This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #148 (August-September).
The bar was lowered and now gets even lower. Controversial series Rake, which follows charismatic barrister Cleaver Greene’s legal misadventures, is currently assailing ABC viewers for a second time.
The first series, broadcast on ABC in late-2010, did well. It won lead actor Richard Roxburgh a Silver Logie for Outstanding Actor and the series attracted about 700,000 weeknight viewers, which the ABC considered good for an offbeat drama – enough to commission a second series.
Series two picks up where series one left off says producer (and former solicitor) Ian Collie from Essential Media & Entertainment. The story format is the same, with Cleaver defending a client each week – whom he knows to be guilty – intercut with episodes of his chaotic personal and family life.
The series continues to focus less on legal and police procedural elements than the typical legal drama and more on character and relationships, although the second series promises more twists and turns, says director-producer and co-creator Peter Duncan.
“The series holds the mirror up to the NSW Justice system. Cleaver Green is a sort of Australian legal version of Dr House,” according to Duncan. High production values are again in evidence. “We wanted it to look like a series of movies,” says Duncan.
Cinematographer Martin McGrath ACS (Muriel's Wedding, Packed to the Rafters) worked hard to achieve the look, aided by lightweight ARRI ALEXA cameras, which also made setups faster. The crew averaged between 9-11 minutes of screen time per day’s shoot.
The crew used two cameras – the second with a three-person camera crew – to cover each scene. While more expensive, it proved cheaper than having the entire crew come back for extra days shooting with one camera.
The city of Sydney with its glitz, glamour and seedy underbelly, features heavily: much of the filming was done in the district courts at Taylor Square and the old Sydney University law school at Philips Street in Sydney. (Other locations include interiors at the Stamford Plaza Hotel at Double Bay which double as barrister's rooms and other locations inside the NSW Parliament.)
The crew needed to move locations frequently, sometimes two or three locations in a single day's shoot, which added to the stress. “In many locations like the law courts, we had to film on weekends or sneak in after 4.30pm when there were no trials going on,” says Duncan.
Most of the key regular cast from the first series have returned including Matt Day as David Potter and Danielle Cormack as Scarlett. (Peter Duncan again shares directing credits with Rachel Ward, Jeffrey Walker, and Jessica Hobbs.)
The original idea for Rake was conceived by Roxburgh, barrister Charles Waterstreet and Duncan. They initially saw it as a series of three telemovies, but when (along with Collie) they pitched it to the ABC, they were told to develop it as a series of eight hour-long episodes.
Rake series one was financed with a presale from the ABC and an advance from ABC Commercial for the Australian and NZ DVD and pay-TV rights, plus an advance from UK-based international distributor DCD productions (DCD had previously part-financed the ABC series The Slap and Sisters of War).
“DCD were impressed with the quality of the scripts and the high-profile Australian actors involved,” says Collie. Guest stars in series one included Hugo Weaving, Lisa McCune, Sam Neill, Noah Taylor and Rachel Griffiths.
The ABC presale triggered funding from Screen Australia and Screen NSW which, along with proceeds from the Producer Offset rebate, made up the rest of the $7.3 million budget. The second series was financed in similar fashion.
In the US, Rake season two will be programmed on DirecTV’s Audience Network when the current season of Damages finishes. While the first series of Rake did not achieve a sale to a UK broadcaster, Collie hopes that the additional eight episodes of the second series will change that situation.
“It’s easier to sell 16 episodes rather than eight. Broadcasters tend to prefer longer series that they can more easily strip program,” he says.
Essential Media & Entertainment are negotiating with the ABC for a third series of Rake and Collie says that DirecTV have already agreed to finance a third season.
Rake is currently being broadcast on ABC1.
Essential Media & Entertainment’s Ian Collie and writer-creator-director Peter Duncan.