Richard Roxburgh and Rowan Woods (Photo credit: Andy Baker).

As the Barnaby Joyce scandal was unfolding, shooting of the fifth series of the ABC’s Rake started in Canberra, depicting events which are eerily similar in real life.

Richard Roxburgh’s Cleaver Greene has taken his seat in an unruly Parliament as an independent Senator thanks to the combination of the donkey vote and voters who mistook him for a Greens candidate.

Greene is ill-prepared: he does not have a platform and can’t see why he needs one.

“The amazing thing about reading the scripts by Peter Duncan and Andrew Knight three months before we started shooting is their Nostradamus currency,” says Rowan Woods, the set-up director who helmed the first two episodes.

“When Cleaver goes to Canberra so much of what happen – which I can’t reveal – is transpiring now. As the Barnaby Joyce saga continued last week and before that I was shocked and surprised how much of the first episode actually refers to that.

“There are certainly aspects of the Joyce affair and Michaelia Cash as well which are mirrored in the show. It’s surprisingly current.”

Produced by Easy Tiger and Blow by Blow, the series introduces a host of new characters – the Prime Minister, Senators and ComCar drivers – played by Jane Turner, Anthony LaPaglia, William McInnes, Helen Thomson, Jacek Koman, Tony Briggs and John Gaden.

Among those returning are Kate Box, Matt Day, Adrienne Pickering, Caroline Brazier, Keegan Joyce, Damien Garvey, Sonia Todd and Tasma Walton.

“The funny, high-stakes aspects of the New South Wales court room have been transmogrified into the realms of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove,” says Woods, who has been with the show from the start and has clocked eight episodes.

“When Greene does stupid, crazy and brilliant things on the world stage, when the lives of the human race are at stake, you have a very different Rake.”

The other episodes were directed by Matt Saville and AFTRS graduates Shannon Murphy and Jennifer Leacey.

Woods juggled his Rake responsibilities with his role as head of directing at the Australian Film, Television & Radio School since 2016.

Woods and the other new heads of department including Roland Gallois (editing), Peter Herbert (producing), Rachel Landers (documentary) and music (Cameron Patrick) signed on for six years to enable them to bed down the new curriculums including the Bachelor of Arts Screen Production degree and post-graduate Master of Arts Screen.

“It was a really good moment to come in because we were starting from scratch and AFTRS was responding to an extremely extensive industry survey which was not wholly positive about what had happened in the previous 10 years,” he says.

An AFTRS graduate himself, his extensive credits include the features The Boys and Little Fish (the latter written by his wife Jacquelin Perske), the telepic The Broken Shore and numerous TV series including The Kettering Incident, Hunters, Nowhere Boys, The Straits and Farscape.

His primay focus is teaching MA students. Last year he arranged attachments for his six MA directing students to join him on Rake series 4.

One of the challenges he sees in tertiary education is how to connect with directors who are working in the online sphere. “It is yet to be determined how many of our future MA students will be directing like me or, in smaller teams, online content,” he says.

“You would be surprised at the number of small-team contractors who are making a really good living from creating online content for commercial, public or private institutions.”

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