ABC pulled miniseries funding over casting disagreement

Exclusive: The ABC has pulled investment for a six part miniseries because it didn't want a US actress to play an Australian character, but it will air on UKTV.

Exclusive: The ABC has confirmed it pulled investment funding for a six part miniseries over disagreement about casting decisions.

A year ago the broadcaster announced Top of the Lake, an anticipated new miniseries directed by Jane Campion (The Piano, Portrait of a Lady) would be one of its 2011 projects.

But yesterday Pay TV channel UK TV announced it would premiere the drama in 2013, as part of a co-production with BBC Two and Sundance Channel in the United States.

The ensemble cast will feature Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Holly Hunter (The Piano, Saving Grace), Peter Mullan (War Horse, Trainspotting) and David Wenham (Killing Time, Answered by Fire, The Lord of the Rings).

Produced by Emile Sherman and Iain Canning (The King’s Speech, Shame) and Philippa Campbell (Black Sheep) the New Zealand mystery follows Detective Robin Griffin’s obsessive search for a pregnant 12-year-old last seen standing chest deep in a frozen lake.

Yesterday an ABC spokesperson told TV Tonight, “ABC TV did withdraw its investment because we were not prepared to have an American actress play the lead role – who is an Australian police officer.”

The lead role of Robin Griffin is to be played by US-born actress Elisabeth Moss, best known as Mad Men‘s Peggy Olsen.

A UK TV channel spokesperson advised that producers See Saw wanted to cast the best person for the role.

“The character was actually born in New Zealand, goes to Australia in her teens and then returns to NZ as an adult,” they said.

The project has also received funding from Screen Australia and Screen NSW. Those funding decisions also indicated TV3 was involved in its development but the series will now air in NZ on UK TV.

The backdown by the public broadcaster comes at a time when a debate is raging over government plans to lift the limits for foreign actors to work in Australia.

Actors Equity has argued against the changes that would allow Australian producers to import more performers on projects subsidised by Australian taxpayers and guaranteed by local content regulation.

The series, written by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee, will commence filming in February 2012 in Queenstown, New Zealand, and is set to screen in 2013. As a major investment by UK TV it will help meet part of its local drama requirements as a Pay TV drama channel.

Says Deirdre Brennan, Director of TV for BBC Worldwide Australia: “Top of the Lake is a unique creative collaboration, a truly international project that showcases a remarkable production team, cast and location. It is an honour to play a part in bringing this landmark drama series exclusively to UKTV audiences in Australia and New Zealand.”

31 Responses

  1. This production has nothing to do with the issue of foreign actors working in Australia. It is being shot entirely in New Zealand and the story is a NZ one. It was commissioned by BBC2 and Sundance Channel in US. The ABC wanting the kudos of being involved in a Jane Campion television series knew these facts and thought it may get away with any criticism if it had an Australian lead. But what the ABC didn’t tell you is that this character is a New Zealander anyway. The government gave the ABC more money for drama to make culturally relevant Australian drama. It was not given so it could invest in a New Zealand story irrespective of the calibre of the director. Would the Federal government be happy if for example the ABC commissioned Madame Bovary to be adapted and directed by Australians and with an Australian lead and shot in France? I think not. Top Of The Lake is no different. Perhaps now the ABC can reallocate this money to the mass of Australian stories out there and the producers, writers, directors, cast and crew who want to tell Australian stories on our taxpayer funded network. Mark Scott at the ABC should step in and ask some questions as to how it came to this. I hope he is questioned about it at the next Senate Estimates Hearing.

  2. No matter what the ABC may say, the character is a New Zealander, not an Australian, so I don’t see how casting an Australian in the role is any more authentic than casting an American. It’s all very well saying you want an Australian in the lead role, but don’t pretend it’s for any artistic integrity.

  3. Sounds like a New Zealand drama to me and both the ABC and Screen Australia should never have invested tax payers money in it in the first place. There is a New Zealand government subsidy agency NZONAIR which should be putting money into it. It is also a scandal that this drama now fulfills UKTV’s Australian drama spend obligations under its licence, money that otherwise could have been invested in an Australian story set here with Australian cast and crew.

  4. How about getting educated on the real issue, people?

    In America, the majority of the funding for film and TV comes from Private sources. In Australia, we’re talking about Your taxes. Therefore, in America, it stands to reason that whoever the investors like best should get the role, regardless of their background. In Australia, the investor is You, the general public. Do you want to fund an American actor’s career? Or would you like your money to go towards furthering the opportunities for Australians? The fact that so many Australians have to go to America to achieve such great success proves that
    1) There are so few opportunities in Australia that we need to go overseas to find the work; and
    2) That talent is among the best in the world because we are so extremely competitive in a global market.

    The real question is… why wouldn’t we cast Australians as Australians?

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