and Tim Richards awards for outstanding achievement in the Victorian screen industry last night.

Each year we present the awards to two practitioners at our Seen and Screened event, which recognises the efforts of those who’ve brought a project to the screen in the previous year.


This year's Greg Tepper Award went to Joanna Werner, co-creator, and producer of teen drama series DANCE ACADEMY, now seen in more than 130 countries. The Tim Richards Award went to local developer Alexander Bruce, whose mind-bending puzzle game ANTICHAMBER has sold more than half a million copies.

This week we chatted with Joanna Werner, co-creator and producer of DANCE ACADEMY and recipient of the 2013 Greg Tepper Award for outstanding achievement about the gift of fate, choreographing dance sequences and the importance of improving one's tennis serve.

Thanks for the chat Joanna! What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a ballerina, until I got my first pair of pointe shoes and realized that my ankles just weren’t up to it. I was 13 and devastated.

Was there a particular moment or person that inspired you to get into the industry?

Growing up in a town of 300 people in country Victoria I didn’t know anyone in the industry and was intending to be an engineer, but after an Engineering Summer School combined with a truly mind numbing Maths final year assessment piece, I realized I wanted to have the possibility of a more creative career.

University was my first introduction to film making and I was hooked. No one except my mum though will ever see my first short film.

What are some of the unique challenges of making a drama series for teens?

Pimples, breakups, weight fluctuations, tears. Potentially not unique to teen drama though.

Fate was involved in the production of Dance Academy, in that when you met writer Sam Strauss she was working on a script strikingly similar to your own idea of a teen drama set at an elite dance school. How important is it to have a creative partner that shares your vision?

On Dance Academy it was incredibly important. Instantly Sam and I knew that we wanted to make the same show and this didn’t change throughout the three seasons. A shared vision gave us the confidence to know that we were the right people to be making this particular show.

Dance Academy’s meticulously choreographed dance sequences have been widely praised. Can you give us an insight into how these sequences come together?

During pre-production we would go through each script and breakdown the dance requirements, selecting the right choreographer for each piece, along with music and choreographic references. The choreographer would then be thoroughly briefed on the dramatic and technical requirements of the piece and have an initial rehearsal with the cast members which would be filmed and reviewed by myself and the director to ensure it told the story and had maximum visual impact.

Often there wasn’t time for multiple rehearsals so tweaks would be made on the day of filming. The cast were such amazing troupers in doing take after take of at times really difficult and physically demanding pieces. The dance sequences also provided a challenge for all of the departments, which I think the crew came to really enjoy. It was an opportunity for every department to have real creative impact.

As co-creator, producer and exec producer of the series, what do you consider to be your most important role?

It’s probably a bit of a cliché but one of the things I am most proud of from my role on Dance Academy was bringing together such a talented team. We had a huge mix of incredibly experienced practitioners, like our DOP Martin McGrath, along with complete newbies like our lead actress Xenia who played Tara.

We found Xenia at an open audition, she was a 15 year old full time ballet student who didn’t have an agent and had never been on set before when we cast her. And pulling the money together, with the help of Exec Producer Bernadette O’Mahony, was also was pretty important.

Can you tell us about anything else you’re working on?

Over the past year we’ve been working really hard in development on a number of projects across various genres for teens and adults. One is a really exciting collaboration between my company and Blackfella Films. It’s a 13 part teen drama series which we have been developing with ABC3 and the ACTF, and we are hoping to go into production on this later this year.

Favourite thing to do in your spare time?

I’ve gotten back into tennis this summer and my brother and I have been playing whenever we can. We are equally terrible so most sets go to a tie breaker. As soon as I find my serve again I’m sure I will flog him.

If you could go back to the start of your career, what would you tell your younger self?

To try not to take it quite so seriously and not be so stressed. One of the fabulous things about getting older is the perspective that your life will not end and you won’t have ruined the entire series if you can’t get that specific director or song.