“Foxtel is the only network that would make this”
A drama about PTSD is no easy sell, but writer Blake Ashyford says Fighting Season would never be made by Free to Air.
There’s no denying a drama about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a tough sell.
It’s hardly a crowd-pleasing subject when there is singing, dating, cooking and nostalgic reboots on offer.
But writer Blake Ayshford knew that Fighting Season should be told after speaking to soldiers who are largely represented on screen as action heroes or even as tragic losers. For the 6 part drama, he wove a mystery into a sensitive story subject.
“I don’t think of selling it when I write it, but I did try to make it as interesting and compelling as I could,” he told TV Tonight.
“I wanted to write an ‘issues’ drama. Something that would unspool, with characters who would be revealed with a satisfying ending.
“It’s 6 episodes and it doesn’t make sense until episode 6.”
With Jay Ryan playing a soldier returning home from Afghanistan Fighting Season has won critical praise. Produced by Goalpost Pictures, the story presents an aspect of military life that is rarely dramatised.
“I think the last time was Vietnam,” he says referring to the 1987 miniseries starring Nicholas Eadie.
“He was a boy who had trouble coming home, tried to re-integrate and re-enlisted to go back. It was a story that really stayed with me, even now.”
On the question of bold drama topics he adds, “I wrote The Devil’s Playground and Foxtel are the only network that would make that show. I have a feeling they would be the only network that would make this show as well.
“I would think that The Walking Dead is a more difficult show to watch than ours, it’s just that ours happens to take place in the real world.”
Ayshford was invited to develop Fighting Season by producers Kylie du Fresne and Rosemary Blight, having worked with them on An Accidental Soldier. Through research with serving soldiers he crafted the characters and plot.
“I asked them ‘What’s life like for a contemporary soldier? What’s life like coming back?’ and ‘What sort of stories do you want to see? What stories are on that are not true?’” he recalls.
“My father was in the armed forces so I had a lot of stories about families, wives and partners that I wanted to tell.
“We tried to draw characters out of that and think of a story that would serve a bigger theme: what do we owe people who serve overseas, what do they bring back?”
“It’s a story of how you be a civilian, not how you be a soldier.”
While Ryan leads the cast, the ensemble features Ewen Leslie, Kate Mulvany, Julian Maroun, Marco Alosio and George Pullar. Rather than theatre of war action scenes, the show is dominated by domestic scenes in Australia, as a mystery unravels surrounding the death of a key character.
“The home life is the majority of Fighting Season. It’s a story of how you be a civilian, not how you be a soldier. The war footage merely gives a context and provides footage for the mystery of the drama.
“It’s more about how you survive after and how the families cope with the sudden parachuting in of a parent, who also is keeping a secret that threatens to destroy everything.”
But while Ayshford was aware of the challenges in portraying patriotism without resorting to cliches, domestic scenes were integral to portray a sense of community in a time of grief.
“In Queanbeyan you see lots of Australian flags and there is a real knowledge of when somebody has passed away,” he continues.
“It’s hard to do patriotism in a way that’s not like an American programme.”
“It’s hard to do patriotism in a way that’s not like an American programme. They really dominate this kind of territory.”
If patriotism and PTSD do leave Fighting Season as a hard sell, Ayshford is confident it has been authentic to actual experiences, tactfully bolstered by its mystery element.
“I really hope people will get to the end so they see what the point to the start has been.”
Fighting Season comtinues 8:30pm Sundays on FOX Showcase.