Tag Archives: Dead Lucky

Hunt for a killer

Cops and criminals collide in Dead Lucky, a four-part drama that weaves several storylines around the hunt for a dangerous murderer. Muriel’s Wedding and Six Feet Under star Rachel Griffiths tells DQ more about the series and her ambitions behind the camera.

Sometimes it seems like actors have the best jobs in the world. Spending months filming in exotic locations such as Caribbean island Guadeloupe (Death in Paradise), Corfu (The Durrells) or Sri Lanka (The Good Karma Hospital) surely can’t seem like working at all.

For Australian actor Rachel Griffiths, however, paradise was much closer to home. “Shooting October and November in Sydney is heaven, really,” she says. “I felt guilty getting a pay packet. It’s so gorgeous.”

The state capital of New South Wales serves as the location of SBS crime drama Dead Lucky, with iconic backdrops such as the Sydney Opera House on show from the very beginning of the four-part miniseries. Created by Ellie Beaumont and Drew Proffitt, the show follows a number of interlinked storylines, centred around two feuding detectives and their hunt for a killer.

Grace Gibbs (Griffiths) is obsessed with catching the armed robber who murdered her junior officer. But Charlie Fung (Yoson An), her new trainee, blames Grace for the death of his best friend. Meanwhile, a group of international students living in a shared house think they have found paradise and a couple of greedy convenience store owners resort to deadly measures to defend their business, all while a violent fugitive is hiding on the outskirts of the city. Set across one week, Dead Lucky sees the paths of these characters collide, leaving two people dead and one missing.

Rachel Griffiths as Grace Gibbs

Directed by David Caesar, it is a Subtext Pictures production and will air on SBS in July. DRG is handing international distribution.

With so many Australian dramas mining classic IP – including remakes and spin-offs of Picnic at Hanging Rock, Romper Stomper, Mystery Road, Wolf Creek and Wake in Fright – Dead Lucky stands out as an original tale packed full of contemporary issues.

“I have worked with these writers before and we had that thing where we went, ‘It would be really good to do something else together,’” Griffiths says. “Well, that’s what I thought and thankfully they felt the same. I like to play on old tropes – who doesn’t like a buddy cop film? And then I loved that it’s a bit new Australia, old Australia, but it’s also within the context that this woman [Gibbs] has had to break the same perceptions, misconceptions and prejudices that this young guy will, in the same profession. It’s a great, interesting common ground.

“I also loved the idea of this girl in a mid-life crisis point. Her career is not where she thought it was and she’s at a critical moment. Does she hang in there until she gets to retirement, or does she find her mojo again and find a way to keep believing in what she’s doing? I found that great.”

Gibbs is also very angry. Grieving the loss of her partner, both personally and professionally, she is forced to attend anger-management sessions that only serve to fuel the fire within her. “For people who work on the front line, like ambulance drivers or first responders, they can go for years and then, one day, something sticks and they can’t move on,” Griffith says. “I guess it’s that whole PTSD thing where it’s so trite to be sent to a counsellor who has no idea what’s required to do those jobs. The fact is you can’t get all internal and ‘snowflakey’ because you’ve got to go back out into the war zone. And yet, if you don’t do the interior work and acknowledge you have experienced trauma, you will get to a point where that work is no longer possible.

“But she’s also angry because the guy she needs to catch is out there. At that point, it’s her motivator, so to reduce your anger would be demotivating. From the cops I talk to, they have open cases where they know who’s out there and justice hasn’t been served. Anger is a motivator.”

With so many TV serial killers on the loose, it’s also notable that the murderer in Dead Lucky has no motivation or back story. Put simply, he is a senseless maniac with no apparent reason for his crimes. “We thought it was interesting following not the arch serial killers of The Bridge or the noir shows but the ordinary drugged-up psychopath who just ruins so many lives with no masterplan, just his random acts of inhumane violence,” Griffiths explains. The showrunners learned from police that such criminals “impact on society much more than these clever serial killers we’ve all been following,” she adds.

Caesar previously directed Griffiths in 1993 TV movie The Feds, about the police hunt for a couple suspected of fraud. She describes him as a “great stylist and a real Aussie bloke, who has lovely insight and compassion yet he’s very ballsy.” The director oversaw two weeks of rehearsals for Dead Lucky, during which Griffiths was put through cop training, while she and her on-screen partner An spent time together to build up their ‘buddy’ relationship.

Griffiths alongside her Dead Lucky co-star Yoson An

“My very first job with this director was also as a cop,” she says. “I’m not a natural street cop but the detective stuff, as I’ve become a more mature actor, felt much more right.”

Griffiths also praises the collaborative nature of making Dead Lucky, revealing that the creators brought her into the fold a year before shooting. “They wanted my input at that point,” she says. “It wasn’t huge but I kept trying to nail the thesis of the show, and that’s where we got to this female mid-life crisis, which is not explored very much. Often it’s the man at the middle of his career and his drinking.”

Drama characters are now more layered and complex than ever, but it was Griffiths’ experience starring in HBO’s Six Feet Under that opened her eyes to the possibilities television offers.

“In the early days of quality premium cable, it was really illuminating to discover the joy of finding layers and layers, and to do that over several seasons was a privilege I never expected,” she explains. “The two casts that I did five years on [Six Feet Under and ABC drama Brothers & Sisters], coming back for the next season was so wonderful because you start with fresh storylines and fresh momentum but your relationships are much deeper. I’m loving that on Game of Thrones and The Crown and Broadchurch. There’s a certain comfort that comes over time, which is really great. We were just hitting that at the end of episode four [of Dead Lucky].”

Griffiths is also stepping up behind the camera. Having directed three episodes of Nowhere Boy season two, she is now in pre-production for Ride Like a Girl, a movie about Michelle Payne, the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup.

Griffiths is also well known for starring in HBO drama Six Feet Under

“I love the problem-solving and I love telling stories,” the actor says about her approach to directing. “I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller as much as an actor and I think we’re in a really exciting moment for the stories that are being told and the perspectives they’re being told from. And I love working with the crafts people in my industry and harnessing their collective brilliance.

“I don’t come from an auteur place; I’m very much about listening to the best idea in the room and I love problem-solving in real time. I’m not one of those directors who just gathers this stuff and discusses it in the editing room and can’t wait for the shoot to be over. I like being out there in the mud and dealing with the advancing Russian army. One hour at a time at the moment.”

But for a certain generation, Griffiths is still best known for starring as Rhonda in comedy-drama movie Muriel’s Wedding. The 1994 film maintains a cult following, with Muriel’s Wedding: The Musical opening in Sydney in November 2017.

“I couldn’t stop crying the whole way through the show,” she reveals of watching the musical. “It was kind of embarrassing because the audience kept turning to watch me crying. It was very emotional but it’s a fantastic show, it’s sold out down here. I’m hoping that, like Priscilla [Queen of the Desert, the hit musical], it will go global and I think it delivers everything people are going to want from it.”

Now 24 years on from its original release, Muriel’s Wedding still stands out as a story about female friendship, principally between Rhonda and Toni Collette’s Muriel, who dreams of being a bride. Griffiths credits its success to creator and director PJ Hogan, who chose not to view women through the male gaze.

“It was so much about women finding themselves and friendship being at the core, rather than romantic love,” she notes. “A bit like My Best Friend’s Wedding, which he went on to make, it shifted the object within that romantic comedy genre. When coming-of-age films really capture the torture and the joie de vivre, the audience can relate to that moment and carry the film with them as a personal reference.”

For Griffiths, stories about female relationships are sorely lacking, except for recent Oscar nomineee Lady Bird, written and directed by Greta Gerwig, which focuses on the relationship between a mother and daughter.

“It truly is a woman’s most significant relationship and it can ruin you and it can make you, and to see that explored on film is incredibly rare,” Griffiths adds. “Whereas father-son relationships have been seen since The Godfather because men know how important that relationship is for men. It’s only now women are making films that they think, ‘Well this is the most interesting relationship to make a film about.’”

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Diversity down under

Chris Irvine, head of production and commercial at SBS, takes DQ inside the Australian broadcaster to reveal its drama strategy, his thoughts on the scripted television business and how he is developing new series in partnership with head of drama Sue Masters.

How would you describe your current drama strategy?
Sue Masters, head of scripted, and I have been working together on SBS’s drama strategy for the past couple of years. SBS is one of the smaller commissioning networks in Australia and our ability to commission drama is limited by the size of our content budgets. However, we have made a commitment to commission three four-part drama series a year. Four-parters have worked really well for our schedule and we are likely to continue to develop to that model.
It’s also a model that makes economic sense for SBS, owing not simply to the production costs themselves but also to the associated increased marketing expenses that come with longer-running franchises.

Chris Irvine

What has been your biggest success?
We have enjoyed significant success with our four-part series strategy. The Principal (produced by Essential Media) was the progenitor of the model and we have since commissioned Deep Water (Blackfella Films), The Sunshine Kings (Easy Tiger), Safe Harbour (Matchbox Pictures, pictured top) and Dead Lucky (Subtext Pictures). They are all four-parters, and there are more on the horizon.

How would you describe the current state of the television drama industry?
Much has already been written of the fact we are living in a golden age of TV drama. Our ability to commission drama is fuelled by invaluable partnerships with Screen Australia – the federal government screen agency, which is also the custodian of Australia’s screen tax subsidy – and state agencies, plus increasingly competitive distribution advances made against the value of rest-of-world sales.

What’s the greatest challenge facing your business?
SBS has a charter mandate to explore, appreciate and celebrate diversity and showcase content that contributes to a cohesive society. That mandate provides a laser focus for our commissioning strategy, but it is sometimes a hard target to hit. We make a substantial investment in our development slate to make sure we’re always commissioning to that charter focus.

The Sunshine Kings has been commissioned as part of SBS’s four-part series strategy

What are the biggest changes affecting the drama business?
In Australia there is a shallow pool of experienced writing talent and directors, and the demand on their time is compounded by the lure of the big UK and US shows. We have a responsibility to develop the next generation of Australian creative talent, and through SBS’s diversity lens we have a responsibility to develop and escalate careers of writing and directing talent, and screen professionals generally, from underrepresented backgrounds.
SBS has implemented a diversity talent escalator programme to escalate the careers of diverse screen practitioners. Australia is an incredibly diverse society and we ultimately want to commission filmmakers to make shows that are representative of the Australian audience that watches them.

What’s your coproduction strategy and what obstacles do you face?
SBS is absolutely open to the possibility of co-commissioning with international networks. Given the increasing pressure on ‘traditional’ sources of drama funding in Australia – the pressures on the Screen Australia budgets, for example, have never been more acute – finding ways to co-commission and coproduce drama are likely to be paramount to the longevity of our commissioning strategy.
The challenge we face is that while we develop projects across a broad range of themes and genres, everything we make needs also to respond to our charter mandate. As such, we are looking for opportunities to develop as well as commission shows with international partners, so they can develop organically to fit both schedules.

Forthcoming drama Deep Water is being made by Blackfella Films

Tell us about your development process.
Development is a key pillar of our drama strategy and we have a policy of developing to a 3:1 ratio: for every three shows we develop, only one will be greenlit for production. Drama requires a substantial level of investment, both from a direct financial perspective and the weeks, months and sometimes years involved in realising a show’s potential.
For SBS, a drama series also has to hit a very specific tone and respond to our charter mandate to explore, celebrate and appreciate diversity; to shine a light on the fault lines of society and explore social cohesion in all its forms. And that’s a hard brief to execute without veering into worthy or didactic content. We will spend time and money on development to make sure we’re backing the very best projects – rather than the ones that might be ‘ready.’

How early do you join a producer or writer in development?
There is no hard-and-fast rule to this, but we generally board a project at the very beginning. For the most part, we will develop a production team to engage writers and so on, but we do have an in-house development team that will work directly with writers too.

Subtext Pictures’ Dead Lucky is another four-parter

What role do you play in development and into production?
We are very hands-on. For us, drama commissioning is a partnership in every sense of the word. Sue Masters executive produces all our drama commissions, and our development team will work with producers and writers across initial research, treatments and all draft scripts. We play an active role in the story room.

How has your development process changed over the last few years?
It’s much more structured that it was previously. We are constantly on the lookout for ideas and projects that can explore Australia’s multicultural society in new and engaging ways. Diversity is in our DNA so we naturally want the most diverse slate of projects possible. I cannot imagine SBS has ever enjoyed a more robust slate of drama projects in development than it currently has.

How will things be different five years from now?
We are already seeing the seismic contribution the on-demand platforms have made to the drama production landscape. Our hope is that the increased volume of drama content being produced continues its current trajectory and that we see a commensurate growth in the next generation of talented Australian writers, directors and producers from more diverse backgrounds.

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