(L-R) Peta Astbury-Bulsara, Que Minh Luu and Warren Clarke (Photo credit: Bohdan Warchomij).
The ABC had greenlit the development of The Heights when Que Minh Luu, who co-created the drama serial with Warren Clarke, was alerted to a job vacancy at the public broadcaster.
Sally Riley, the ABC’s head of drama, comedy and Indigenous, suggested Luu apply for the role of an executive producer.
That presented a dilemma for the Matchbox Pictures development executive. “On one hand I was keen to see the show through to completion,” she tells IF. “On the other hand I wanted to get into producing, jobs like that are rare and I may not have had the opportunity again.”
So she applied, got the position and continued to oversee the 30-episode production from Matchbox and Peta Astbury-Bulsara’s For Pete’s Sake Productions as an EP.
Clarke and Luu had set up the writers room and built the structure of the serial’s world – a public housing tower block in a rapidly gentrifying area – when she departed for the ABC.
At the ABC EPs get approval of key cast and crew and the scripts. She deliberately avoided visiting the set in Perth for the first week of filming but after that was a frequent visitor.
She could not be happier with the ratings and audience reactions, noting many people binge-watched the first block of 16 episodes, and is hopeful of a renewal. The second block screens in July.
After obtaining a media studies degree Luu worked for years as an editor on a raft of shows including Wonderland, Maximum Choppage, The Strange Calls, Laid, A Gurls Wurld and Blue Water High.
As much as she enjoyed editing she felt it was a fairly isolated environment at the end of the production process. Debbie Lee, Matchbox’s director of scripted development, gave her a break, inviting her into the writers room on The Family Law.
The idea for The Heights was inspired partly by Luu’s experiences growing up in public housing in Western Sydney and by her fascination with how gentrification is changing the environment in inner cities.
Depicting a wide diversity of the characters in the soap – including Indigenous, Iranian, Vietnamese, gay and disabled – was gratifying for Luu, who says: “When I was growing up I did not see people like me on TV.”
Among the shows on which she is serving as an EP is Frayed, which stars UK-based Australian comedian Sarah Kendall as Sammy Cooper, a wealthy London housewife who is forced to return to her hometown in Australia, where she must revisit her past and the events that led her to flee as a teenager years earlier.
The six-part comedy drama is a co-production between Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford’s Merman Television and Kevin Whyte’s Guesswork Television, the first co-commission by the ABC and the UK’s Sky TV.
Based on Ben Phillips’ blog and e-book, Diary of an Uber Driver stars Rosehaven’s Sam Cotton as Ben, an Uber driver and Zahra Newman as Beck, the mother of his unborn child, directed by Matthew Moore and produced by Martha Coleman and Lauren Edwards for RevLover Films.
Also on her watch is Content, billed as Australia’s first ever vertical video comedy which is intended to be watched on mobile phones. Created by Ludo Studio, the show is set on the home screen of Lucy, a millennial who promises her online fans everything they ever wanted – a partner, a career, love and contentedness – while struggling to achieve any of that herself.
This year Luu is being mentored by US executive producer Betsy Beers (Grey’s Anatomy, How to Get Away with Murder) as part of Australians in Film (AiF) and Screen Australia’s Mentor LA program. “Betsy is very cool, a tough lady boss,” she says.
As a founding member of the Australian Writers’ Guild’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Committee, together with Niki Aken, Kodie Bedford, Jaime Browne, Mithila Gupta and Benjamin Law, she says: “There has been a marked change, but there is still a lot of hard work to do.”