Making his professional acting debut in ABC3’s Little Lunch, Joshua Sitch has a great head start.
When your Dad is Rob Sitch and your Mum is Jane Kennedy, your pedigree is pretty good stock, and writer / producer Robyn Butler says he is a born natural.
But while the ABC3 mockumentary may herald a promising career, it isn’t full of the offspring of stars.
“It’s not completely a showbiz show, but Joshua is Rob and Jane’s son and he’s got the comedy DNA. He’s a terrific child full stop and to boot he’s ridiculously talented. Watch this space,” she explains.
“But they all fall into that category and everybody has a favourite.”
Flynn Curry, another of the junior cast, is no relation to the Curry clan. Butler saw hundreds of kids for the series which centres on 11 and 12 year olds at playtime.
“I adore the children. They’re incredibly talented. We auditioned about 400 and we’ve needed very specific types of children. It wasn’t about who had experience,” she says.
“The first thing was that they had to fill the brief of being that personality type so that we’ve got six identifiable kids that kids can recognise when they watch. But also that they really just love doing this job. Some of the kids you see out there I think are maybe fulfilling parent’s wishes or they like the idea of being on television but actually doing the work is something else.
“These six children love doing the work and that matters enormously to me because they’re eleven and twelve and we’re making them work.”
The cast also includes Faith Seci, Oison O’Leary, Olivia Deeble, Madison Lu and as teacher, Heidi Arena.
Based on the books written by Danny Katz and illustrated by Mitch Vane, Little Lunch is structured with acting scenes and faux monologues, a format popular in more grown-up entertainment, but rarely used in Children’s television.
“We call it ‘The Office in the playground.’ We’re certainly not breaking ground in making a mockumentary but I don’t know if kids have made one,” says Butler.
“It’s the perfect vehicle not only to do comedy incredibly well, but you avoid all the action. The things that get tricky in children’s television -kids falling from trees, going on the roof or accidents happening- you can just cut to what happens afterwards. You cut to them sprawled on the ground or you cut to an interview of them telling you what happened so you get double the comedy and you avoid tons of safety meetings.
“The books were for younger children and there were more characters and we had to try and make it more televisual. So it is an adaptation, but the gorgeous innocence about what happens in the playground at Little Lunch still remains and Danny and Mitch are very involved in the process too. Danny’s written some scripts and Mitch has done illustrations and titles and they come to set a lot and the kids go wild. It’s been a lovely collaboration.”
Butler, together with husband Wayne Hope, have found success with Upper Middle Bogan, The Librarians and Very Small Business through their company Gristmill Productions. While this cast -and audience- are much younger, Butler says the attention to detail remains implicit.
“The way I kept thinking about this show is that it is a comedy starring children. So I haven’t approached it in the sense that I’m making Children’s Television which might change the way I make them work,” she says.
“It’s a comedy and it doesn’t matter whether it’s starring Michala Banas and Patrick Brammall or Joshua Sitch and Flynn Curry. You’re still working with people to try and make the comedy. Having said that it is a very different beast. Every venture you do is challenging and this is challenging in different ways from say, Bogan.
“The thing that’s probably been surprising to me is I’ve never worked so specifically and so literally because the scripts are written within an inch of their lives. They have to be approved by all investors to make sure they fall within television parameters which is absolutely fair enough. You’re being funded by children’s television bodies but not only that you want to communicate the right ideas and themes and that’s all being approved.
“Even sometimes there’ll be a choice that a director makes in having one kid stand over another kid and I’ll say, ‘I know you’ve not intending to but that looks like bullying from the way you’ve just blocked that scene.’ It just looks like they’re ganging up on her and the director will say ‘Oh my God I had no idea.’”
Gristmill also has an upcoming feature Now Add Honey, featuring Portia de Rossi, Hamish Blake, Lucy Fry, Lucy Durack, Ben Lawson -and Butler back acting in front of the cameras again.
With a busy output slate, Butler says she is ready to take time before she and Wayne Hope decide on more of Upper Middle Bogan.
“We’ve literally gone straight from the film to Bogan to this and I don’t think we’ve been in a room together for a few months,” she explains.
“We’re just going to take a little bit of time after this and just see what we want to do next. What a delightful position to be in.”
Little Lunch screens 4:25pm weekdays on ABC3 from today.