Kate Dennis on the Calgary set of ‘Damnation.’
If there were an award for the hardest working, most travelled and in-demand Australian director in US and international TV drama, Kate Dennis would be a prime candidate.
Next month in New York she starts shooting an untitled, character-driven medical drama for NBC that follows the maverick director of the city’s Bellevue Hospital, her first US pilot.
Her burgeoning career got an adrenaline shot last year when she was nominated for a prime-time Emmy for The Handmaid’s Tale after directing episodes of multiple series including Fear the Walking Dead, CSI: Cyber, Suits and TURN: Washington’s Spies.
Last year Dennis was the set-up director of Harrow, Hoodlum’s 10-part crime drama commissioned by the ABC and Disney-owned ABC Studios International, which premieres in Oz on March 9.
Ioan Gruffudd plays Dr Daniel Harrow, a forensic psychologist who harbours a dark secret, alongside Mirrah Foulkes, Remy Hii, Darren Gilshenan, Anna Lise Phillips, Damien Garvey, Ella Newton, Hunter Page-Lochard and Robyn Malcolm.
Dennis was booked to direct an episode of Marvel/Netflix’s Jessica Jones when Hoodlum’s Tracey Robertson offered her the gig but she was initially reluctant. “I told Tracey that procedurals and me are probably not a good mix but I read the script and thought this one was different and out of the box,” she tells IF via Skype from her home in LA. “It’s very character-driven and there is the mystery of the man at its core. I was very attracted to it.”
She created the look and tone of the show co-created by Stephen M. Irwin and Leigh McGrath with Robert Humphreys, who was the DOP on the first five episodes (Simon Chapman shot the remainder).
Dennis directed the first episode while Tony Krawitz (The Kettering Incident), Tony Tilse (Wolf Creek, Underbelly), Daniel Nettheim (Doctor Who, Broadchurch), Peter Salmon (Doctor Doctor, Rake) each handled two and Catriona McKenzie (The Warriors) did one.
It was her third collaboration with Hoodlum following Secrets & Lies and the US remake of the crime series created by the prolific Irwin.
The NBC drama is inspired by Dr. Eric Manheimer’s memoir Twelve Patients: Life & Death at Bellevue Hospital, a facility billed as the only one in the world that can treat Ebola patients, prisoners from Rikers Island and the US President under one roof.
She’s excited to be collaborating with David Schulner (Desperate Housewives, Trauma, Emerald City), the writer/creator and co- executive producer, and co-executive producer Peter Horton, who set up Grey’s Anatomy.
The creative team includes DoP Stuart Dryburgh (who was Oscar-nominated for The Piano) and production designer Kristi Zea, a frequent collaborator with Martin Scorsese. She likens the tone to West Wing in a hospital.
Her US credits include I’m Dying Up Here, the Showtime comedy/drama set in the Los Angeles stand-up scene of the early 1970, which screened here on Stan; Damnation, a 1930s-set drama shot in Calgary about a preacher who rallies the townsfolk in Iowa to stand up against industrialists, which aired on the USA Network and on Netflix internationally; and GLOW, another Netflix show which revolves around US women wrestlers in the 1980s.
She also directed an episode of Heathers, a black comedy inspired by the 1988 movie of the same name, which will premiere in the US on the Paramount Network on March 7.
Dennis has just come back from Belfast where she directed Krypton, the story of Superman’s grandfather as he fights for justice on his home planet, for the Syfy channel. She was much impressed with the super-efficient showrunner, Australian Cameron Welch.
Asked about the criteria she uses when deciding whether or not to accept offers, particularly the barrage she has received since the Emmy nomination, she says, “I try to keep myself out of a genre box. I like taking all sorts of work. It can be a high-risk way to approach things but luckily it seems to have paid off.”