Speaking on the subject were renowned Director Peter Andrikidis, Screentime’s Greg Haddrick, Nine Drama exec Andy Ryan and Playmaker’s David Taylor. Given most of the audience were ADG members it should be pointed out the discussion was not particularly aimed at emerging, or even junior, talent so much as Directors with runs on the board but seeking other opportunities.
Nevertheless the advice from the panel will be of interest to many. For most on the panel, Australian soaps were considered the best entry level opportunity.
Andy Ryan explained that Nine now produces around 70 hours of drama a year, of which 40 hours is adult and 30 hours is Children’s television. Nine works with the production sector (as opposed to producing in-house) but has input into choice of writers and directors. Commissions now are a maximum of 13 episodes.
Ryan said the 2×2 format has come also back in vogue since Magazine Wars and Howzat.
“There have never been more titles, more different shows on Australian television. We still produce the same amount of hours we did back in the day of All Saints and Blue Heelers,” he said.
“This is a great opportunity for creative people to get a foot in the door, but it’s also a great challenge because a lot of these shows tend to be ‘crewed up’ before they even get commissioned. So it’s a two-edged sword.
“But I can say, hand on heart, there’s never been a more open market for ideas.
“We are very mindful that a good, solid bread-and-butter show ain’t good enough. We have to commission shows that are a little bit daring and have something fresh to say. And that means new and original voices across every department.”
Ryan was also asked about how Dramas get up at Nine.
“The path to getting a show commissioned, there is no standard route. We are pitched shows all the time. Maybe 10 a week sometimes, by people of standing to people who aren’t in the industry,” he explained.
“It’s multiple stages and multiple steps, but essentially the best pitches can be summed up in one sentence or one paragraph. I’m not particularly interested in getting a script in the first instance, I’m most interested in a page. If I can’t see that show on a page then I’m never going to see it.
“Then it’s a multiple development stage where we’ll fund some development to a series bible or fleshed-out treatment and then script stage.
“But you know what we’re looking for? Television is a highly-collaborative industry, so we look for teams. It’s not just the strength of the idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen, we all have ideas. It’s the hard yakka to be able to turn it into a reality, and not just one episode but maybe 60 or 100 episodes.
“Aligning yourself with writers and producers as a team is a really valuable strategy.”
Even those working in other crew roles could find opportunities to demonstrate their Directorial skill.
“I really like the entrepreneurial approach of someone who takes it upon themselves to make an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) or a behind-the-scenes material that a network can put online,” he said.
There was also support for short films and the reach of YouTube in showcasing one’s talents and some shows welcome mentoring.
Greg Haddrick of Screentime gave a shout out to Aussie soaps.
“It is show business, so what we’re looking for are people who know the Show part: a visual style, how to work with actors, know the story points of each scene, knowing where to cut; and the Business part is knowing how to shoot to schedule.
“Home and Away and Neighbours are great places to start and Children’s TV because they often have similar issues with budgets.”
David Taylor from Playmaker spoke about the new Directors who had worked on productions such as House Husbands.
“Most of the Directors we work with have on-set experience. I think some can come from an editing world, but most of the time it’s going to come from being on-set a lot,” he said.
“One of the greatest opportunities is to go and work on an Australian soap. You’re going to be shooting 9 or 10 minutes (of footage) a day and you need to be able to get that experience.”
Peter Andrikidis was also in favour of working on soaps.
“I worked on Sons and Daughters and Neighbours where you were shooting 24 minutes in a 3 camera studio. I was finally fired off E Street and that was the best experience. I was also taken off Neighbours,” he admitted.
“There was a whole training ground at the ABC but that’s gone as well. But I go back to Neighbours and Home and Away. If you can direct 24 minutes a day it’s a great learning curve. I used to belittle that but I don’t anymore. You’ve got to do the hard yards.
“It’s a great grounding, and those Home and Away actors now all end up in Hollywood, so it’s a great change of perspective.”
But even working on soaps is no guarantee.
Greg Haddrick was asked by one Neighbours director how he could be considered for more dramatic work.
“Gentle persistence does help,” Haddrick conceded.
“There have been times where a Director says ‘I did three blocks of this, have a look?’ and you go ‘Wow it’s really good’ and you sort of notice them. Having said that, you still need the right programme, for someone with comparatively few credits.
“That jump is not easy for anybody but it does happen.”