Tag Archives: Showcase

No ordinary Picnic

The cast of Picnic at Hanging Rock, led by Game of Thrones star Natalie Dormer, discuss reimagining Joan Lindsay’s classic novel as a new six-part event series.

All the hallmarks of a classical period drama are present and correct, but do not be deceived by the stately mansion, bonnets and corsets on show in Picnic at Hanging Rock. In fact, this intoxicating six-part series is a thoroughly modern retelling of Joan Lindsay’s classic novel – from the scripts by Beatrix Christian and Alice Addison to the predominantly young cast headed by Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer and the dazzling directing led by Larysa Kondracki.

After a red-carpet world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, Picnic at Hanging Rock is at last getting its domestic debut on Foxtel’s Showcase channel in Australia this Sunday. Dormer stars as English headmistress Hester Appleyard as the story plunges viewers into the mysterious disappearances of three schoolgirls and their governess on Valentine’s Day 1900.

Exploring the event’s far-reaching impact on the students and staff of Appleyard College and its enigmatic headmistress, theories soon abound, paranoia sets in and long-held secrets surface as the Rock exerts its strange power and the dark stain of the unsolved mystery continues to spread.

The cast also features rising Aussie stars including Lily Sullivan, Samara Weaving, Madeleine Madden and Ruby Rees as some of the students. It is produced by FremantleMedia Australia, with broadcasters including Amazon Prime Video in the US, the BBC in the UK, Germany’s Entertain TV, France’s Canal+ and Sky New Zealand already importing the series following deals with distributor FremantleMedia International.

Natalie Dormer plays headmistress Hester Appleyard

Aware of the revered 1968 film adaptation directed by Peter Weir, Kondracki initially turned down the chance to direct this new version. But friend and Fremantle executive Stefanie Burk passed her Lindsay’s book and asked her to give it a look.

“I had the same reaction that every crew member had too, which was ‘No, no,’ but the second you read it, you said, ‘OK’ – the script goes back to the book and then expands it,” the director says.

“Bea is basically a genius and Alice is super talented,” she says of the writers. “Bea’s unbelievably emotionally specific, thematically specific and very collaborative. She just writes in this beautiful way. The scripts, similar to the book, are open to interpretation and it’s just such a rich playground. We had so much fun – and tears as well.”

Dormer agrees Christian is one of a kind. “She’s a playwright originally and when you read her stage directions, she can communicate a thought or a feeling in a few lines, in a way I haven’t seen a writer achieve before. Joan Lindsay can hint at something in one sentence and Bea’s described it and run with it.

“She and Larysa are both not scared of the spiritual, the transcendental, the absurd, the magical or the dark. It’s strong in tone with this beautiful combination of Alice and the other directors but, fundamentally, producer-wise and creatively, it’s this beautiful hybrid of Bea’s image meets Larysa’s vision.”

Marion (Madeleine Madden), Miranda (Lily Sullivan), Irma (Samara Weaving) and Edith (Ruby Rees) at the picnic of the show’s title

Like remaking Sherlock for the BBC or taking a new version of Othello out onto the stage, Dormer believes the time was right to do Picnic at Hanging Rock for a new generation, describing this version as a “gothic horror” with touches of dark comedy thrown in for good measure. “But really it’s also a huge exploration of what are the formative years of young girls, and a woman [Appleyard] who thinks she knows what women should be and them rebelling against that. In a way, it’s our version of [1988 US movie] Heathers. I have a nutty theory that all the girls are different versions of what Hester could have been.

“There are moments in what Larysa and Bea chose to do that I felt were like The Crucible, the hysteria of female adolescence, the sexual repression of female adolescence – it’s The Virgin Suicides, Heathers and The Crucible in one.”

Rees, who plays Edith, picks up: “When I read the first script, I thought, ‘This isn’t Picnic at Hanging Rock.’ This is so far away from any preconception any Australian – or any person – has about this story. It’s not Picnic as we know it or have ever seen it before.”

Sullivan, who plays Miranda, admits that following Weir’s film was intimidating, as the characters in Lindsay’s book already exist on screen. But this new version, she says, takes viewers on an emotional journey, sending them back and forth through the events.

“It’s like a psychological twisted tale, and we’re not children. We don’t need answers,” the actor notes. “Finding these characters was such a gift and it’s quite weird how it is such a contemporary piece. It has an energy that’s really exciting. My character is definitely a woman who is aching and so frustrated because she’s definitely born in the wrong time.”

Harrison Gilbertson is also among the cast

Bringing some international flavour to proceedings are Harrison Gilbertson, who plays Englishman Michael Fitzhubert, and Lola Bessis, who stars as French schoolmistress Mademoiselle Dianne de Poitiers.

“It’s interesting because Harrison’s character is from England and mine is from France, and all the other girls have been sent to this school by their families from all around Australia and the world,” Bessis explains. “So we’re all like a very close family. At the beginning, Dianne is just a good employee and does what she’s told to do. She’s very thankful to Mrs Appleyard for giving her a job but, little by little, she toughens up and learns to be herself and have her own opinions of things and emancipates herself a lot.”

Shooting took place in Melbourne and in locations across Victoria, as well as at the real Hanging Rock, a spiritual place considered sacred by native aboriginal communities. The week before filming there, however, the cast and crew were all struck by illness.

“At one point, one of our main actors was missing every day,” recalls Kondracki. “In the middle of a scene, they’d just fall ill. And this was a great testament to the crew. I remember one of our gaffers in the bushes vomiting and then coming back, and when I asked if he wanted to go home, he just replied that he’d lost a few pounds. Nobody gave up and, at the end, there was a crime scene-level clean-up. The point is we were going to the rock the following week and everyone was thinking this was the rock saying, ‘If you think this week’s bad…’”

Sullivan describes filming at the rock as “amazing, exhausting, disorientating,” while Dormer adds: “In the end, there was no acting required as a British actor coming to Hanging Rock and being overwhelmed by the energy and awe-inspiring power and landscape of it. It has an energy.”

Having played Margaery Tyrell on Game of Thrones for five seasons of the HBO series, Dormer admits she wasn’t looking for a role in another period drama. “I didn’t want to get into a corset again but I was intrigued by the beauty and the psychology of this,” she reveals. “It really grabbed me. And Larysa wrote me this beautiful letter basically saying no one else can play this role as well as you.”

“Which is true,” the director interjects.

Dormer continues: “Hester Appleyard could very easily be a villain. And Larysa gave me this great pitch: ‘You can find the vulnerability, the weakness and the sadness in her that will make the audience empathise as well. You will make her an anti-heroine as opposed to a villain.’ She said, ‘I know you can do that.’ I was like, that’s a tough specification with that character. We found we had a shorthand quite quickly. There’s something about this relationship; we’re both very candid people, we’re both very straight-talking.

The cast are confident Picnic at Hanging Rock will be a global success

“There’s a David Lynchian, Lewis Carollian dark surreality to our Picnic, mainly given by Larysa’s camera choices, that to me is just so bold, fresh and exciting and it just gives it this signature feel. That’s when you know you’ve got something special, when you can’t describe a show and say it’s a bit like ‘this meets this’. If you can’t do the hybrid pitch, you know you’ve got something distinctive.”

Picnic at Hanging Rock is the latest in a wave of adaptations of Australian novels and films, from Mystery Road and Romper Stomper to Wolf Creek and Wake in Fright. But regardless of its source, the cast believe this series will make its mark around the world.

Sullivan, who also starred in Romper Stomper, admits she was hesitant before signing up to both series. “But both of them are a beautiful way to map how far we’ve come and how we are still weirdly dealing with the same issues that girls in the 1900s were. Instead of corsets, we now have waist trainers from the Kardashians. It’s all still being resold. The immigration of Asian culture in Australia back then is now Islamic culture coming in, and we’re having the exact same conversation 25 years later.”

Rees adds: “Australia is not always seen to be a country that can create art that holds its own, and I think this version of Picnic at Hanging Rock will put us on the world map in the way the film did when Peter Weir made it.

“Australia has been doing remakes of old stories for a long time. It’s just now becoming mainstream. It’s fabulous because if the original story has enough content that we can retell it in every century, then why not do it? So many things in the series are still 100% applicable today, which is scary. That’s not a good thing that we’re still discussing problems for women who were alive and well in the 1900s in 2018. That’s a negative – and this show just drives a stake into the heart of that.”

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InBetween two worlds

Australian director Nash Edgerton makes his television debut with Mr InBetween, a dark comedy-drama about a hitman juggling his personal and professional lives. He tells DQ about the battle to get the series made, 13 years after the film that inspired it.

When it airs later this year, the debut of Australian dark comedy-drama Mr InBetween will mark the end of a long journey for director Nash Edgerton and writer Scott Ryan.

In 2005 they worked together on The Magician, a mockumentary-style feature about a Melbourne assassin who is both ruthless and caring, played by Ryan, who also wrote and directed the film. Edgerton was a producer.

Thirteen years later, a long-championed television follow-up, Mr InBetween, sees Ryan return as Ray Shoesmith – father, ex-husband, boyfriend, hitman. This time Edgerton is behind the camera.

Nash Edgerton

“We spent years developing scripts,” says Edgerton. “We got close a few times to getting it up within the first few years after the movie. But there weren’t as many avenues in TV at that time, especially in Australia, so it got to a certain point and it didn’t happen.”

One reason why the project kept stalling was Edgerton’s loyalty to Ryan in the face of executives who would have preferred to cast a more recognisable name in the leading role. “I just kept saying, ‘I’m only going to make it if Scott’s going to be in it,’” Edgerton recalls. “Because as far as I was concerned, he was the guy and the reason I was interested in doing it. So I just kept holding out until I got to make it with him. But for me, it was worth the weight to do it with him in that key role and I think the show’s better for it.”

For Edgerton, Scott’s performance in The Magician was one of the highlights of the movie, and he notes that despite the actor/writer’s absence from the screen for more than a decade, Scott could have passed for a seasoned actor on set. “He seems so comfortable in front of the camera. He’s so watchable and enjoyable, to watch him bounce between these two worlds in his life, his personal life and his work life,” he explains.

Scott certainly brings to life the languid, laconic Ray, a man who drifts between his visits to his brother’s home and looking after his daughter to walks in the park with his dog, where he meets potential love interest Ally (Brooke Satchwell). He also finds time to negotiate his day job. One notable incident involves making a man dig his own grave before Ray fires the trigger.

“He’s quite reserved but he has his own clear moral centre – it’s a little left of centre than most people’s but he has a code that he navigates his life by,” Edgerton says of the main character. “He cares about his family and his friends. What’s interesting to me about the show and what drove Scott to do it is he’s read all these books and autobiographies on real-life killers and realised that, as much as that’s their job, they’re still regular people. They still have the same things going on in their lives that anyone else has. It just happens to be that their job is killing people for money.”

Edgerton on set with Mr InBetween star and writer Scott Ryan

Edgerton kept himself busy during the long hiatus between movie and series by directing short films and making his debut Hollywood feature, Gringo, which stars Charlize Theron, David Oyelowo, Amanda Seyfried and the director’s brother Joel, and is out in cinemas today. In fact, Edgerton was shooting Mr InBetween while in post-production on Gringo, providing him with a stark illustration of the differences between making a film and a television series.

“I shot it like a three-hour movie but I edited it like six short films,” he says of the 6×30′ Mr InBetween. “As much as the episodes connect to each other, they’re all still different. The work is contained, they all have their own thing. I actually found that a lot easier to edit than I did the movie because with the movie, you’re trying to sustain almost two hours of a story; but with the TV show, you’re sustaining 25 minutes at a time. Having not done TV before, I wasn’t sure what that was going to feel like but it was somehow more manageable and a quicker process to edit because of that.”

Made for just A$3,000 (US$2,300), The Magician was “super lo-fi,” Edgerton says, describing the film as a buddy movie between Ray and the Italian film student who is holding the camera but whom the audience never sees.

The series focuses on a hitman as he moves between the different worlds of his personal and professional lives

“I wanted the series to feel very natural, light, handheld – I was trying to recapture the feeling the ‘documentary’ gave me, so I was trying to film it that way, just to give more authenticity to the scenes and moments in the show,” he says. “TV is a lot faster [than film]. I had almost 50 days to shoot Gringo, which is one hour and 50 minutes, and then I shot three hours of television in 30 days. So in that way, it was much more of a machine with a much smaller crew but, because I’d never made TV before, I actually blocked it like a movie, so I shot it like a movie. All I’ve made is films and short films, and some music videos, so that was the only way I knew how to make it.”

As well as working behind the camera, Edgerton also had some input during the scriptwriting process, offering suggestions to Ryan. In particular, this manifested itself in terms of Ray’s interactions with his daughter Brittany, which would be based on Edgerton’s conversations with his own daughter, such as a debate over the existence of Santa Claus and Brittany’s insistence that Ray’s friends abide by her swear-jar policy.

In fact, it was casting Brittany that Edgerton says was the biggest challenge, but he didn’t have far to look to find the right actor. His brother Joel isn’t the only family member he has directed – now he can also add daughter Chika Yasumura to the list. And it turned out to be “one of the best directing experiences I’ve had,” Edgerton says.

Ryan alongside his co-star Chika Yasumura, who is Edgerton’s daughter

“Leading up to it, I was quite nervous because she won’t clean up her room when I ask her to, so how am I going to direct her? But she turned out to be so great. My younger brother [Joel], I’m used to telling what to do but Chika was a whole other ball game. I’d auditioned 50-something kids and none of them were getting what it needed to be. My wife suggested throwing her in. She’d never acted before and it turned out to be such a great thing to do.”

Mr InBetween has already received positive reviews after it was chosen to be the only non-US series to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. Originally commissioned by FX in Australia, it is now set to air on Foxtel’s Showcase channel later this year. It is produced by Blue-Tongue Films and Jungle Entertainment and sold internationally by Fox Networks Group Content Distribution.

“I never dreamed of doing TV until Scott presented the idea for this series, so I can’t say I’d never do it again,” Edgerton concludes. “I’d totally do another season with Scott. Ultimatel,y I love filmmaking and storytelling so it’s all about if it’s the right project and if it’s the right medium to do it. I still love making short films but, after Gringo, I want to make another movie.”

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British writers display their dark side

Today is the last day of BBC Showcase, an annual event that sees around 700 programme buyers from around the world descend on Liverpool in the UK to view and potentially acquire BBC Worldwide (BBCWW)-distributed content.

At this year’s event, BBCWW has had a lot of its success with crime drama, selling around 900 hours of programming to markets including Europe, the Middle East and Japan. It’s a reminder that the Nordic nations aren’t the only ones capable of producing compelling noir.

Paul Dempsey, president of global markets at BBCWW, commented: “British crime drama is hugely popular around the world and accounts for over 40% of our drama revenue.”

The fact that the UK does so well is a testament to the quality of TV crime writing in the country, so this week we’ll take a look at some of the talent driving the international hit machine.

luther-5Luther, which stars Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, was acquired by German public broadcaster ZDF, Star India and also by platforms in South Korea and Africa. The fourth series, which aired in the UK during December 2015, consisted of two feature-length episodes. What it lacked in volume, it made up for in ratings, with the two episodes attracting around 7.5 to eight million viewers. All 16 episodes of Luther have been written by New Zealand-based Neil Cross, who has also written episodes of Doctor Who for the BBC. Cross has also been commissioned by the BBC to write Hard Sun, a six-part apocalyptic crime drama set in contemporary London.

lynleyThe Inspector Lynley Mysteries was also picked up by ZDF for its ZDFneo channel. Originally broadcast from 2001 to 2008, the series (based on the novels by Elizabeth George) has proved a decent performer on the international market. In the US, for example, all 23 episodes have aired on PBS. Several scribes have written episodes, including Pete Jukes, Simon Block, Lizzie Mickery, Valerie Windsor, Kate Wood, Francesca Brill, Valerie Windsor, Ann-marie di Mambro, Kevin Clarke, Simon Booker, Julian Simpson, Mark Grieg and Ed Whitmore. Whitmore also wrote a large number of episodes for fellow long-running BBC crime drama Waking the Dead. His other credits include Silent Witness (which was also picked up by TV4 Sweden at Showcase), Arthur & George and Identity, an ITV production that was subsequently sold as a format to ABC in the US. Whitmore also has a couple of episodes of CSI to his name.

happy-valley-dvdHappy Valley season two, was picked up by French PayTV broadcaster Canal+ (which also acquired the fourth season of Luther). The show’s first run was a strong seller overseas and there’s no reason to suppose the new outing will fare any less well. The show is produced by Red Production Company and written by Sally Wainwright. Wainwright also created Scott & Bailey, another popular female-led crime series that has been airing since 2011 on ITV.

prey-series-2Prey is broadcast by ITV in the UK but is distributed internationally by BBCWW. The first batch of three episodes aired in 2014 and starred John Simm, while a second run of three aired in late 2015 and starred Philip Glenister. The latter has just been sold to broadcasters including NRK Norway, YLE Finland and Canal+. Prey was created by Chris Lunt, who wrote all six episodes. Lunt’s success is a reminder that it’s never too late to break into the TV writing business. After 10 years of knocking on doors and pitching more than 80 projects, Lunt finally got his break at age 43. Media reports suggest he is also working on a modern-day adaptation of The Saint with the aforementioned Ed Whitmore.

sherlockSherlock, created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, has sold very well around the world since it debuted in 2010. At the start of this year, Gatiss and Moffat created one-off special The Abominable Bride, in which much of the action took place in the Victorian era (though a scriptwriting sleight of hand meant the story was actually linked back to the contemporary setting of the series). Broadcasters that picked up the special at Showcase include Degeto (Germany), SVT Sweden, Czech Television and Channel One in Russia. A fourth series of Sherlock is on the way in 2017, with stories for a fifth season also sketched out by Gatiss and Moffat. The show is very slow to come to market because of the busy schedules of Gatiss, Moffat and the lead cast members.

maigret_itvMaigret, based on the books by Georges Simenon, is a new ITV series starring Rowan Atkinson (Blackadder, Mr Bean). At Showcase it was picked up by Germany’s Degeto, which also acquired Sherlock: The Abominable Bride. The writer on this one is the experienced Stewart Harcourt, whose other credits include Agatha Raisin: The Quiche of Death, Love & Marriage, Treasure Island, Inspector George Gently, Poirot and Marple. So if anyone can handle a book-based period detective story, it’s Harcourt.

unforgottenUnforgotten, like Prey, is an ITV series distributed worldwide by BBCWW. Aired in October 2015, the first six-part series focuses on four people whose lives are rocked when the bones belonging to a young man who died 39 years ago are discovered below a demolished house. At Showcase, the drama was picked up by France 3 and YES DBS Satellite in Israel. The show was produced by Mainstreet Pictures and written and created by Chris Lang. Lang started his career on The Bill and has had a successful writing career since, with credits including Amnesia, Torn, A Mother’s Son and Undeniable. The ratings success of Unforgotten convinced ITV to commission a second series. There’s no information yet on the plot but it looks like it will be another cold-case drama, with Lang saying there will be “a new story, where long-buried secrets will once again be slowly brought to light.”

deathinparadiseDeath In Paradise was part of a package of 232 hours of crime drama sold to SVT in Sweden. Produced by Red Planet Pictures, the show has also been given the greenlight for a sixth series this week by Charlotte Moore, controller of BBC1, and Polly Hill, controller of BBC drama commissioning. All told, that will mean there are 48 episodes, which is a good number for the international market. Maybe that explains why it has sold to 237 territories worldwide including China, South Africa, the US and the Caribbean countries close to where the show is set and filmed. Echoing some of the other BBC dramas, Death In Paradise is written by a number of people. But the best-known name is series creator Robert Thorogood, who came to Red Planet’s attention via its scriptwriting competition.

fatherBrownFather Brown is based on the books by GK Chesterton and perfectly fits into the British tradition of eccentric or unusual amateur sleuths. The central character, played by Mark Williams, is a Roman Catholic priest. Unusually for a British drama, the 1950s-set show is already up to 45 episodes after just four series. At Showcase it was picked up by PBC (PTV) in South Korea and ABC Australia. Given the high number of episodes, it’s no surprise Father Brown is an ensemble-written afffair, with credited writers including Tahsin Guner, Rachel Flowerday, Nicola Wilson, Rebecca Wojciechowski, Jude Tindall Dan Muirden, Lol Fletcher, Paul Matthew Thompson, Dominique Moloney, David Semple, Rob Kinsman, Stephen McAteer, Jonathan Neil, Kit Lambert and Al Smith. Particularly prominent has been Guner, who wrote the very first episode and the last one in series four (among others). Repped by David Higham Associates, Guner was selected for the 2009/10 BBC Writers Academy and has written scripts for dramas including Holby, Casualty and New Tricks. He is currently developing original drama series Borders.

ripperstreetRipper Street was licensed this week to Multichoice VoD service Showmax. The show, which was famously saved by a financial injection from Amazon, is a period crime drama set in Victorian England. With four series of Ripper Street already produced and released, Amazon has already committed itself to a fifth season – taking the total number of episodes above 30. Another team effort, the key writer name attached to this is creator Richard Warlow, who tends to deliver about half of the episodes in each series. Warlow’s previous writing credits include Waking the Dead and Mistresses. Other writers on the show have included Toby Finlay (Peaky Blinders) and Rachel Bennette (Lark Rise to Candleford, Lewis and Liberty).

coronerThe Coroner is a daytime drama series about a solicitor who takes over as a coroner in the South Devon coastal town she left as a teenager. At Showcase it sold to AXN Mystery in Japan and Prime in New Zealand. The show was created by Sally Abbott, who also wrote three episodes of the first series. There’s a good blog from Abbott about how she got her break in the business here.

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