ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson and producer / director Deb Masters yesterday gave a masterclass on their acclaimed documentary The Killing Season at the Australian International Documentary Conference.
The doco on the Rudd / Gillard power struggle was a constant delicate balancing act, drawing upon hours of footage and key interviews, taking a narrative approach rather than presenting as a news doco.
Ferguson explained that embarking on the project required impartiality as to whether Rudd or Gillard was more complicit in Shakespearean power plays.
“There was a lot of expectation that we would just smash Rudd to smithereens.
“But from the beginning I knew you can’t make a series with hate. You had to find a way for the audience to judge. It wasn’t for us to come at it with a prejudged idea.”
After the doco aired, there were few reactions from either of the key subjects.
“Rudd sent a text. We didn’t hear from Gillard until I asked her to launch my book and got a rather raw response: ‘Ms. Gillard won’t be available. Besides she only takes part in projects that have a real historical value,'” she said.
“But from the camps… The overall view was ‘Fair Enough.'”
The masterclass touched upon other steps in the creative approach, including researching 2000 hours of news footage, creating a timeline and shooting script, and sexing up dull news footage by recreating establish location shots. It was also integral that only subjects who spoke on camera were allowed the ‘shape the narrative.’
Producer Deb Masters also recalled an interesting scene where there was such tension in the room ahead of an interview with Rudd that she realised it was worthy of capturing on camera.
“Sarah was sitting down going through her notes, right opposite him (Rudd was) being made-up , with his minder near him,” she said. “Sound and camera were getting ready. I thought , ‘We should be shooting this!'”
All the cameras were already in place for the interview. But because Rudd was “having the vapours” the director of photography had time to drive to ABC Ultimo and get another camera.
He returned to film the room with a pacing producer, plus Rudd and Ferguson in candid, behind-the-scenes moments.
“Sarah sent me a note, “Start now!’ and you could feel the tension.”
Ferguson went off-script to ask Rudd,”Do you enjoy the experience of doing these interviews?”
“Not particularly,” Rudd replied. “I’m a human being, just like you. I sleep, I dream, and as a result a lot of these things come back in more vivid ways than either of us would like.”