For the past six weeks Netflix and ABC have been filming scenes for Pine Gap in Adelaide.
Based at the South Australian Film Corporation studios in Glenside, the Screentime production is a high-end 6 part political thriller to have its World Premiere on ABC.
A Defence Facility that has been shrouded in secret for decades is about to be thrust into the spotlight in a fictional form by writers Greg Haddrick and Felicity Packard. Holden’s former car plant at Elizabeth, built around the same era, has been transformed to represent Defence buildings, following an exterior shoot in Central Australia.
For producer Lisa Scott the co-production deal with the ABC and the streaming giant represents a creative freedom not usually afforded for local projects.
“It’s been a refreshing partnership,” she tells TV Tonight.
“When you work with Americans it’s different from Australian networks where you are trying to funnel a story idea to a bottom line. In America you make a story and you make the budget fit to that.
“The Australian way is to say ‘I could cut this, or lose this. But the Americans say ‘What do you need to make this?’
“But they have deeper pockets and a bigger reach.”
The project has been years in development, initially with ABC after the trio completed ANZAC Girls before then-Netflix Vice President of Content reached out to writer Greg Haddrick.
“They had actually watched everything we had done. ANZAC Girls, Janet King, Cloudstreet and Underbelly. It was nice that they were very familiar with our work and they understood us as a team. So Greg sent them Pine Gap. It didn’t take them very long to decide and they jumped on board,” Scott explains.
“They didn’t even know where Pine Gap was. They didn’t understand its significance to America and they didn’t realise it’s a place with a true 50 / 50 relationship (between 2 countries). So rather than a ‘forced’ US / Australian co-production, it was the most natural they could envisage.”
That led to a mix of international and Australian actors including Parker Sawyers, Tess Haubrich, Jacqueline McKenzie, Steve Toussaint, Kelton Pell, Lewis Fitz-Gerald & Madeleine Madden. The production includes Indigenous talent, both in front of and behind the camera, with a 3 week shoot in Alice Springs.
“Netflix allowed us to go to Alice Springs and make it very much a character in our story. One of the more interesting things to our international viewers is ‘What is this place?’ and how Americans are chucked into the middle of the desert,” she continues.
“We had a Welcome to Country on the first day of filming and had our offices based at CAAMA, the Central Australia Aboriginal Media Organisation. It was very important to have guides and consultants for the days we were on sensitive land.
“When you go out on the MacDonnell Ranges you understand the connection of Indigenous people to the land. You cannot help but feel inspired by that. It was very rewarding.
“Netflix came over for the read-through. For them it’s very much about the story. They are very much across the original concepts of the show, the design and colours.
“There were many script meetings and they asked many questions.
“And when they announced their participation they translated the press release into 25 different languages. It’s really exciting to have that support.”
Shooting is nearing completion in Adelaide, a city which has provided not just the facilities but many heads of department and crew. Pine Gap follows from Screentime’s ANZAC Girls and 2 Wolf Creek seasons in South Australia.
“There is a very strong, deep filming community here who are proud of what they have done,” she continues.
“South Australia is the oldest state-based film corporation and now it’s trying to push television through.”
But while it has industry support the production has no backing or access from the Defence Department other than an understanding a work of fiction is underway. Author David Rosenberg (Inside Pine Gap) is a production consultant.
“They are aware of what we are doing,” Scott acknowledges.
“We all recognise the importance of Pine Gap. For whatever your personal views are, it is an important facility in the ‘5 eyes’ network of America, UK, Canada, Australia & NZ. We’re making a drama not a documentary.
“But I’ll be curious to see what they think. I hear our ‘Ops floor’ looks pretty spectacular compared to the real one. But it’s TV!”
Indeed the giant Operations Room set, a surveillance nerve centre with 168 screens, is where Scott cites ‘money on the screen.’
“Lewis Fitzgerald said to me ‘In 40 years of television I’ve never seen anything like that.’ Every cent we have managed to put on screen and as a producer, that is the most satisfying thing,” she smiles.
“I’m very creatively satisfied every time I look at the rushes.”
Pine Gap photo: Kristian Laemmle-Ruff