‘Outback Opal Hunters’ (Photo credit: Prospero Productions).
Prospero Productions has responded nimbly and creatively to the coronavirus pandemic with the Discovery commissions Outback Truckers and Outback Opal Hunters.
The Perth-based factual production house headed by Julia Redwood and Ed Punchard had almost finished filming the eighth series of Outback Truckers when travel restrictions were imposed in March.
To carry out the six shoots remaining, they had two-person crews “tag-teaming,” one following the truckers in Western Australia, the other taking over when they crossed into the Northern Territory.
“It was very difficult and we had to think outside the box,” Redwood told Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner in a webinar on Wednesday.
“Nothing stops a producer when you are in production. One trucker who was in the vulnerable group did not want the director in the cab so we Go-Pro’d him, gave him an earpiece and he virtually directed himself.”
On season four of Outback Opal Hunters, two-person crews started filming in April in Coober Pedy, Lightning Ridge, Opalton and White Cliffs. The interstate crews had to self-isolate for two weeks in towns such as Dubbo and were tested for the virus before they went to the locations.
Redwood said production budgets had to increase to cover higher costs including hotel accommodation, but Discovery had been very understanding and supportive.
The producer sees a great opportunity for Australian factual filmmakers during the pandemic to make content for broadcasters worldwide.
Asked about the current attitude of networks towards commissioning, she said: “We are still in a transition period where broadcasters are working out their world and what they need.
“They are contracting because of costs and looking at acquisitions and they’re not quite sure what audiences want yet until COVID-19 pans out.”
Deaner observed that as documentary and children’s animation production has continued, there was no justification for the Federal Government to suspend the sub-quotas on their genres.
The producer said she favours option three of the Screen Australia/ACMA options paper.
That model would see all commercial content service providers including subscription services invest a percentage of revenue into new Australian content and the Producer, Location and PDV offsets harmonised at a single rate across all platforms
She isn’t sure how the mooted Australian Production Fund would be structured but argued against establishing another bureaucracy.