In television a second series is invariably much stronger than the first. Everybody knows what it is they’re making, the writers, the actors, the network and the audience. Roger Monk, who co-created and co-created ABC’s East of Everything with Deb Cox, knew when he was watching the first series on air that the scripts he had commenced for the second season had to be thrown out and started from scratch.
“The first series ran really smoothly but we didn’t really know what we were up against,” he told TV Tonight. “We had designed it as a mini-series rather than a series with 6 episodes. This time everything is much more heightened in terms of our ability to do it.
“So we shelved what we had done, and started again. We were using the storylines but amplifying it as well. So that created a chaotic tension which I actually quite liked. It can be unnerving but it makes people work at a heightened level.”
After its six episodes in 2008, the drama set in the fictional coastal town of ‘Broken Bay’, now has another 7 eps -enabling it to be sold internationally at a standard 13 episode series. Monk says he looked back on the first series with a degree of satisfaction, but identified room for improvement.
“I think in a way it was a little melancholy, and I don’t think it was pacy enough. So we’ve really endeavoured to populate it. Now it’s about these three generations of men. The ‘long lost’ father, played by Nick Tate, comes back at the end of the first episode.”
Tate plays father to Art (Richard Roxburgh) and Vance (Tom Long), two polar opposite brothers brought together to run a backpacker resort, following the death of their mother.
“It’s still about men and their issues, which it was in the first series, but we’ve really extended that in the second series. We look at the kind of issues men don’t talk about and put it into a lighter context,” he said.
“So now the two sons, the grandson (Craig Stott) and grandfather are all living at the ‘Far Out East’ with lots of backpackers travelling around. The ensemble is very strong, but the engine is the relationships between Art and Eve (Susie Porter) which goes through a lot of ups and downs. They’re dealing with their romantic lives but through the context of living with their male family members.”
For the second season the drama compressed more action into the shoot, with two to three camera set-ups for most scenes. Whilst the series has long-form story arcs, this time it also wraps around self-contained plots for each episode.
Filmed at and around Byron Bay the production employed 300 staff, including many locals, and put $5m into the local economy.
“There’s local crews there now too, so you can pretty much crew a whole production, because of the Gold Coast. A lot of the crew went onto Saved and I’m A Celebrity Get Me out of Here. The local council was really helpful too.”
Monk, who wrote the series whilst living in Byron Bay, says they had to use other local towns to capture the ‘mythology’ of the area, which has diminished with the development of the town as a tourist destination.
“You look at Byron Bay now and it could be anywhere. If you’re pointing a camera away from the town it’s alright, but when you’re pointing it at the town, not so much. So we used Mullumbindy or Nimbin and those sorts of exteriors which have a nostalgia about them. A ’70s feel.”
‘Far Out East’ backpacker retreat is based on Byron Bay’s legendary Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge , the ‘birthplace’ of much of the town’s fame and spirit. In the 1970s many hippies, local and international artists flocked there. These days it maintains that original spirit offering accommodation in teepees, island bungalows, dorms, doubles and jungle camping.
“We were almost going to shoot there but it became too difficult,” says Monk.
Returning to the series are Gia Carides, Kathryn Beck, Valerie Bader, Tom Budge and Damien Garvey. There are guest appearances from Tracy Mann and Martin Sacks. The series has been slated onto the ABC’s most popular night, Saturdays, where dramas including New Tricks, Doc Martin and Bed of Roses have enjoyed enthusiastic audiences.
“It’s a different experience to the first series,” explains Monk. “It’s more joyous, more fun, more episodic and the characters really come into their own.”
East of Everything returns 7:30pm Saturday on ABC1.