Tag Archives: Victoria Madden

Doom and Gloam

With The Kettering Incident and now The Gloaming, writer Victoria Madden is honing a reputation for unsettling crime dramas. She tells DQ about her latest project.

From the opening moments of Australian drama The Gloaming, Tasmania’s breathtaking scenery is captured in all its picture-postcard beauty, from waterfalls and lush green forests to brooding, fog-covered mountains and the urban landscapes of the island state’s capital, Hobart.

It all serves to create a mesmerising backdrop for the eight-part series, which blends crime drama and the supernatural to build an unsettling story set across two timelines.

The story begins when an unidentified woman is found brutally murdered, with evidence discovered at the scene linking the crime to a 20-year-old unsolved case. Then what starts as a routine investigation exposes something more insidious, as political corruption and shady business dealings intertwine with sinister crimes and occult practices.

That the series comes from creator, writer and showrunner Victoria Madden will not surprise viewers who saw her previous show, The Kettering Incident, which similarly mixes crime and mystery to tell the story of a woman who returns to the titular Tasmanian town 15 years after her best friend disappeared, prompting her to discover what really happened.

Victoria Madden

Madden says it is “exciting” to be able to mash up traditional genres, describing The Gloaming as “very original.” She continues: “It feels a lot bigger than Kettering and that was a bit of a challenge. This is another level, partly because we’re filming in a city, whereas Kettering was out in a forest.

“The story that starts the series, what happened 20 years ago, feeds into the [present day] crime story. The supernatural elements then entwine into the crime story and I’ve used Tasmania’s convict history as well to draw on. It’s a bit of everything. The supernatural certainly plays a major role.”

After The Kettering Incident launched on Australia’s Foxtel in 2016, Madden began working on a new project that continued to explore a mixture of genres, and that would once again be set on the island of Tasmania, where she is from. She also wanted to draw on Tasmania’s mythology and history, and particularly the British colonisation and the Black War that led to the near obliteration of its Aboriginal population in the early part of the 19th century.

But rather than start with the idea for a character or the central plot, the writer determined that her next project would begin with an exploration grief.

“My mum was dying – she died just before we started shooting, which was difficult – and grief is such a strange emotion,” Madden says. “We all go through it on some level. It’s a mysterious process. Because Tasmania has a very dark and violent history with colonialism, a lot of what interests me is it’s a place that’s haunted by a past that hasn’t been resolved. You can see the past in so many places, so I felt grief was something I could explore on two levels – characters going through long-term, lingering grief and trying to draw out the grief in the land.

“‘Gloaming’ is also a favourite word of mine – it means twilight, in between day and night, and in grief you get stuck. You can’t go forward, you can’t go back, so it became this ghost story.”

The Gloaming stars Emma Booth as detective Molly McGee

Madden also wanted to flip the traditional crime drama structure, offering viewers a glimpse of the central criminal early in the story to make The Gloaming a ‘whydunnit’ rather than a ‘whodunnit.’

“I found that quite a tricky, complex thing to do, so I can see why people don’t do it that often,” she admits. “It’s interesting; it makes you think about why people do what they do and work out the motive behind it. From there, all the fingers of all the different genres start to spread out. But at the centre we have Molly and Alex, who are connected to the past and have to work together and resolve it. Molly is a messy, complex character and both of them are stuck, partly because of what happened 20 years ago. Their journey is a very heavily character-driven journey.”

After an opening prologue set 20 years in the past, the story begins in the present day where unorthodox detective Molly McGee (Emma Booth) is brought in to investigate the aforementioned murder. Fellow officer Alex O’Connell (Ewen Leslie) is then sent from Melbourne to Tasmania to help solve the case, while his return to the island brings back haunting memories of their shared tragic past. The cast also includes Aaron Pedersen and Rena Owen, while Michael Rymer (American Horror Story), Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and Sian Davies (Wentworth) were on directing duties.

While The Kettering Incident rolled out weekly, all eight episodes of The Gloaming were dropped on Australian streamer Stan on New Year’s Day, with a story that demanded greater complexity to match the ambitions of the premium platform. One of the key things Madden had to get to grips with was balancing the stories of a greater number of characters all vying for screen time.

“I really love the way the Scandis tell their stories because all their characters have a journey, not just one or two,” she says. “I knew I had to get to know all the characters really well, know what they wanted and know what was driving them. Kettering was really good groundwork for that, so I knew I had to push a bit harder and try to open up different aspects of the stories and heighten the genre elements.

The drama, which also features Rena Owen, makes full use of Tasmania’s varied landscape

“Because there are so many characters, it was a question of where to focus. Every episode focuses a little bit on a character or a cluster of characters, so they’re all involved in one particular thing together. You don’t want to be in my room at home watching me put this together – you’d be pulling your hair out. The hardest thing is not showing your hand too much. The two mistakes writers make is they make the characters too self-aware and they don’t trust the audience enough to plant something and move on and then come back to it. Really clever plotters do that quite well.”

But while characters and plot points were constantly juggled, one element that remained in place was the ending, with Madden saying she always knew how the story would conclude. Having drawn criticism for the “oblique” ending to The Kettering Incident, she sought a more traditional, emotionally satisfying finale to this series. However, she adds: “I’m never going to write a sickly sweet end point. I like to keep it emotionally complex because that’s how you live your lives.

“I certainly knew a twist I wanted at the end, I just wasn’t sure at one point how I was going to get there. But, funnily enough, when you do know what you want at the end, it just mulls around in your head until you suddenly realise how it’s going to go. It’s like doing a big crossword puzzle.”

Madden was joined in the writing room by Peter McKenna (Red Rock), who penned episode six, while she also collaborated closely with McLean, whose passion for the material led him to take on an expanded role as an executive producer.

Behind the scenes, The Gloaming is produced by Stan and Disney-owned ABC International Studios, with Madden’s Sweet Potato Films and producer John Molloy’s 2 Jons. Working in Tasmania, with its temperamental weather and rugged terrain, proved challenging during production. In addition, Madden had to balance the darkness of her original material with the aspirations of the coproduction partners for a series that could appeal to a wide audience, not just in Australia but around the world.

Booth on set with Greg McLean, one of The Gloaming’s directors

“Some of the Disney people thought it was a little too dark so I had to compromise a little bit. The best thing you can do is step back, don’t chop it to pieces, and try to understand their concerns,” she says. “Sometimes it’s frustrating because [the discussion point] is something that’s always been there. But, at the end of the day, I try to find a way to deal with it. I’ve been doing it long enough to know you can’t get around notes. You fight the fights you think you need to fight, and sometimes you need to compromise. That’s the relationship.

“Stan were very supportive and are very supportive of the creative voice. That’s what sets them apart. We’ve had so many years of bring suppressed and toeing the network line but now that there’s streaming services, we have more freedom. We can be a bit bolder, and Stan have been incredible for that. They really liked Kettering and wanted that individual voice. They wanted a show no one else would have made.”

With The Gloaming, Madden has certainly built on the style and tone she set up in The Kettering Incident, enhancing her reputation as a writer of melancholic mysteries that subvert the usual genre cliches. It’s a long way from the start of her career, when she worked on shows including The Flying Doctors and Heartbreak High and was a story producer on British crime drama The Bill.

“I would like people to watch The Gloaming and think, ‘This is a Vicki Madden show,’” she says. “I’m not going to write a comedy next week – that would be tragic.”

If her hope for the series is that viewers immediately demand a second season, she is already working on how Molly and Alex might be reunited for a new story. But any potential follow-up will come after Madden takes a break and then focuses on an upcoming film project.

“We’ve all got our fingers crossed,” she concludes. “The characters go on this journey and you think, ‘I wonder what they’re going to do now.’ It will be another cop story with a different crime, and we can move around Tasmania. It may not be in Hobart, maybe the north-west, which is a different landscape again, and the relationship between the two characters will take them on the next adventure.”

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Six of the Best: Victoria Madden

The writer and co-creator of Australian drama The Kettering Incident and forthcoming supernatural thriller The Gloaming picks her six favourite dramas, which include a blend of science fiction, crime and Scandi noir.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker
I remember, thinking back to my childhood, how much I enjoyed shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Doctor Who. Probably my favourite was Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with all the frightening creatures out in the night. I really enjoyed the dynamic between newspaper reporter Kolchak (Darren McGavin) and his editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). Tony never believed Kolchak and I’d be yelling at the TV – ‘I saw it too, Vincenzo!’ But they had a genuine respect for each other. As an adult, I would watch The X-Files and I could definitely see where that show’s creator, Chris Carter, got his inspiration from.

Hill Street Blues
In my 20s and starting to write myself, I was attracted to Hill Street Blues (also pictured above) – basically all of Steven Bochco’s shows. He was a genius, and shows like Hill Street, NYPD Blue and LA Law really changed the landscape of TV. They had long-running storylines where characters developed, rather than resetting each week as the TV model was then. You always wanted to be part of the team, whatever the show. I believe this series changed the way we told stories on TV from that point on.

Life on Mars
This show was a total game-changer for me as a writer. I was working in London on The Bill when Life on Mars was being made and I had done a ton of crime shows up until then. The hybrid of crime, time-travel and mystery elements was fantastic and opened my eyes to the possibilities of genre-blending. I used it as a reference and inspiration for The Kettering Incident, even though they are completely different shows.

This is another British series that has influenced me a lot when it comes to blending the supernatural with crime. Lesley Sharp is one of my all-time favourite actresses and she shines in this. It used to genuinely scare the crap out of me. I am thrilled that I now have Stephen Volk, the creator and writer, as a friend on Facebook. I’m a nerd like that.

Twin Peaks
It is hard to pick one show when we get to the massive change in TV coming out of the US in the 1990s, with the introduction of HBO and the rise of the showrunner model, but I have to go to one of my most revered idols – David Lynch and Twin Peaks. Lynch and Mark Frost created a truly original, unique and luscious TV series with a mix of dreamscape, horror, comedy and soap, and showed the power of a single question: who killed Laura Palmer? The soundtrack was perfect as well.

Forbrydelsen (The Killing)
My final choice is Forbrydelsen (The Killing). I have long been drawn to Scandi shows like Unit One, The Eagle and Wallander, but Denmark’s The Killing brought together a complex female lead with multiple storylines over 20 episodes. This was the first time I genuinely binged on a show, and though I had writing deadlines of my own, I would still be up at 02.00 watching ‘just one more.’ It also paved the way for other great Scandi series like Bron/Broen (The Bridge) and Borgen, which I also love. It even made me want one of Sarah Lund (Sophie Gråbøl)’s jumpers!

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Reading between the lines

A trio of the world’s hottest television writers – Bill Gallagher, Victoria Madden and Sarah Phelps – discuss their latest projects and reveal how they find their voice for the small screen.

Bill Gallagher
Starting his career on British dramas such as Casualty, Soldier Soldier and a TV movie based on French detective Maigret, Bill Gallagher is best known for credits including Lark Rise to Candleford, Conviction, The Prisoner, The Paradise and Paranoid. His next project is frontier drama Jamestown (pictured above), which charts the early days of the first British settlers as they begin their new lives in America. It is produced by Carnival Films for Sky1 and distributed by NBCUniversal International Distribution.

Bill Gallagher

Gareth Neame [Carnival’s MD] asked if I would look at this period of the very first settlers who went to America from England. I said, “Ok, I’ll read some books.” So I was reading this stuff and it was terrific but I couldn’t see a show. Then I was reading one book, I was on page 300-and-something and suddenly it said, ‘And in 1619, when the men had been there for 12 years, the Virginia Company sent over a ship with 100 women on it’ – maids to make wives. And I fell in love with the whole notion of doing this. You have to fall in love with it.
That became the defining aspect of the show – to see the whole experience though the eyes of women. I was brought up on westerns on the TV so it really was my mythology as a kid, and I got to write for Native American actors. It was absolutely fantastic.
I wrote the whole thing myself. It’s not always the case but often is. I was instantly very clear about who the characters were and what the stories were. I wrote the pilot very quickly and Gareth gave it to Sky very quickly. I’ve been a writer for 30 years and that speed is a rarity rather than commonplace. Things just fell into place at the right time. Sky makes shows with scale, with issues driving them. It fitted what they wanted and they had a pilot script.
I worked with [exec producer] Richard Fell at Carnival and we went to Virginia together. One of the most joyful parts of being a writer is to find a simpatico partner to work with, somebody who challenged me all the time, who was as passionate as I was about it and who got me as a writer.
I allow myself to be clumsy. I love my craft, I love the craft of making a TV show but I work quickly and sometimes that’s clumsy – but I don’t mind that. I used to beat myself up about it when I was younger, I used to get in a real mess and then I had this realisation at some point that this was just my job and it’s my job to be better – so how do I make it better? I don’t mind being clumsy but I have to find someone who’s not panicked by that, and Richard was terrific. I love the craft of it. I work very hard at the composition and architecture of it all but I also give myself permission to get things wrong.
It’s a great time to be a writer because to write something like Jamestown now, which has Native American characters and slaves and English people who have been transported around the world, we can write anything and it’s doable.

Victoria Madden
Australian writer Victoria Madden’s early credits include The Flying Doctors and Heartbreak High, before she moved to the UK and worked on dramas including The Bill, Trial & Retribution and Irish series The Clinic. She then returned home to Tasmania to write and produce The Kettering Incident (pictured above), an eight-part mystery with supernatural overtones for pay TV broadcaster Foxtel that centres on a doctor who finds herself linked to the disappearance of two girls, 15 years apart. It is produced by Porchlight Films in association with Sweet Potato Films and distributed by BBC Worldwide.

Victoria Madden

I’ve written a lot of crime in my career and I love it as a base to work from. I was looking for other angles and when I was living in the UK, Life On Mars was being shot. I was hugely influenced by that show, the way they managed to make a fantastic crime show but with supernatural overtones that didn’t get in the way. It started to make me think that I wanted to explore the supernatural genre as well and to marry together some ideas.
Tasmania is a deeply gothic place with a horrific past – it’s right at the bottom of the world, it’s very isolated, very alone and suffers a lot from huge environmental wars – and I wanted to explore that, adding in the fact that Tasmania also has an abnormally high percentage of people who go missing. I was always fascinated by that.
That started the idea – then something else, something out there. That was the hardest part for me. I hadn’t done supernatural before. I didn’t want it to be a sci-fi show; I wanted it to be a metaphor and to build the supernatural into the story in a natural way. It’s also about a small town on the brink of destruction and that world I grew up in and that desperation. Also, in small worlds, what I find fascinating is the way you have to get on with your neighbours because it’s so small but everybody hates everybody. It builds this maelstrom of deceit and duplicity.
Anna Macy, the lead character [played by Elizabeth Debicki], is a girl who comes back, realises she doesn’t belong and so starts a journey. It really is a journey of unwinding a character and seeing why we need connection and why we need to call somewhere home. She’s a bit of an anti-hero – you don’t know whether to believe her, so that was fun to play with. Is she lying, is she connected to the missing girl story?
I was very influenced by Scandinavian drama and the importance of place. I wanted a story with a big landscape, so that meant a big budget and universal themes so it could travel. We were really lucky, it was a perfect storm. Foxtel was looking for something really different for Australia so it all came together for a world stage.
I don’t like dialogue a lot and I do anything to try not to write a lot of dialogue, but I knew the themes we were exploring were about disconnection, and so every character – even the smaller secondary characters – had a full journey through the show. When I know the themes I am exploring, I like to work in a mosaic way. I do small scenes between people, taking them out of the drama, and then I weave it together afterwards. I don’t like to do it linearly, I just like to do these moments and think about what these people would talk about. At the end, you hopefully get this coherent episode of characters who are lost and trying to find their way through their circumstances.

Sarah Phelps
Sarah Phelps started her writing career on long-running UK soap EastEnders and has since worked on shows including The Crimson Field, Dickensian and Hooten & The Lady. She is best known, however, for her skill at adaptations, among them Great Expectations and The Casual Vacancy. She is now reinventing Agatha Christie for the BBC, first with And Then There Were None and most recently with The Witness for the Prosecution (pictured above and at the top of this page). The two-part story about a man put on trial for the murder of a wealthy heiress is produced by Mammoth Screen and Agatha Christie Productions, with A+E Networks distributing.

Sarah Phelps

I never read any Agatha Christie at all and I never watched any – I just thought it wasn’t for me. It was cosy, over there somewhere, just not what I’m interested in. But then Damien Timmer from Mammoth told me to read And Then There Were None and I was absolutely knocked sideways. It’s one of the most brutal, savage things I’ve ever read. It’s rather extraordinary. It just took fire in my head.
These 10 people on an island – a salt-scoured rock – in the middle of the sea, unable to reach the mainland and here comes this thing towards them, this bloody reckoning of all the things they’ve done, the lies they’ve told. You watch the veneer of etiquette, politesse, society, gender and status being stripped away from them to reveal the craven, brutish animals they are. They are all people who have perpetrated the most terrible crime – they’re all murderers.
That to me felt like, ‘Well, if this isn’t a story about what it’s like to live in 1939 as the world tips over again and the absolute cataclysm of the Second World War, then what the hell is?’ So that really excited me.
Then I came to The Witness for the Prosecution. It’s 20-odd pages, this story with a great twist, but it’s also the 1920s. We associate the period with people dancing on tables and drinking champagne; flappers and rackety, hedonistic, sexual and social excess, but it’s also a time of extreme depression. People came back from the First World War with terrible injuries, both seen and unseen, and terrible deformities.
In the middle of this is a story about sex, money and murder, about an older, very wealthy woman buying favours from a young man who is completely penniless, and you get a really different feeling from the story. Added to that is one of the main characters is a woman who is absolutely the epitome of alterity – she is a foreigner, an actress from Vienna. What we’re talking about is someone from somewhere else and Christie takes all those great icons of what we believe English and privilege are and just smashes them to absolute pieces. That feels so wildly subversive to me.
There’s always a key that unlocks the story and makes the whole thing explode. Suddenly there’s a tiny detail, it might even be a sub-clause in some long sentence, and it just unlocks everything and that’s when you start running wildly round your house with your jumper over your head like a kid. You know you’ve found your story.
From writing EastEnders to anything else, I’m the audience. Does the story excite me? Do I want to find out what happens next? Am I interested in this story? But if you want it to be universal, you have to be really specific because that’s where you get this emotional connection. Being able to write something that absolutely punches you in the heart from my ridiculously tiny study somewhere in England – if it can punch you in the heart there, it can punch you in the heart around the world.

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Oz drama enjoys upbeat year

The Kettering Incident
Tasmania-set The Kettering Incident debuts on Foxtel in the summer

Australian television dramas often struggle to compete against US imports in their domestic market. But there are some encouraging signs in terms of titles coming through. One series to watch out for is The Kettering Incident, which debuts on Foxtel on July 4.

Set in Tasmania, the show tells the story of Anna Macy (played by Elizabeth Debicki), who left Kettering when she was 14 years old, shortly after her best friend disappeared when they were playing in the forest. Anna returns 15 years later to find the town is struggling to survive. Then another young girl disappears.

The show was co-created by Victoria Madden and Vincent Sheehan. Madden is also part of the writing team, alongside Andrew Knight, Cate Shortland and Louise Fox. Her previous credits include Lynda La Plante’s Trial and Retribution, The Bill and Halifax FP – though what makes this title so interesting that she is from Tasmania. So, in fact, are most of the cast, crew and supporting industry, with an estimated 300 Tasmanians involved.

Overall, the eight-part production has cost A$14m (US$10m), with Tasmania expecting the local economy to benefit by around A$5m. In return for a Tasmanian government contribution there is also an attachment training initiative that has seen trainees work across various production areas, including screenwriting.

House of Hancock follows the life of iron ore magnate Lang Hancock
House of Hancock follows the life of iron ore magnate Lang Hancock

While The Kettering Incident is very much an Australia/Tasmania labour of love, there are strong indicators that it will do well internationally. One is that BBC Worldwide is handling international distribution – always a good sign. The other is that it won the Special Jury Prize at the Series Mania festival last month.

Another upcoming Australian show that promises to hit the headlines is Nine Network’s miniseries House of Bond, which stars Ben Mingay as flamboyant fraudster Alan Bond. Currently in production, the show follows the success of last year’s House of Hancock, which was a biopic of iron ore magnate Lang Hancock.

House of Bond is produced by Cordell Jigsaw Zapruder, with the assistance of Screen Australia and Screen NSW. The writer is Sarah Smith, originally from Perth. Smith has been in the screenwriting business for more than 20 years as a writer and producer on shows like The Alice, All Saints, McLeod’s Daughters, Canal Road and Sea Patrol. She’s also the co-creator, producer and writer of Wild Boys and Rescue Special Ops as well as co-writer and producer of the telemovie, Dripping In Chocolate.

Her most recent project prior to House of Bond was six-part thriller Winter, a spin-off from the 2014 telemovie The Killing Field. Aired on Seven Network it averaged around one million viewers.

The Doctor Blake Mysteries
The Doctor Blake Mysteries has been commissioned for a fifth season

Another Aussie show in the news this week is ABC’s period drama The Doctor Blake Mysteries, which has been commissioned for a fifth season (due to air in 2017).

Starring Craig McLachlan as police surgeon Dr Lucien Blake and Nadine Garner as his devoted housekeeper Jean, the show has been a bit hit for the channel. “We are delighted to commission more Doctor Blake for our audience,” says ABC director of television Richard Finlayson. “Season four has been the most successful to date with an average audience of 1.67 million viewers across TV and iview. Doctor Blake satisfies an appetite for engaging, home grown stories.”

The series co-creator and showrunner is December Media’s George Adams, who added: “December Media is elated to be returning to 1960s Ballarat once again to bring our loyal audience more tales of murder, mystery, mayhem and a wee bit of love with Blake, Jean and all our favourite characters.”

So far the show has racked up a total of 36 episodes and draws on quite a large writing team. One key figure has been Stuart Page, who wrote seven episodes in the first series and has been heavily involved in the following three series.

David S Goyer
David S Goyer is behind Krypton

Other episode writers have included Chelsea Cassio, Chris Corbett, Tim Pye, Jane Allen, Peter McTighe, Marcia Gardner, Michael Harvey, Pino Amenta, Roger Monk, Jeff Truman, Paul Oliver, Paul Jenner and Sarah Lambert.

Of these, British writer McTighe is perhaps the best known, having written for several UK and Australia productions including EastEnders, Neighbours, Crownies and Nowhere Boys. He was also handed the task of reinventing Prisoner Cell Block H as Wentworth, a show that has proven to be a major hit. (Stuart Page also cropped up as a writer on Wentworth in season three.)

Elsewhere in the world of TV drama, Syfy in the US has ordered a pilot for a prequel to Superman from David S Goyer. Called Krypton, the show will explore the home of Superman before it is destroyed. Goyer, who has become the go-to guy for superhero stories in recent years, wrote the pilot with Ian Goldberg. Goyer’s other credits include The Dark Knight movies and Man of Steel.

Another interesting story brewing this week is that The Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) wants a bigger share of the operating profits that it says Hollywood’s major media studios made last year. Those profits, which the WGA claims doubled in the last decade, are largely attributable to the content created by guild members, according to the organisation’s leadership. According to the WGA, the guild’s health plan is now running in the red and the average incomes of film and series TV writers have decreased while the Hollywood studios’ profits have risen.

The significance of this is that the last confrontation between the WGA and the studios resulted in a huge writers’ strike in 2007/08, with 12,000 writers laying down their pens for three months. Reports at the time suggested that the strike cost the economy of LA anywhere between US$500m and US$1.5bn. Nothing will happen straightaway but it will be worth watching negotiations towards a new contract over the coming year.

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