Tag Archives: Pop TV

Wolf at the door: Oz serial killer drama terrorises UK viewers

John Jarratt brings the scares in Australian thriller Wolf Creek. He and creator Greg McLean give DQ the lowdown on the murderous series, which is about to air in the UK for the first time.

From Dexter Morgan and Hannibal Lecter to Norman Bates and Heroes villain Sylar, television’s serial killers can take many forms.

But in Mick Taylor, the small screen might have found its most murderous psychopath yet.

The shadowy figure at the centre of the Wolf Creek franchise was first brought to life in two cult movies (Wolf Creek and Wolf Creek 2) before Australian streamer Stan commissioned a six-part series from the films’ creator and director Greg McLean.

John Jarratt reprises his role as Taylor, who massacres an American family enjoying a holiday in the Australian outback. However, 19-year-old Eve (played by Lucy Fry) survives the attack on her parents and brother and sets out to bring the killer to justice.

Cast as Taylor for the first film, which was released in 2005, the actor admits he was initially apprehensive about playing the character but soon found himself at ease working alongside McLean, who he describes as “one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with.”

After an eight-year gap, Wolf Creek 2 arrived in cinemas in 2013 and it wasn’t long afterwards that Jarratt found himself discussing the possibility of bringing Wolf Creek to television.

John Jarratt reprises his role as serial killer Mick Taylor
John Jarratt reprises his role as serial killer Mick Taylor

“Greg rang me and said he’d been keeping something under his hat,” Jarratt recalls. “He said he’d got this crazy idea of turning Wolf Creek into a six-part series. I thought it might be getting a bit gratuitous – I couldn’t see how it would work, so I wasn’t entirely convinced. But I read the scripts and they were very, very good so I had to eat my words and they have done a brilliant job of bringing the scripts to life.”

Adapted for television by McLean, Peter Gawler and Felicity Packard, the series is produced by Screentime in association with Emu Creek Pictures. It is distributed internationally by Zodiak Rights.

McLean says he couldn’t have asked for a better transition from the movies to the series: “I set out to do something we felt was on par with the movies in terms of production value and the look and feel of it, but we also wanted to go a bit further and explore the world and explore the Australian outback in different ways,” he explains. “We got to expand the scope, which was awesome. It’s been a huge hit in Australia. You never know how it’s going to go – it could be crappy or amazing. Our goal was to blow people away with it. I thought we had an interesting story to tell, with all the scary elements of the film but more like a thriller.”

In the first movie, three backpackers are taken hostage by Taylor and, despite escaping briefly, are then hunted down. Though it might have been problematic to take the same structure of the original movie and stretch it over six hours of television, McLean says the series quickly fell into shape when the creative team decided to turn it into a revenge thriller, with Eve on a quest to avenge her parents and brother.

This also allowed time to be spent delving further into Taylor’s character – some of which was explored in several prequel novels released around the time of the second movie – as well as pursuing additional plotlines a movie running time doesn’t allow.

Director Greg McLean on the set
Director Greg McLean on the set

“Scary stories are specific in terms of how they work,” McLean notes. “Trying to keep that atmosphere and tone for a long time is difficult. That’s why this is much more of a crime thriller as opposed to a horror story. Once you have the context of the characters, you can bring in the horror. And with a character like Mick, who has the entire outback to hide in, you can keep trying to track him down. It’s a fugitive story.”

Jarratt describes Mick Taylor as a “happy-go-lucky, larger-than-life larrikin who can hold his hands up and is afraid of nothing – unfortunately he’s a serial killer and a psychopath at the same time.”

But when he’s on set, does Jarratt stay in character? “I’m not a method actor, I say I’m a professional actor. But there are times when you have got to stay within things,” he admits. “You cannot just turn back into John Jarratt and have a coffee break and then go and stab a girl and turn into a psycho. You have to stay within that realm so during the day I’m fairly well in character to an extent. It’s like when you’re a football player sitting on the substitute bench. You sit in a chair and stay interested in the game and are ready to play the opposition. That’s what I’m doing.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Jarratt says he’s not a fan of horror – “I don’t like Freddie Krueger or zombies – the Mick in me wants to obliterate them!” – instead preferring films such as Cape Feare and Psycho, where the scares are grounded in reality, rather than fantasy.

But having become synonymous with his character, was there any doubt he would return for the Wolf Creek series? “You cannot do Silence of the Lambs without Hannibal Lecter,” he says. “Without me, they’re buggered! I have got to be in it or it’s not Wolf Creek.”

McLean says Mick Taylor was born out of a desire to create a character who was the complete opposite to another iconic Australian movie character – Crocodile Dundee, who had three big-screen outings in 1986, 1988 and 2001.

“He has all the looks and sounds of the Australian cliché but possesses all the terrible qualities we don’t talk about – he’s homophobic, racist, sexist,” McLean says of Taylor. “A lot of these things were popular in the fifties. Ideally, society becomes more tolerant and equal but Mick is that throwback character – a nightmare where all these things are taken to the nth degree. If he doesn’t like someone, he kills them and his beliefs justify his actions.”

But unlike Lecter (played by Mads Mikkelsen), for example, whose murderous streak in three seasons of Hannibal was limited by NBC’s status as a broadcast network, there were no such limitations for Taylor on Stan.

Lucy Fry as Eve Thorogood
Lucy Fry as Eve Thorogood

“I thought there would be a lot of controls, rules and regulations,” confesses McLean, “but because they’re a streaming service, they said don’t censor it or yourself. They let us do it. We didn’t want it to be gratuitous. The TV series definitely has a different tone to the movies. It has shocking things but it’s not full-on horror. It’s much more about the characters, the environment and the suspense.”

For the series, McLean collaborated with fellow director Tony Tilse (Murder in the Outback, Ash vs Evil Dead), whose experience in the horror genre helped keep the spirit and tone of the movies intact – something that was enhanced further by the decision to replicate the vast isolation of the Australian outback by returning to the same filming locations.

“We realised we had to go back to the locations the film was shot in,” McLean explains. “For television, we cannot really afford to go out there but we made the decision we had to have the same scale. It really gives context to the story. The landscape is one of the biggest characters.

“Mick becomes an omnipotent point of view. There’s the suggestion [later in the series] that there may be some other aspects to Mick, maybe some supernatural elements. But one of the reasons it’s so scary is because it’s an unbelievably isolated place. Add Mick to it and it becomes really scary. It’s vital to Wolf Creek and as important as Mick Taylor.”

For Stan, turning a feature-film franchise into its first original series presented an opportunity to take advantage of an existing fan base and a premise that could create a lot of noise for the SVoD platform.

“Taking a fresh approach to an existing film franchise was an exciting opportunity for us,” explains Nick Forward, Stan’s chief content officer. “By flipping the protagonist and making the story about loss and revenge, it enabled us to go much deeper into the mythology Greg had created with the original films.”

From the start, Stan was “heavily involved” in developing the series, which “exceeded our wildest expectations” when it debuted in May, Forward adds. “It was important to us that the show had a strong female protagonist, and that the tone and genre evolved from the straight-up horror of the movies. Once production was under way, however, we were more than comfortable to step back and let people do their thing. With great on- and off-screen talent across every part of the production, we knew we were in very safe hands.”

Wolf Creek will return to the big screen next year, and McLean confirms there are talks about a second season of the TV show after that.

“Hopefully people really like it,” he says, speaking ahead of the show’s UK debut on Fox on August 30. It will also debut in the US on Pop TV on October 14. “The key thing is we were lucky enough to expand the world of Wolf Creek and that is the Australian outback. It’s one of the last mysterious places on Earth. It’s so vast and so empty and sparsely populated, it’s a place with creepy stories and characters. It’s an original setting for this crime drama. If people like being scared, this is certainly the place to go.”

But will Mick Taylor be back for more? “Evil never dies,” Jarratt jokes. “That’s all I’m saying.”

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Acorn TV is US growth opportunity

And Then There Were None
And Then There Were None is among the overseas shows that have been added to Acorn

Opportunities for international content to be aired in the US have always been limited – outside of scripted formats, Spanish-language drama for the Hispanic audience and commercially driven Canadian series produced with the US in mind.

However, the emergence of SVoD platform Acorn TV has helped open up the market. Over the last few months, the platform has acquired rights to shows like The Secret Agent (UK), Jericho (UK), Jack Irish (Australia), The Brokenwood Mysteries (New Zealand), Dominion Creek (Republic of Ireland) and The Disappearance (France).

This week, RLJ Entertainment-owned Acorn has continued its acquisition spree by picking up exclusive SVoD rights to UK dramas And Then There Were None and Capital from Agatha Christie Limited and FremantleMedia respectively.

Both are miniseries, underlining the fact that Acorn is a way for producers of short-run content to reach a market that favours longer series.

Acorn’s role in the market is reinforced in a couple of other ways. The first is that it is also an established player in DVD and blu-ray, which means it is able to offer content owners broad-based home entertainment deals. The second is that it is also exploring the potential for coproductions with European partners. Its goal is to make original Agatha Christie dramas for the US market.

Wolf Creek stars John Jarratt
Wolf Creek stars John Jarratt

Acorn isn’t the only emerging opportunity for non-US content to crack the Americas. This week, Zodiak Rights licensed all North and Latin American rights for Australia thriller Wolf Creek to Lionsgate. Within the US, Wolf Creek will air in 80 million homes via Pop TV, a joint-venture channel that Lionsgate runs with CBS.

Based on the feature film of the same name, Wolf Creek tells the story of a murdering psychopath who wreaks havoc in the Australian Outback.

Lionsgate president of worldwide television and digital distribution Jim Packer said: “This is the kind of terrifying, in-your-face thriller that has become a Lionsgate trademark, and we expect it to resonate with audiences. We believe Wolf Creek will add an exciting new dimension to Pop’s growing roster of programming.”

Still on acquisitions, Viacom International Media Networks has picked Syfy’s Wynnona Earp series for its Spike channel in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Middle East and Africa. The series is based on the IDW Publishing graphic novel from Beau Smith, which follows a descendent of Wyatt Earp as she battles demons and other supernatural beings. VIMN’s pick up follows Syfy’s decision to renew the series for season two last week.

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson in HBO's Ballers
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in HBO’s Ballers

Main production headlines include the news that A+E-owned channel Lifetime has greenlit a TV version of 1988 movie Beaches, with Frozen star Idina Menzel in the lead role. The movie-to-TV series trend has been very prevalent in the US over the last couple of years, with cable channels tending to fare a bit better than the big four networks.

Lifetime, for example, adapted Steel Magnolias in 2012 and was rewarded with record ratings. Beaches was a big hit in 1988. It starred Bette Midler and introduced the world to the Grammy award-winning song Wind Beneath My Wings.

HBO, meanwhile, has renewed Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s sports-themed comedy-drama Ballers for a third season. Created by Stephen Levinson, the show features Johnson as a retired NFL superstar mentoring younger players. The season three renewal comes despite the fact the second season has just kicked off with low ratings compared with season one. The latest episodes scored 1.3 million viewers compared with season one’s 1.7 million average.

HBO is also having to field constant questions about the future for its hit series Games of Thrones, season six of which finished in late June. The network has said the show will end after season eight, but rumours abound that HBO is looking at spin-offs. Such is the strength of the franchise that it would be very surprising if HBO gives up on this ratings juggernaut without a serious fight.

The Last Ship
The Last Ship has been given a fourth run on TNT

Also renewed this week was TNT’s The Last Ship, which has been given a fourth season of 13 episodes. That decision is no surprise given that the show is reaching an average of 7.6 million viewers per episode across all platforms.

Based on William Brinkley’s novel, the series chronicles a global catastrophe that nearly wipes out the world’s population. Because of its positioning, the Navy destroyer USS Nathan James avoids falling victim to the devastating tragedy. But now, the captain and crew must confront a new existence where they may be among the few survivors.

In a slightly unusual story, US pay TV network Epix has created a 360-degree interactive video experience to support its upcoming original drama Berlin Station. The interactive video, which is available online and via mobile, includes extended storylines developed with the show’s writers. According to Epix, the interactive content will “provide additional information about the characters and extend plot lines with an immersive experience that expands with each new episode of the series. (It will) build fan engagement and facilitate deeper exploration of the plot.”

Mark Greenberg, president and CEO of Epix, added: “Epix was designed for cross-platform viewing. Now, we’re tapping the latest technology to create new approaches to storytelling.”

The Last Tycoon has been adapted from the F Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name
The Last Tycoon has been adapted from the F Scott Fitzgerald novel of the same name

Ayzenberg designed the digital experience and led the project development. “The best stories have many layers and seemingly endless possibilities,” said Rebecca Markarian, its senior VP of digital and social media. “We aimed to deliver that with BerlinStation.com and I’m confident we delivered through authentic storytelling and innovative technology.”

In other news, Amazon has greenlit a full miniseries version of F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon after the pilot received a positive response from subscribers.

News from Canada, meanwhile, is that production company True Gravity has joined a sci-fi drama series from filmmaker Robert Watts. Called Election Day, the show is set in the year 2055 with the world heading towards economic collapse. It follows the first election to select a world president whose mission is to contain a global revolution from humans with enhanced capabilities.

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