Emma Fletcher on ‘The Heights’ set.

Viewers won’t know it when the second season of The Heights premieres on the ABC next year, but the 30-episode drama is being enhanced in both production design and cinematography.

The production is using a third studio in addition to the ABC’s two Perth studios which now houses the set of a pub (previously filmed on location in Northbridge) and a new community centre for the Arcadia Heights High School.

All that has enabled the writers to “grow our story world,” according to Matchbox Pictures’ Warren Clarke, who co-created the show with Que Minh Luu.

“By grouping these sets together we are able to shoot far more efficiently which then allows the show to get a bit bigger,” says Clarke, who produces the serial with For Pete’s Sake Productions’ Peta Astbury-Bulsara.

“We’re still heavily studio-based but splitting our studio time between these three studios lets us actually have a bit more location. The addition of the community centre gives us another great community space to play in and naturally generates a bunch of stories.”

Veteran production designer Emma Fletcher, who worked on the first series, has overseen the revamp. “Warren has given me great creative freedom to build a world from scratch,” she says. “I do make believe for a living: what a privilege. We laugh every day on the set.”

Jim Frater (Photo credit: Bohdan Warchomij).

The sets are four-sided and there are no boom mikes or floor lights, which enables DOP Jim Frater, who doubles as a camera operator, and three fellow camera operators, to shoot freely anywhere. In turn that means the crew films the stories as they unfold without actors having to hit their marks.

Fletcher has a great understanding with Frater, built up over their previous collaborations including James Bogle’s feature documentary Whiteley and the docs Desert War and Singapore 1942: End of an Empire.

Fulfilling the production’s aim for gender equality across all departments, this season two of the camera operators are female: Claire Leach and Meredith Lindsay, who was assistant camera on the first series.

Using hand-held Panasonic EVA1 cameras which are light on the shoulders, the crew shoots 11 minutes of footage on average each day. Frater calls the process “embracing the mayhem.”

He tells his camera operators to capture reactions from cast members when they are not looking, or as he puts it, “time to go hunting.” There are no focus pullers.

Clarke says: “Jim set out to create more of a docudrama style of shooting to help the show feel more grounded and truthful. It’s a really nice style that certainly came with challenges.”

Rupert Reid and Kelton Pell have joined the ensemble cast which includes Shari Sebbens, Roz Hammond, Fiona Press, Dan Paris, Calen Tassone, Saskia Hampele, Phoenix Raei and Yazeed Daher.

Directors Jub Clerc and Kelli Cross have boarded the production under its mentorship program.

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