Trouble in paradise
The Australian and British creative team behind eight-part drama Eden reveal how a shortform series paved the way for this mystery thriller that uncovers the dark heart of an idyllic community.
As the maker of series including Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Newton’s Law and Seachange, Australia’s Every Cloud Productions has established itself as a producer of primetime drama. But with an ambition to develop younger voices for television, founders Fiona Eagger and Deb Cox embarked on a partnership with Skins creator Bryan Elsley that would lead them to create eight-part mystery drama Eden.
The series unfolds in an idyllic coastal town, where the disappearance of a young woman triggers a devastating chain of events that lay bare the hidden dark heart of the community. Long-buried secrets are dragged into the open as lives and deeds intersect over one fractured summer and its aftermath.
“It was important that we found a way to develop stories that felt authentic but also felt ambitious and sophisticated,” says Cox, speaking about the show as part of a Hot Properties: International Drama panel during C21 Media’s Content London On Demand at the end of last year. “When we looked around us internationally, the best example of that was Skins. We had nothing like that in Australia and it really stood out in the landscape. It was obvious that we had to lure Bryan out to Australia to work with us, and we asked him to come out and work with a select group of half-a-dozen young writers and directors from around Australia.”
Those workshops led to Deadlock, a series of five 12-minute episodes that follow events after a mysterious car crash that exposes the shady underbelly of a paradise, changing the lives of the teens involved – and a project that would serve as a blueprint for Eden.
“It was a great experience for Fiona and I to learn from Bryan’s mentoring techniques,” Cox continues. “But all the time we were developing that very short series, Bryan was convinced there was a bigger story there, that it was a unique location and we had something unique to say internationally and it should be something bigger. Once we pushed that project out the door, we could use it as a little bit of a prototype narratively for essentially a core event, the mystery of which is solved by jumping backwards and forwards in time. We had the approach and the world we wanted and we just kept talking to Bryan about how we could do something bigger and more ambitious, and that became Eden.”
Eden stars Sophie Wilde (Bird) as 20-year-old Scout, who has returned home to the titular beach community for the summer but finds her best friend Hedwig (BeBe Bettencourt, The Dry) has changed in her absence. The day after a night out together when Scout confesses her romantic feelings for Hedwig, the latter goes missing. As a search begins to find her, the story switches between the past and the present as secrets about Eden and those who live there are slowly revealed.
The cast also includes Keiynan Lonsdale (The Flash), Cody Fern (American Horror Story), Samuel Johnson (Molly) and Christopher James Baker (True Detective), alongside Rachael Blake (Cleverman), Leeanna Walsman (Penguin Bloom), Simon Lyndon (Mystery Road) and Maggie Kirkpatrick (Sando, The Letdown).
Meanwhile, the series boasts an all-female writing team led by head writer Vanessa Gazy (Highway) alongside Jess Brittain (Clique), Anya Beyersdorf (Shakespeare Now), Clare Sladden (Freudian Slip) and Penelope Chai (Other People’s Problems). John Curran (Bloom), Mirrah Foulkes (Judy & Punch) and Peter Andrikidis (Janet King) direct.
“Vanessa came along after a massive trawl of emerging television drama and film makers in Australia. We pretty much read every one out there and Vanessa was the best,” says Elsley, MD of London-based Balloon Entertainment. “We politely asked her if she would think about joining in with the conception of the show. But very quickly, Vanessa put her stamp on it in a way she felt reflected her view of the world and the view of young Australians. That’s always what we were trying to do: find a talented writer and then just set them free and do everything we can to enable that vision and bring it to pass.”
Gazy describes working on Eden as a “really exciting, lovely process,” which started after her former film school teacher, who now works at Every Cloud, invited her to meet the producers.
“I clicked with all of them instantly and became very excited by the prospect of what they were offering to me, which felt like something incredibly freeing creatively,” she says. “The brief seemed to be, ‘Let’s write something fresh and new in your voice. Let’s come up with characters and put them together in unusual situations and let’s evolve a story from character.’ That’s how Bryan and I worked for this very intense little period, just sending ideas and building characters until they started to connect to each other and it became a community. It became a town.”
One of the themes of Eden is the concept of inner self versus external image, and the structure of the series – each episode is told from the perspective of a different character – leans into the idea that the way a character presents themselves is not always who they really are.
“As the series progresses, we dig into these characters and we begin to see the secrets that they keep both from the world and from themselves,” Gazy says. “In doing so, we begin to unravel the mystery of what happened to a young woman who goes missing at the very beginning of the series. Each of these characters touches her life in some way and, as the series progresses, we reveal the truth about both these people and this town and what really happened to this young woman.”
Every Cloud and Balloon continued to develop the project until it was commissioned to series by Australian streamer Stan. The project, which debuts down under this Friday, was further backed by distributor All3Media International, which supported the show’s A$2m (US$1.5m)-per-episode budget and also brought on board US streamer Spectrum Originals.
Stan was drawn to Eden after observing a gap in the market for programming aimed at young-adult audiences. Spectrum was equally seduced by the picturesque series, which was filmed around Byron Bay and the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales.
“I do think it’s its own genre in the sense of it’s a coming-of-age story and it’s playing with time and perspective,” says Katherine Pope, head of Spectrum Originals. “It’s also pretty people in a pretty place. It’s a murder mystery. There are so many elements to it.
“We saw it as an incredibly sophisticated, addictive drama that played with point of view. I am an enormous Skins fan and what I loved the most about that show was the changing point of view, the way in which it reveals character and also secrets through what people choose to talk about and reveal to others and what they choose to keep private.”
Much of the show’s pre-production period was spent contemplating how to film during the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected financing and insurance.
“It does have an impact on the budget, and there are different ways of working now moving forward,” Eagger says. “But it’s very important for every production to think through what it means for them, and not just grab the Covid handbook off a shelf. You’ve actually got to really think through what it means to your production. Budgets have changed, ways of working have changed.”
Cox adds: “Creatively, the changes that came about because of Covid didn’t disrupt us at all. When we began developing this with Bryan and Vanessa, it was about how are we going to work with Bryan because he’s in the UK and we’re in Australia? How will Vanesa work with Bryan? What seemed unusual a couple of years ago has become the norm. We just kept doing what we were doing. It was normalised. Fiona and I live 2,000km away from each other, even in Australia, but that’s fine. We still run a company together. In some ways, attempting to do this international creative collaboration has been a plus for us. We haven’t faltered.”
Grazy hopes Eden’s “deep dive into character” will lead viewers on an exploration of what it means to be human and flawed, highlighting the murky moral ambiguity between good and evil.
“Hopefully they’ll come away feeling exhilarated by the drama and the action and the forward momentum of what really happened that night [when Hedwig disappears], but also maybe taking away a feeling of, ‘Oh, maybe that person’s like me,’” she says. “You always hope people take away something that could help them in their lives in some strange way, even if it’s just to say, ‘I’m not alone in my deep, dark secret.’”