Tag Archives: Hoodlum Entertainment

High tide

Netflix’s first original Australian series, Tidelands, is a novel twist on popular mythology. Tracey Robertson and Nathan Mayfield, co-founders of producer Hoodlum Entertainment, tell DQ how the sirens-focused show came together.

When Australian author Stephen M Irwin first met with Tracey Robertson and Nathan Mayfield (pictured above with actor Elsa Pataky), the co-founders of Brisbane-based prodco Hoodlum Entertainment, they suggested a TV series about sirens – mythological creatures who lure sailors to their deaths with their enchanted music and singing.

By happy coincidence, Irwin, whose second novel had just been published, had compiled a sizeable dossier on the mythology of these creatures in various cultures around the world for his next novel, set on an icebreaker in Antarctica. Irwin immediately came up with a fresh angle for Tidelands. The series would focus on a group of young people who are the children of humans and sirens, combined with a young woman who returns to that world after her father dies, hoping to get her hands on the inheritance.

The concept was fleshed out in meetings between Irwin, Robertson, Mayfield and Hoodlum producer/writer Leigh McGrath. “We spent a good few days in a room nutting out the story we wanted to tell, unpacking the world of sirens but with no tails or scales,” Mayfield says. “We knew we were not going to make a monster story or The Little Mermaid. We wanted to get to the emotional heart of the story of the characters who were the bastard offspring of sirens and humans.”

Catriona McKenzie (director) with Brazilian actor Marco Pigossi

That was in 2013, but the Hoodlum partners and Irwin had to put the project on the shelf while they embarked on crime series Secrets & Lies for Australia’s Network Ten, followed by the US remake for the Disney-owned ABC network. Irwin also scripted the Lingo Pictures miniseries Wake in Fright for Ten and Hoodlum’s feature film Australia Day for Foxtel. Then came Harrow, Hoodlum’s crime drama starring Ioan Gruffudd for ABC Studios International and Oz pubcaster the ABC.

In between these projects, Irwin wrote the bible and the first episode of Tidelands, which the LA-based Robertson pitched to Kelly Luegenbiehl, Netflix VP of international originals, last year.

“I told Kelly the show is about a group of people who live on the outskirts of town, who are disenfranchised and different and crave privacy,” Robertson says. “I felt it was something that is very relevant now. She loved the genre and the fact it is set in the world of mythology and is sexy and fun.”

Within a week, Luegenbiehl had commissioned the show, Netflix’s first original Australian series. The Hoodlum execs had known Luegenbiehl since she worked at the US ABC network, where she acquired the format rights to their first production, comedy mystery drama Fat Cow Motel, in 2004. In 2015 she then commissioned Hoodlum’s first US show, Strange Calls, a remake of the Oz comedy created by Daley Pearson.

For Tidelands, Irwin wrote five of the supernatural thriller’s eight episodes and co-wrote another with emerging writer Chris Squadrito. McGrath penned the other two.

Charlotte Best as Cal McTeer (left) and director Emma Freeman on set

In the biggest role of her career, Charlotte Best (Puberty Blues, Home & Away) plays protagonist Cal McTeer, a street-smart, sexy and sharp-tongued young woman who returns home to the small fishing village of Orphelin Bay after years in juvenile detention for manslaughter. Best was on the shortlist when Robertson had lunch with her US manager, Circle of Confusion’s Charles Mastropietro, who pressed her claim. Best came in for a chemistry test, as did all the key cast, and, according to Robertson, the actor was “mind-blowing.”

The plot centres on Cal as she aims to collect the inheritance of her late father, who led a group of smugglers and had shielded her from the truth of the Tidelanders – the children of the sailors and fishermen lured to their deaths after hearing the sirens’ song. Orphans, they don’t know the identity of their mothers and live in a hippie-style shanty town away from the Orphelin Bay residents.

Another major plotline is the dynamic between Cal, her uncaring mother Rosa (Caroline Brazier) and Adrielle, the self-proclaimed Queen of the Tidelanders. The latter is played by The Fast & The Furious’s Elsa Pataky, who Robertson had wanted for the part from the off.

Aaron Jakubenko (The Shannara Chronicles, Spartacus: War of the Damned) is Augie McTeer, Cal’s fisherman brother, with Peter O’Brien (Glow, Winter) as deckhand Bill Sentelle and Mattias Inwood as Corey Welch, the local cop and Cal’s former flame. Marco Pigossi and Madeleine Madden (Picnic at Hanging Rock, Mystery Road) play Tidelanders, and Hunter Page-Lochard (Harrow, Cleverman) is a fisherman/smuggler from Orphelin Bay.

Tidelands marks the English-speaking debut of Brazilian actor Pigossi, who has a multi-title deal with Netflix, including Brazilian original Invisible Cities. Robertson says: “He plays Dylan, which was a difficult role to cast because he is strong, sophisticated and sexy but also subservient to Adrielle. Kelly suggested him, we looked at him and we loved him.”

Exec producers Nathan Mayfield and Tracey Robertson

The first two episodes were directed by New Zealander Toa Fraser, who has helmed instalments of Daredevil and Iron Fist for Netflix and previously collaborated with Jakubenko and Inwood on The Shannara Chronicles. “We just hit it off,” Robertson says of meeting Fraser, who was hired after impressing the producers with his showreel. “He was so passionate about the project. We wanted to work with people who are as excited about it as we are.”

Catriona McKenzie and Daniel Nettheim, who both worked on Harrow, and Emma Freeman each directed two episodes. Robertson had long wanted to work with Freeman and was particularly impressed by her expertise on Glitch, Matchbox Pictures’ supernatural series for the ABC, on which Netflix has been the coproducer on the second and third seasons.

The 16-week shoot happened in and around Brisbane, supported by Screen Queensland, on a healthy budget that matched the ambitions of the producers. “We shot on water, underwater and at night – all those things that cost money,” Robertson says.

The Australian actors spoke in their natural accents and there are references to Brisbane, so it is an identifiably Aussie show, albeit partly set in a hitherto unknown world. There were three DOPs: Katie Milwright (Celeste, The Space Between), Robert Humphreys (Harrow, Secrets & Lies) and Bruce Young (Bite Club, Sunshine). Production designer Matthew Putland and costume designer Tess Schofield also both worked on Harrow.

Tidelands was Hoodlum’s first production not to include recaps at the start of each episode, recognising that many Netflix subscribers binge-view shows, but there are still plenty of cliffhangers. The producers enjoyed the collaboration with Netflix, noting there were no creative disagreements. “Netflix had approval on the casting and gave notes on the script and footage – but no more so than any other studio or broadcaster we’ve worked with,” Mayfield says. “It was never heavy-handed. They brought a lot of currency to the project because there was so much interest around their first original Australian series.”

A writer with a prodigious output, Irwin can churn out as many as 12 pages a day after weeks of plotting and structuring, followed by extensive rewrites. “As they say, the secret of writing is rewriting,” he notes. “We wanted the show to be grounded and gritty – so when people die, they die painful deaths. In many ways, it’s rough and bloody, but it’s also very sensual and sexy.”

Robertson says: “It’s a big new world with a really well thought-out mythology. At its heart, it’s the story of a girl who comes back to her home town and tries to find her place in the world. While she is trying to discover who she is, she finds out the people she thought were her people are not her people, and the story she’d been told about her life is not really the truth. It’s also the story of a triangle of three women – Cal, Rosa and Adrielle – who are trying to find their place and become queen of their domain.”

Hoodlum’s aim for Tidelands, as with all its productions, is for a returning series. “We started with such amazing material that we think we have enough stories for many seasons,” Mayfield adds.

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Talking to the dead

Ioan Gruffudd investigates the truth behind a series of mysterious deaths in Australian crime drama Harrow. DQ hears more about the show from Hoodlum producer Tracey Robertson and Sally Riley, head of scripted production at broadcaster the ABC.

Ioan Gruffudd is used to dealing with dead bodies. In US network ABC’s fantasy drama Forever, he played Dr Henry Morgan, an immortal New York medical examiner who uses his knowledge to help solve crimes and seek a way to end his immortality.

Sally Riley

Now he is back on screen as another medical examiner, Dr Daniel Harrow, in a new crime drama commissioned by Australian pubcaster the ABC. The series, called Harrow, follows a brilliant forensic pathologist who can solve cases others can’t. But when a secret from his past threatens his career and family, he needs to use all his genius to keep one crime buried forever.

Described as smart and impatient, a dedicated scientist and a maverick rule-breaker, Harrow knows he’s the best pathologist around and won’t stop until he uncovers the truth about why people have died.

The 10-part series, which debuts this Friday, sees him investigate the suspected suicide of a young girl, the death of a woman killed by a crossbow and the discovery of a human arm found inside a dead crocodile, among others.

Harrow is produced by Hoodlum Entertainment and ABC Studios International, with Disney Media Distribution handling international sales. It was co-created by Stephen M Irwin and Leigh McGrath, who produce with Hoodlum’s Tracey Robertson and Nathan Mayfield.

“We’ve worked with Stephen quite a bit on other projects [including Secrets & Lies] so he’s a really great collaborator of ours,” explains Robertson. “He wanted to write a show that was very character-heavy but also has a story of the week, so it’s a very strong character piece but it’s also a procedural so we solve a crime every week. Dr Daniel Harrow is a forensic pathologist so we visit the stories but we also have a strong story about him when he visits the dark side.”

Harrow marks the first series from ABC Studios International, which is led by Keli Lee, ABC Entertainment’s MD of international content and talent.

“Stephen and Leigh had developed the script independently, so we had the script and also the story arc of where we wanted to go with the show,” Robertson recalls. “We gave it to Keli, who we work with at ABC Studios. We pitched it to her in October 2016, she read it overnight and pretty much we were in production six months later.”

Once ABC Studios was on board, the ABC in Australia quickly followed. The broadcaster paid for the series development and the speed of the project meant production wrapped at the end of last year.

“We’re hoping it will be original enough for us that it will become one of our returning shows that fill a gap for us,” says Sally Riley, the broadcaster’s head of scripted production. “We have an older audience so with this show we’re trying to keep this older audience happy, but with Ioan Gruffudd in there will hopefully bring a younger group as well.

“The thing that attracted me to it was at its heart, it’s a show about a man trying to protect his family and how far you would go to protect your family. It’s got a great tone, it’s quite funny but it also has a dark edge, which is a really hard combination to do well and Stephen Irwin does a great job with that. Ioan cracks it for us. We’re really excited and hopefully we’ll go to another season.”

Harrow stars Ioan Gruffud as a forensic pathologist with a secret

Both Riley and Robertson insist the show will stand out from similar dramas, such as Forever and Dexter, in which a forensics expert is also a compulsive serial killer.

“It does have a bit of a Dexter edge – [Harrow is] a forensic pathologist, we see him cutting up bodies,” Riley explains. “The difference with him is he’s really interested in the dead people; he sits and talks to them. He tries to figure out why they do things, he’s not just chopping them up and finding what the clues are. He’s actually going into their lives and talking to their families and really wants to find out why they’re in this situation.

“They’re usually unique murders that happen in this show so there’s always a twist. Harrow doesn’t always win in the end – he solves the crime but then there’s another twist from the overarching story about the dead body you see.”

Robertson, who is also working with Irwin on Netflix’s first Australian original drama, Tidelands, adds: “As with Stephen’s writing, there’s always an emotional reason why things have happened. It’s not just pulling off the mask and he’s a dark person. There are really strong character traits as to why everything has happened, which I think sets it apart.”

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