Tag Archives: Wake in Fright


Kenneth Cook’s classic 1961 novel Wake in Fright has been reimagined for Australia’s Network Ten. DQ talks to producers Helen Bowden and Kristian Moliere and director Kriv Stenders about updating the seminal horror story for a modern audience.

More than 300 miles from Adelaide, the nearest major city, Broken Hill is an isolated mining town located deep in the Australian outback. Nevertheless, the town and its desolate surroundings have become popular locations for film and television crews looking to capture its beautiful but harsh and treacherous desert landscapes.

Scenes from the Mad Max films, Mission: Impossible 2 and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert have all been shot there, as have TV series such as The Code and telemovie Murder in the Outback.

Wake in Fright tells the story of John Grant, played by Sean Keenan

However, Broken Hill is arguably best known as the setting for Wake in Fright, Kenneth Cook’s 1961 novel and subsequent 1971 film adaptation, both considered classics in their own right. Now, more than 50 years after it was first published, the book has been updated for Network Ten as a four-hour miniseries, which will debut in two parts starting this Sunday.

Wake in Fright tells the story of John Grant, who is returning to Sydney after a year teaching at a one-classroom school in the outback. Shortly after hitting the road, he collides with a kangaroo and finds himself marooned in a small mining town, awaiting repairs on his car.

With little to do but drink beer, John is seduced into a raucous illegal coin game. After a short, exhilarating winning streak, he loses everything, triggering a dangerous series of events that render John a broken and desperate man.

Led by Sean Keenan as John, the cast also includes David Wenham, Alex Dimitriades, Caren Pistorius, Gary Sweet, Robyn Malcolm, Lee Jones, Anna Samson, Hannah Frederiksen and Jada Alberts.

The miniseries marks the first television drama from Lingo Pictures, set up by Helen Bowden and Jason Stephens. Bowden and Kristian Moliere (The Babadook) produce the show, which is written by Stephen M Irwin (Harrow, Tidelands). The director is Kriv Stenders (Kill Me Three Times).

L-R: Kriv Stenders, Helen Bowden and Kristian Moliere

The project was first mooted five years ago when Stenders and Moliere spoke about adapting Cook’s novel for television. “I just thought it was the most extraordinary book I’d read about Australia and thought immediately it would be great to do something as big as the landscape, on a broader canvas than a film,” Moliere recalls. “So I always pictured it as a series, and I spoke to Kriv about it. He’d seen the film and recalled it as truly extraordinary. He jumped on the idea.”

Bowden, best known for The Slap and Devil’s Playground, then joined the production, though the matter of identifying who owned the rights to the novel proved a stumbling block that took two years to overcome. The effort was worth it, however, as Stenders says they were clear in their intention not to reproduce the film but to make something that could live alongside it.

“Our whole strategy was to go back to the source novel and start from scratch,” Stenders says. “That was really the plan. Once we realised we could get the rights, we were off and running.”

Bowden picks up: “It was a somewhat scary proposition but a bold one. I just thought we had to do it. The book itself is an absolute page-turner. It’s like a very good film script to begin with. To turn it into four hours, we needed to open out parts of the book but it was very exciting.”

Rather than setting the story in the period in which it was first conceived, this reimagining of Wake in Fright takes place in contemporary Australia as the production team sought to use Cook’s novel as a way of looking at traditional mining towns such as Broken Hill in the 21st century.

While the show may be based on a 1961 novel, its creators believe its themes remain relevant

“Broken Hill is still very isolated,” Bowden explains. “There are large parts of Australia that don’t have mobile coverage and it’s this mythical place. We had to find more creative ways to make sure there was no way John Grant could leave. But also, closer analysis showed us that a lot of the reasons he can’t leave are down to his own poor decisions, which are all very understandable but not good – they lead him further down the rabbit hole and not out of it.

Moliere adds: “On a surface level, it’s a fantastic yarn and that’s why it’s stood the test of time. Ultimately, it talks about something to do with the Australian psyche, the culture of ‘mateship’ and the toxic elements of the drinking culture we have here. And some of those things have not changed. We like to think we’ve changed and become more sophisticated, but those Australian characters are still as relevant as they were in the 60s. It still feels remarkably fresh and has something to say about Australia.”

Stenders agrees that themes explored in the novel remain relevant, believing that issues such as binge-drinking, mental health and economic hardships are as applicable today as they were in 1961.

“These mining towns that experience these incredible booms and busts are very traumatic, very tragic places,” he says. “In a way, the mirror we put up against the book reflected very brightly back at us because the issues in the book in 1961 and the film in 1971 are still very much there and very present, especially mental health, suicide… all these things the film and the book looked at are still very vivid and present issues.”

The director hadn’t read the book before picking up the project but admits he is “in awe” of the film, which he first saw on an old VHS tape. For the miniseries, he tapped into the huge number of films previously shot in the outback. “We really wanted to capture the clawing heat and the existential isolation of those kinds of towns,” he explains. “Broken Hill itself, where we shot, is a very evocative place. It’s very visual, very cinematic and the landscape around it is quite extraordinary. As a visualist, that landscape is a gift. There are amazing colours already there for you to draw from, so it was very much about tapping into the reservoir of colour, texture and visual history of the outback and plugging into that.”

The show is set in the outback mining town of Broken Hill

Also making an appearance in the miniseries is one Broken Hill resident who also featured in the film. “She was saying when the film was screened for Broken Hill residents back in the 70s, it was greeted with horror and a lot of people that gave facilities and locations were almost turned upon by the community,” Moliere reveals. “Now Wake in Fright is very much part of their tourist culture, so they’ve very much embraced it and what it has meant to the region. We had nothing but help from the local community. They bent over backwards to accommodate us across the board. Mining towns have really matured in the last 50 years and they’re much more sophisticated places than they were back then.”

The producers, Stenders and writer Irwin hammered out the storyline over 10 days spent together in a writers room, giving Irwin the fuel he needed to then pen the scripts. Filming then took place in Broken Hill and Sydney across five weeks in March and April this year.

Stenders admits the shooting schedule proved to be the biggest challenge for the production, as they sought to get as much out of the limited time they had available in each location. However, having worked across film and television, he now sees no difference working in the two mediums.

“Television has been in the golden age now for 10 years so [film and TV] are completely blurred,” he says. “I don’t differentiate between one and the other. In fact, television is spearheading creative storytelling in a way cinema can’t just because the apparatus of film financing and getting things made. I still love films but, in an ironic way, telling a story over a long period of time is more cinematic.”

Fuelled by fellow outback-set show Wolf Creek, zombie drama Glitch and many more exports, Australian drama is now making a big impact on international audiences. Endemol Shine International will be shopping Wake in Fright around the world.

Bowden admits it’s an “exciting time, both in the number of things people want to make and in the ambition. Given everything’s so global, we’re all watching everything and thinking, ‘That’s how good we have to be.’”

“You’ve seen the reaction to Top of the Lake in Cannes and other [Australian] series that have been screened in Berlin and at other festivals,” Moliere adds, noting that the biggest hit at this year’s Cannes Film Festival was a television series. “Romper Stomper has been picked up by SundanceTV and they’ve also been involved with Cleverman. Netflix has announced another new series [called Tidelands, also written by Irwin] so it’s a global television market and we’ve made some series that have really popped. There’s still more to come with Picnic at Hanging Rock and others. It’s a good time to be telling stories in Australian television because they’re being embraced internationally.”

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The Last Ship extends tour of duty

The Last Ship stars Eric Dane (right)
The Last Ship stars Eric Dane (right)

Echoing a growing trend in the TV business, US cable channel TNT has ordered a fifth season of its hit series The Last Ship before the fourth run has even begun.

Based on the William Brinkley novel, the summer series follows the aftermath of a global catastrophe that ravages the world’s population. Because of its location, the navy destroyer USS Nathan James avoids falling victim to the devastating tragedy. Now, however, Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) and his crew must confront the reality of their new existence in a world where they may be among the few survivors.

According to TNT, the show is currently averaging around 7.1 million viewers per episode across multiple platforms and ranks as one of basic cable’s top 10 summer dramas among adults aged 18 to 49. Seasons four and five (2017/2018) will both have 10 episodes.

TNT executive VP of original programming Sarah Aubrey said: “The Last Ship has taken viewers on an exciting ride through three truly thrilling seasons. We look forward to watching the cast and production team ratchet up the drama, action and suspense even more over the next two seasons through summer 2018.”

The series is produced by Turner’s Studio T in association with Platinum Dunes, whose partners – blockbuster filmmaker Michael Bay, Brad Fuller and Andrew Form – serve as executive producers. Co-creators Hank Steinberg and Steven Kane are also executive producers, along with director Paul Holahan.

ABC has cancelled Mistresses
ABC has cancelled Mistresses

Less fortunate this week is ABC’s summer series Mistresses. The show, which has just completed its fourth season, will not be back for a fifth. Based on the British series of the same name from Ecosse, Mistresses revolves around the lives and loves of a group of sexy female friends.

Although the show was never a huge ratings performer for ABC, it has been a decent franchise, selling to broadcasters like TLC in the UK, RTÉ in Ireland and TVNZ in New Zealand. It was also subject of a Chilean remake called Infieles.

Still in the US, HBO is only three weeks away from the launch of its much-anticipated sci-fi reboot series Westworld (October 2). There has been a lot of industry speculation that the show might bomb after filming was temporarily shut down at the start of the year. The rumours at the time were that something must have gone wrong with the series to result in such an interruption.

Now, though, those close to the production are saying that the hold up was to ensure that Westworld has a strong enough foundation to become a long-running returnable franchise.

Westworld reportedly has several future seasons mapped out
Westworld reportedly has several future seasons mapped out

Actor James Marsden told Entertainment Weekly: “It wasn’t about getting the first 10 [episodes] done, it was about mapping out what the next five or six years are going to be. We wanted everything in line so that when the very last episode airs and we have our show finale, five or seven years down the line, we knew how it was going to end the first season. [The production team] could have rushed them and get spread too thin. They got them right, and when they were right, we went and shot them.”

HBO will certainly be hoping that Westworld can run and run – because it will soon be faced with the end of mega hit Game of Thrones.

Also in the US this week, there has been a sudden burst of development news. SVoD platform Hulu is developing a fantasy-adventure series based on the Throne of Glass book series by Sarah J Maas. Kira Snyder will write the adaptation, which comes from The Mark Gordon Company.

USA Network has ordered a pilot for a crime drama that stars Jessica Biel as a woman who commits an out-of-character act of horrific violence. Called The Sinner, this is based on a book by Petra Hammesfahr.

ABC, meanwhile, has commissioned a pilot called American Heritage – about two families forced to work together to run LA’s premiere real estate firm.

Ola Rapace in Hassel
Ola Rapace in Hassel

Elsewhere in the world of scripted TV, Nordic-based streaming service Viaplay and Swedish TV channel TV3, both part of Modern Times Group (MTG), have linked up with German distributor Beta Film on a new Nordic noir series called Hassel. The 10-part show is based on books by popular Swedish author Olov Svedelid, who died in 2008. It will be produced by Nice, another arm of the MTG empire.

The central character of the series is Roland Hassel (played by Ola Rapace), a police detective who is the protagonist of 29 books by Svedelid. So if the show is successful there is plenty of scope for it to come back.

Hassel will be the third Viaplay original series following Swedish Dicks and Occupied. It has been created by Henrik Jansson-Schweizer and Morgan Jensen, with scripts by Bjorn Paqualin and Charlotte Lesche. Shooting starts this year.

Over in Australia, Network Ten has commissioned an adaptation of Kenneth Cook’s classic 1961 novel Wake in Fright. The two-part show will tell the story of a young schoolteacher who becomes stranded in the small outback mining town of Bundanyabba.

It will be produced by Lingo Pictures in association with Endemol Shine Australia, with backing from Screen Australia and Screen NSW. It has previously been remade as a movie, released in 1971.

Lisa McInerney
Lisa McInerney

Network Ten head of drama Rick Maier said: “There are few Australian stories as original or compelling as Wake in Fright. Kenneth Cook’s novel, now re-imagined for a new generation, deals with the biggest themes. Provocative, morally complex and brilliantly realised, this story is guaranteed to stay with you long into the night and – possibly – for years to come.”

Finally, Endemol Shine-owned production company Fifty Fathoms (Fortitude, The A Word) is adapting Lisa McInerney’s debut novel The Glorious Heresies, with Entourage’s Julian Farino attached to direct and exec produce. McInerney will adapt the novel, which was first published in 2015 and looks at the lives of a collection of misfits living in modern-day Cork in Ireland. It won the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

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