As any producer knows it takes a long time to get an Australian drama on the air. But partnering with Netflix has been creatively satisfying for Pine Gap producer Lisa Scott.
The genesis of the ABC / Netflix co-production stems back to 2014 ANZAC Girls when ABC asked the Screentime team what else they had in the works. Writers Greg Haddrick & Felicity Packard put forward Pine Gap.
Fast-forward to 2018 and Netflix had come on board (Scott declines to detail who is financing the bigger slice of the pie) and filming was underway. The fictional drama set around the joint Australian-US facility proved to be an ideal drama backdrop for a co-production.
“They didn’t even know where Pine Gap was,” she says of Netflix. “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 helped with casting in terms of the Department of Arts & Communications and the union as to why we wanted to bring Parker Sawyers and Steve Toussaint into the country. We don’t have a very deep pool of Afro-American men in Australia. I’ve worked with a couple but for these particular roles, these guys fitted the bill.”
“‘You have to audition’ because Netflix don’t know anybody.”
Netflix were invested in scripts, design and casting. That led to actors with vast experience all forced to go before the cameras for US execs.
“One of the really exciting things was we said to every actor, ‘You have to audition’ because Netflix don’t know anybody. And all the agents embraced that,” Scott explains.
But in the 10 week shoot in South Australia and Alice Springs earlier this year, Netflix was less hands-on affording Screentime some creative freedom.
ABC’s early involvement lands them the World TV Premiere (it debuts at the Adelaide Film Festival tonight) and iview in Australia, Netflix has rest-of-world rights and later for streaming in Australia.
“I don’t think you need to legislate it as long as we still have the quotas”
Pine Gap is one of the few local co-productions for Netflix, the upcoming Tidelands will be its first fully-funded local drama. While debate rages both here and overseas about local quotas, Scott believes market forces will address it.
“If you want to be a player in a local market, you have to commission local drama. My personal view is I don’t think you need to legislate it as long as we still have the quotas applicable to Australian television. If those go away then it’s a different ball game,” she continues.
“I’ve had the benefit of my children growing up listening to Australian voices and watching Australian stories, that we didn’t have. I grew up on a world of American television: Happy Days, Gilligan’s Island, Hogan’s Heroes, MASH, Lost in Space.
“The only Australian dramas coming through were Number 96 but I was 10 years old and wasn’t allowed to watch it. Then slowly it was Division 4, The Sullivans, and it started creeping up.
“It’s much cheaper to buy American drama than make Australian, we all know that. But I think it’s really important for Australian children to hear Australian voices.”
“Do not dishonour the power of television.”
It was prolific US producer Edward R. Pressman who also gave her some advice she has never forgotten.
Pressman’s films include Wall Street, The Crow, Badlands, Das Boot and Reversal of Fortunes. He fostered the careers of filmmakers including Brian De Palma, Terrence Malick, Oliver Stone, Kathryn Bigelow, David Byrne, & Jason Reitman.
“Ed Pressman said to me ‘Do not dishonour the power of television. You have the ability to change people’s perceptions,'” Scott recalls.
“When you see things on television that are a mirror to the society we live in, they become the norm. Indigenous characters on Love Child or Water Rats and Janet King. (Diverse) sexuality becomes the norm… that’s how powerful television is.”
Pine Gap features a diverse cast, including Indigenous performers, alongside stars Steve Curry, Jacqueline McKenzie, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Tess Haubrich, Parker Sawyers and Steve Toussaint.
The 6 part series tests the relationship between the Australian and American intelligence analysts working at the facility, as the world inches closer to war.
“The themes we are exploring here are secrets between countries, workmates, companions and couples,” says Scott. “Everyone has their secrets.”
Pine Gap launches with a double episode 8:30pm Sunday on ABC.