Tag Archives: Roadshow Rough Diamond

Doing more with Les

Australian literary hero Les Norton comes to television in an adaptation of the cult books by Robert G Barrett. DQ hears how the source material has been updated for modern audiences while recreating the style and character of 1980s Sydney.

While the 1980s might not seem that long ago to some, seeing the decade recreated on the small screen for upcoming Australian drama Les Norton makes it clear just how different things were back then.

Whether it’s the music, the hairstyles, the fashion or the bold neon lighting, the era is recreated perfectly for this 10-part series. For younger viewers, it’s a period drama, but to everyone else, it’s a nostalgic look back on an era that serves as the backdrop for an adaptation of Robert G Barrett’s novels.

Morgan O’Neill on set

National broadcaster the ABC, producer Roadshow Rough Diamond and distributor Sonar Entertainment have partnered on the series, which introduces fish-out-of-water ‘country bloke’ Les Norton to Sydney’s Kings Cross district in 1985. On the run from a troubled past, he lands a job as a bouncer and fixer at a notorious illegal casino, becoming seduced by the city’s illicit charms and dragged into a web of underground criminality.

Alexander Bertrand (Australian Gangster) takes the title role in this “irreverent love letter to Sydney and the mid-80s,” while Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect) and David Wenham (Romper Stomper) go head-to-head in a battle for control of the city as brothel queen Doreen Bognor and gentleman criminal Price Galese.

The Les Norton books have been wildly popular in Australia since the first novel, You Wouldn’t Be Dead For Quids, which lends its name to the pilot episode, was published in 1985. In fact, they are described as the most read books in the Australian Defence Force and the most borrowed books in the New South Wales prison system.

When DQ speaks to creator Morgan O’Neill and producer John Edwards, the series is halfway through its 10-week production, with a view to a launching down under later this year. O’Neill reveals that three units have been filming simultaneously – one fishing off Sydney’s Manly Point, another “pulling up lobsters and cocaine” off the Bondi Beach peninsular and third unit body-surfing into the Bondi sands.

“We’ve got bits outstanding because, for economic reasons, we have to shoot Rebel’s scenes all together and David’s all together,” Edwards explains. “It’s been a little tricky but we’re ploughing ahead now. We’re having a pretty great time. We’re really enjoying it a lot. It’s a great, fun show.”

Edwards describes redheaded Les as “a bit like a Crocodile Dundee,” the laid back, charming hero of the eponymous 1986 movie. “He was a smart character who was an innocent in a dirty world. That’s what we’ve got,” he notes. “A lot of it is metaphorical but it’s a great deal of fun and, hopefully, it’s going to translate more broadly, just as Crocodile Dundee did at that time.”

O’Neill, who has written six of the 10 episodes, is the creative force behind the adaptation, describing Barrett’s books as iconic “pub literature.” He had read them many years ago and, together with producer John Schwarz, decided to develop them for television.

Alexander Bertrand (left) plays the titular character in Les Norton

Based in LA, O’Neill brought Sonar on board before taking the project to the ABC, where head of drama Sally Riley is a fan of the novels. Roadshow Rough Diamond then joined as the producer.

In line with the novels, early footage of the series doesn’t hold back, with language as colourful as many of the costumes. But O’Neill admits some of the source material doesn’t stand up to contemporary scrutiny, so he had to find a way to balance the virtues of the author’s work with contemporary society.

“The show is set in 1985 and that was a very different time in Australia,” O’Neill says. “It was a time where there was a sense of irreverence Australians have become renowned for – a laconic sense of humour and social mores. As the years have gone on, Australia has shifted a bit from that. We’ve become a little more brittle and a little more quick to find offence. One of the endearing charms of the source material is it harkens back to a time when we weren’t so quick to be offended and we felt there was social value in treating people fairly but treating them in a way that wasn’t self-serious.”

Barrett, he continues, described himself as an “equal opportunities shit-stirrer. No one escaped his wrath. If you’re up for ridicule, he would gently ridicule you in a way that was part of the charm of Australia in a bygone era. But I’m not talking about racism, homophobia or sexism. In the source material, there was some of that and we’ve worked very hard to make sure our retelling of these stories is absent of anything that is egregious in that regard.”

John Edwards

Part of that approach was to introduce a narrator to the series. But rather than simply describing events or driving them forward, it comes from the perspective of someone today looking back on events as they happened.

“Morgan has really lifted and elevated the material in lots of ways,” Edwards says. “There’s a real fondness for the 80s but there’s a real commentary on the 80s as well. It’s a really interesting show to work on. It’s great fun and you get to look at a period of recent history, a bit like Life on Mars did and have a licence to play with some of the social changes. It really is a great joy to be doing.”

The series also introduces more women in leading roles than the books offered, creating new characters and switching the gender of others. As an example, Les’s flatmate Wozza has become Lozza (played by Kate Box), who is just as voracious, carnal, debauched and foulmouthed as the original character. “Kate’s absolutely made it her own and I look at it now and think, ‘How could you ever imagine that character not as a woman?’ She brings a sense of sexual politics into it that a male flatmate couldn’t,” O’Neill says.

The series echoes the structure of Barrett’s novels, which were largely made up of short stories. Episodes are self-contained, though O’Neill has introduced some “collective tissue” to string them all together. That meant creating an antagonist in the form of Wilson’s character. “The material lends itself to adaptation but it’s required a lot of original material to stitch it together into compelling episodic TV,” he says.

O’Neill had already written two episodes by the time the writers room was opened, providing a blueprint for the show’s style and tone that could be used in addition to the source material. The writers ranged in age and gender, providing a useful means of ensuring Barrett’s novels could be held up for critique as well as inspiration.

“What I love is the slightly different tonal interpretations of the other writers’ episodes,” he says. “They definitely don’t feel like my episodes, in a good way. There are elements where you have to make sure the tone has an overall consistency, but the mistake in those situations is to assume they all need to sound the same. Because they’re capers and because they’re almost standalone, they’re allowed to feel different and, hopefully, that will be part of the thrill of the show.”

The series also stars Pitch Perfect’s Rebel Wilson (right)

O’Neill (Drift, Solo) is also on directing duties, taking on the fourth block behind lead director Jocelyn Moorhouse (The Dressmaker), David Caesar (Dead Lucky) and Fadia Abboud (Australian Gangster). He says a lot of the style behind Les Norton is inspired by early Guy Ritchie films such as Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, with a love of vernacular and the quirky relationships between offbeat men.

On set, O’Neill remains amazed by the number of people who stop to take in the 1980s dressing around Sydney, with old phone boxes and cars turning up in streets across the city. “There are certain things – objects, sounds and songs – that are provocative of a different period, and it’s a really powerful medium to play in. I wanted to make sure we leant into that but, at the same time, we were conscious of producing something that wasn’t a pastiche of 1985,” he says. “It’s merely the context, it’s not the joke. There’s hopefully enough humour in the show to go around. I didn’t want it to be a show about endless mullets and Hypercolor T-shirts.”

As well as selling the series overseas, Sonar was heavily involved in casting Les Norton, bringing together international names in Wilson and Wenham and pairing them with new talent. Bertrand, says president of global distribution and coproduction David Ellender, is a rising star, while the show also boasts Pallavi Sharda, already a big name in India and Australia, who starred in US network ABC’s recent drama pilot Triangle. She plays Georgie Burman, the whip-smart casino manager who was George in the novels.

“Being in LA, you’re very aware of the Australian and New Zealand talent both in front and behind the camera, either in TV or film,” Ellender says. “When you’re doing 10 episodes or fewer, movie stars like Rebel or David can’t attach themselves to a series as they do on network TV, with 22 episodes for five, six or seven years. No theatrical actor would do those sorts of deals. But today, if it’s between six and 10 episodes, maybe for two or three seasons, then people are very open to doing it, particularly if they can go home. Rebel lives in LA but wants to go back to Australia when she can. It’s a great opportunity for actors to do something back at home.”

David Ellender

Sonar’s recent projects include Tom Hardy’s Taboo and German wartime drama Das Boot, both of which are returning for second seasons. Like those series, Les Norton stands out from the plethora of other television series for its style and originality, according to Ellender.

“I was very intrigued by this character going to the big city and falling in with the wrong crowd,” he says. “It was the way Morgan pitched it to me, and I thought the character was one we’ve not really seen for quite some time out of Australia. It seemed to be a really fun crime drama.

“Maybe three or five years ago, Les Norton wouldn’t have been made. But because the way we’re viewing programming today, people are able to make things like this today.”

More than 30 years since Les Norton landed in print, O’Neill says this fish-out-of-water story still resonates, and he’s confident the series can entertain a broad audience.

“There’s a lack of self-seriousness about our show, which I think is going to be a breath of fresh air. That’s certainly our intention,” he says. “We take what we do incredibly seriously, but the tone of the show is quite the opposite. It’s light-hearted and irreverent, and hopefully incredibly cheeky and very funny. For my reading of the way Australians are viewed around the world, that’s partly what we’re known for. I hope there’s an appetite for that.”

tagged in: , , , ,

Revisiting Romper

Coming 16 years after the ground-breaking and controversial film of the same name, Australian drama Romper Stomper follows a new generation of the activist right, their anti-fascist counterparts and three young Lebanese Muslims caught up in the conflict.

The six-part thriller, airing on streamer Stan, brings the battle of opposing views into a modern-day context in which hard-right agitators have traded swastikas for the southern cross. Told from multiple points of view, it deals with political and social issues and highlights the shift of extremism from the fringes to the suburbs.

In this DQTV interview, writer/director Geoffrey Wright and producer John Edwards discuss how the project was delivered in little more than a year and why the chance to look back at the original film was an opportunity to break new ground in Australian television.

Meanwhile, Stan chief content officer Nick Forward explains why the show was a good fit for the streaming platform, which saw record-breaking ratings when the series dropped at the beginning of this month.

The ensemble cast includes Lachy Hulme, David Wenham, Jacqueline McKenzie, Dan Wyllie, Toby Wallace, Lily Sullivan, Sophie Lowe, Nicole Chamounn and Julian Maroun.

Romper Stomper is produced by Roadshow Rough Diamond for Stan and is distributed internationally by DCD Rights.

tagged in: , , , , , ,

Back to the old stomping ground

Iconic Australian film Romper Stomper is getting a small-screen sequel, 25 years after it first appeared in cinemas. Here, producers John Edwards and Dan Edwards and creator Geoffrey Wright tee up the series, which has been commissioned by streamer Stan.

Romper Stomper launched the career of Russell Crowe when it first hit the big screen in 1992. Now 25 years later, the controversial Australian film has inspired a television sequel ordered by SVoD platform Stan.

The original Romper Stomper starred Russell Crowe

Picking up after writer/director Geoffrey Wright’s film, which followed a gang of neo-Nazis (led by Crowe’s Hando) in Melbourne, the six-part series is described as a high-stakes crime drama and political thriller that explores the human face of extremism. In particular, it follows a new generation of the activist far right, their anti-fascist counterparts and three young Muslims caught up in the conflict.

The cast includes David Wenham, Sophie Lowe, Toby Wallace and returning stars Jacqueline McKenzie and Dan Wyllie.

The show is produced by Roadshow Rough Diamond in association with Screen Australia and Film Victoria. Its producers are John Edwards and Dan Edwards, with Wright also returning to direct alongside Daina Reid and James Napier Robertson. The series has been written by Wright, Robertson, Omar Musa and Malcolm Knox.

Distributor DCD Rights has already closed a deal for SundanceTV Global to air the series in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Dutch-speaking Benelux, Iberia, Latin America, the Middle East, North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Here, Wright, John Edwards and Dan Edwards tell DQ more about their decision to bring Romper Stomper to the small screen.

What was behind the decision to bring Romper Stomper to television?
John Edwards: When we started with Roadshow, Dan had looked through their distribution history – and one title jumped out as having had such a huge impact on him as a teenager.
Dan Edwards: I tracked down Daniel Scharf, who was one of the producers of the original film. We met with Geoff and Daniel the following week. After an hour of quite forthright discussion, we had an embryo of a concept that scared the hell out of all of us, but in such a way that none of us could walk away from it.
Geoffrey Wright: Clearly, the ascendancy of Donald Trump in the US made the blended issues of culture, race and politics uppermost in the zeitgeist.

Geoffrey Wright on the set of the Romper Stomper TV series

In what way is the film still relevant today and how will you use the original themes in the series?
John Edwards: Back then, it was an exciting study of a group at the very fringe of society. Now, extremists who are not so different are right at the centre of political power and our cultural life.
Dan Edwards: Over the past few years I had grown interested in international groups like [anti-fascist movement] Antifa. It struck me that the anarchic core of the original film was probably more naturally attributed to the antifascist/anarchist movement than the fascists who in Australia today are more often jet-skiing, outer suburban types with mortgages. Australian fascism is much more hidden in plain sight and, as a result, scarily close to the centre of society.
Wright: In the old film, newcomers to society – in this case Western society – are demonised and made the focus of irrational fear and loathing. Today’s newcomers are often second-generation Australian Muslims, and they are the current focus of misplaced fear and loathing.

Had you thought about the series before now?
John Edwards
: We decided to make the show while the Trump campaign was gathering, without knowing he would be elected or the subsequent coming out into the open of extreme right-wingers would happen. And this at a time when Australian politics has a hamstrung parliament…

The show’s creators say it has been influenced by the rise of Donald Trump in the US

How has the show been developed with Stan, a streaming platform rather than a traditional TV channel, in mind?
John Edwards
: Stan was always the right place for a show that was both intrinsically noisy and needing to be executed with a great deal of creative freedom.
Dan Edwards: Romper Stomper could almost have been made nowhere else. Stan has shown tremendous courage at every stage of the development and production process.

How has the writing process taken shape?
John Edwards: We put together a story room based around Geoffrey, James and Daina [the three directors], and Dan very much wanted to seek out new writers’ voices to drive that room – hence the novelist/journalist Malcolm Knox and the novelist/poet Omar Musa.
Dan Edwards: After working on a brief outline with Geoff, we decided to try to reach for new and exciting talent, given the talent drain in Australia to the bigger English-speaking markets. This required a number of quite unusual cold calls. James Napier Robertson was one of the first, as I’d been keen to find an excuse to approach him since watching The Dark Horse, and he joined the writer’s room the following week. I called Omar while he was taking some time off deep in the Indonesian jungle somewhere, and he flew straight into Sydney and into the room, while with Malcolm we had been searching for a project to work on together, as both John and I were big fans of his novels and sports journalism.

Geoffrey, how do you balance writing and directing duties?
Wright: The two have always been linked to me, so balance isn’t an issue.

How would you describe the visual style of the series?
Wright: That will vary a bit between directors, but it’s safe to say it’s energetic and restless.

What was the decision behind Jacqueline McKenzie and Dan Wyllie reprising their original roles as Gabrielle and Cackles, and how do they fit into the new story?
John Edwards: The concept from the get-go was picking up the story a generation later, imagining where the survivors would land.
Wright: McKenzie’s role was a major one in the movie and the notion of her being a mother and exploring her relationship with her son is central to the new story. In the case of Wyllie, he played a prominent and memorable character in Hando’s gang and represents the pull of the past on current events.

Romper Stomper will premiere on Australian streaming platform Stan

What are the biggest challenges in producing the show?
John Edwards: From the very start, we were determined to have at least two action sequences, with all the energy of the original per episode. That’s very hard to achieve across six episodes, but we’re doing it.
Dan Edwards: Telling the story from multiple points of view, given that the original film was more or less from one, the skinheads. Geoff and the team were not interested in remaking the movie, so we’ve stretched what’s possible to tell as many sides to a contemporary story as possible within six hours.

What’s the message behind the series, 25 years after the film?
John Edwards: I don’t know about a ‘message,’ but in throwing these different points of view into a plausible mix, there are lots of cautionary tales.
Dan Edwards: That’s a hard one… Perhaps that violent extremism is less effective than playing a centrist long game?
Wright: The series is about identity and the idea that there is far more to that than simply blood. Blood is not destiny.

What is behind the trend for film-to-TV sequels or reboots?
John Edwards: Producers are always looking for a good story, and inspiration can often be found in the past. But for networks, there’s the advantage of there being a brand. In this case ,though, the story is even more important in a contemporary context.

tagged in: , , , , ,