Factual, Lifestyle producer turning to Drama

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EXCLUSIVE: Independent production company WTFN (The Living Room, Bondi Vet, Coxy’s Big Break) is turning its attention to Drama production and is on the hunt for new projects for international markets.

The Melbourne-based production house is behind the upcoming feature film Oddball, starring Shane Jacobson, which has investment from National Geographic channel. Managing Director Daryl Talbot tells TV Tonight, while the deal includes a 5 part documentary series, it has opened up mutual opportunities for Drama.

“If you look at what’s happening globally, even the factual channels like Discovery and National Geographic are looking to tell stories as traditional documentaries if they can, but also they are looking at scripted versions of factual stories,” he says.

Oddball is based on the true story of a chicken farmer who saves a colony of penguins by putting his sheepdog on their island. The story emerged from a segment from an earlier observational series.

“We did a story on Talk to the Animals years ago, and we were able to get National Geographic interested. We put together a package that included investment in the movie and factual documentaries that covered off the conservation issues around it.

“So there’s an opportunity and a business model where, if you can find the right projects with the right producers, we will hopefully continue to be involved.”

Oddball will be released later this month. National Geographic will also screen a 5×60 series looking at wildlife habitats under threat.

With the first scripted content for the company completed, WTFN is now looking for TV Drama series.

“We’ll do occasional one-off projects but the reality is we put most of our own development energy and ideas into projects that we think have a good chance of being a returning series. The economic case for doing it that way, is pretty strong,” he explains.

“So we’re focussed on the international market. Opportunities in Australia we’ll be looking for and if we can find a good, strong idea that we think can have commercial appeal with the networks here, we’ll have those discussions. But we’re also trying to look at ideas that will travel internationally.”

That doesn’t preclude Australian settings. On the contrary WTFN has a strong track-record of local backdrops in its factual shows including Bondi Vet, Keeping Up with the Joneses, Tony Robinson’s Time Walks, Real Rangers, Discover Downunder and Coxy’s Big Break.

“It could be an Australian story, made in Australia, but we’re really looking for ideas that will have global reach and appeal.

“Australia has incredibly creative writers and producers, but what’s out there that will travel beyond Australia?

“If you look at how well Australian drama is selling internationally anyway, there’s huge demand for it.

“We’re already working with a couple of writers and producers we know with some interesting ideas.

“But it’s quite a subjective process to ask, ‘Do we think this is commercial?’”

In 2013 WTFN announced producer Richard Keddie was joining the company to lead its push for drama. While Keddie has produced Oddball, his focus will remain on features, leaving Talbot to begin a hunt for new projects from other writers and producers.

“Give us a call!” he says.

“We’re always happy to hear from them and look at any ideas that are coming along.”

Oddball premieres this weekend in Sydney ahead of its general release on September 17th.

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