Gristmill’s Robyn Butler on Upper Middle Bogan s3 and two Little Lunch specials
Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope on the set of 2015 feature Now Add Honey.
Gristmill honcho, writer and producer Robyn Butler is currently in post on two Little Lunch specials (one due for Halloween and one at Christmas) as well as season three of Upper Middle Bogan. Last year Butler and her partner Wayne Hope released their first feature, Now Add Honey, directed by Hope and written, produced by and starring Butler. IF catches up with her on a break from the cutting room.
You’re in the middle of sound mix, is that right?
I’m back in picture post today, but yeah, sort of all over the place. I’m doing both Upper Middle Bogan season three and two Little Lunch specials. Gone are the days where you just make television shows; [now] you have to make 400 versions of online content and deliverables, so we’ve got four edits and I’m across [all of them].
So both are in post at the same time?
Yeah, because we shot at the same time. We got bundled into this idea that the ABC and ACTF talked us into – ‘just tack it onto the end of the Upper Middle Bogan shoot, do these little specials on the end’. It looks good on paper, and they said ‘John Edwards did that with such-and-such (laughs). Just move your crew over’. So we literally finished Upper Middle Bogan, had a week’s pre for Little Lunch and then shot it, so we’ve essentially been in post at the same time. Which has actually been fantastic.
How did that go, in terms of the shoot?
Well, apart from a really exhausted crew, it was really good. Upper Middle Bogan this time was really grueling, because we upped the stakes in terms of what we tried to shoot. And also we had a lot of cast restrictions, which meant we had to be out in the world a lot more. We weren’t able to film in the houses as much as we normally would because we just didn’t have the cast. So we had to create a lot of: while they’re doing that, we’re off doing that. So we were out on location a lot with a lot of moves, and that’s just really hard. The weather in Melbourne is always hard to shoot around, it’s always freezing. Having said all that, I don’t we’ve ever enjoyed ourselves as much. Everybody loved doing the work, and then shooting Little Lunch was delightful. That was at St Kilda Primary, and the great thing about that is that it’s contained and you don’t have any location moves and you’ve got one cast that doesn’t move around.
How long have you been in post?
We’ve been in post since the end of May, with Bogan at least, and I think we started Little Lunch mid-June, and then we’re in till mid-September. We’ll be done with Little Lunch sooner, because that’s only two half hours.
Are you writing anything else?
No we’re just cutting. I said to Wayne [Hope] the other day, this is the first time in five years that I haven’t had a script due. It’s so bizarre. Then again, I had to write 21 synopses this week. For the press kit. You need the program guide, and you need the press kit biogs – it’s like doing the VCE again. There’s plenty of writing to be done. And editing is still writing, too. It’s that fun stage, the last draft.
Having just made a feature, what’s it been like coming back in to the world of TV?
The best. The best. Oh my god, why did we ever leave (laughs).
Why? I’d imagine there’s even less time in TV.
Well, not creatively. Actually making the thing, it’s not that big a difference really. And what we make on Upper Middle Bogan is so hard and ambitious and striving to be the very best it can be, so in terms of creative achievement it’s very similar. But in terms of the control we have and the way we get to tell the stories, it’s fantastic and never to be underestimated.
Did you feel as though as though you had to be a bit broader in film? Is it a tonal thing?
Probably. I don’t know. I’ve done over 90 episodes of television and I’ve made one film. So I don’t know. I know that film requires marketing much more than television. People are still finding our show on Netflix right now. They’ll see it on the plane for the first time right now. And that’s okay. Increasingly the way we watch television is not on a Wednesday night. It’s anytime. It just doesn’t require the same marketing splash that film does.
Do you think you’ll ever venture back to feature territory?
If we thought an idea worked best on film, then I think we would. But at the moment we’ve got a lot of television ideas. And it’s the thing we consume the most: we watch television. It’s our preferred medium. So it’s where we’re going to stay for a while.
There’s a lot of talk this year about a lack of female characters due to the fewer number of female writers.
The statistics are that 21 percent of films are written by women. Of course you tell your own stories. You write what you know. Nobody sets out to be evil and misogynist. It’s at every level, it’s not just writers. It’s network executives, studio executives, people in funding bodies. We exist within a male paradigm. We just do. When you see an outback story, or a story about a criminal family, or a story about cop corruption, you just say: that’s a story that I know, that I’m used to seeing on film. But when you see a woman in the suburbs: oh, that’s a female story. Well, why? Because you’re used to seeing something and you never question [the fact] that those things are all male stories. That’s the world in which we live in.
Are there structural things that need to change? Is there a shortage of female writers or are they just not getting the gigs?
It’s both. These days, girls grow up with Amy Schumer, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler. All those people will grow up seeing those women who create their own shows. But when the last generation grew up, they saw Monty Python. They saw completely male-dominated landscapes. You have to grow up with it all around you to think that it’s normal. So there’s a whole generation of decision makers, not just writers, who go: I’m going to reach out to someone to tell that story. Tina Fey’s got a great anecdote in her book about trying to get an ad parody about sanitary pads on SNL, and it kept getting rejected. She kept putting it forward and the head writers kept saying no, and eventually she had to explain to them what it was like wearing a pad, because of course they didn’t know. But all the women in the world think it’s hilarious, and they eventually got to make it. But because boys don’t know that, they’re not going to think to put it on the screen. And they’re making the decisions. It’s as simple as that: ‘It’s not my universe’. But we’ve all been watching boys’ universes for a million years.
I would love to make more Upper Middle Bogan. I love it and the cast loves it, but it’s really hard to get everybody together because we’ve got eleven main cast and they’re all incredibly successful so everybody’s really busy. But otherwise we’ve had a really big five year period, and now we’re thinking about what our next five years will be. More comedy obviously, [plus] Wayne and I would love to do some drama. I think our shows do verge on the dramatic quite often, so we would love to get into that landscape. We’re in a really privileged position where we can go, let’s just take some time and see what’s next. We’ve got to work out what we want to say; what’s out there in the world that’s interesting.