Thursday, 1 December 2016

Sonnigsburg: Episode 4 – A revelation or two

Episodes four through six were directed by John Erasmus

Episode four of Sonnigsburg was written by Alex Scott and directed by John Erasmus.

Just after the halfway point, things are starting to fall into place, not just in the story, but in the middle of production. As shooting continued, we all started to feel more comfortable in our roles both on screen and behind the camera.

I wrote a first draft of Episode 6 in June of 2014 (before filming began), but as I spent more and more time on set watching the actors work, I could see what the characters were really like. As a writer, and co-creator, you never quite know how your characters will feel until the actors inhabit them.

Over the course of the first three episodes, we set up a lot of story and introduced you to our most important characters. There are a couple of great guest stars in episode four, though; characters you’ve only previously heard about make their first appearances. But I leave you to discover that when you watch.

The last major piece to fall into place production-wise was director John Erasmus. He was on board from the start and scheduled early on to direct episodes four and six. Originally, I was going to direct episode five, but when I couldn’t quite make the timing work, John was invited to helm number five as well.

You will have already seen John’s name in credits; he ended up co-directing the first episode and has had final edit on the whole series. But he really dived into production beginning with episode four.

When our original plan to shoot the series in order became harder to achieve, it made sense that we had one director working on the final three episodes of the show. There’s a consistency of vision in these later episodes that is a lot stronger than the first three.

A six-episode series breaks neatly in half; I think the scripts for these next three episodes are better, the actors have settled into their roles and John’s work helps to elevate the material even more.

Much of episode six was shot early in the back half of our production schedule. Much of episode four was shot last. Though, amusingly enough, the final shot filmed for the series was the last frame of episode three.

To be honest, I can see the rough edges of the first three episodes of the series. Beginning with episode four, these rough edges have been smoothed. With three episodes of Sonnigsburg to go, the revelations start to come thick and fast: Where is Jade? What happened to Savannah?

And how does the show look once we finally knew what we were doing? Spoiler alert: amazing.


Sunday, 27 November 2016

A glimpse into another world

Not my photo. I couldn't take photos when I was in this room...
May 2010 on the Warner Bros Studio backlot in Burbank, California.

I was on a private tour and lucky to step into places tourists never get to see.

The Eastwood Scoring Stage, originally built in 1929 and renamed for Clint Eastwood in 1999, has seen the recording of musical scores for such films as Casablanca, The Wild Bunch and Back to the Future.

My guide had to step away to take a phone call and I was left on the stage to take in its history. I chatted briefly to a technician who was setting up for the next recording session.

“What are you setting up for?” I asked.

“Michael Giacchino is coming in tomorrow to score the final episode of Lost.”

Giacchino had won the Oscar that year for his work on the Pixar film, Up. And he was about the record the music for the highly-anticipated final episode of a television phenomenon.

“Are you a VIP?” the tech asked me.

“No,” I said. “I make short films at home. I write scripts but this is the big time.”

“That’s what we’d like you to think.”

And he went back to plugging in cables and running leads across the hardwood floor. Not too hard, though. You could see indents from the endpins of a cello or double-bass.

My guide explained that Warner Bros thought of turning the scoring stage into another soundstage. Eastwood objected; this was his favourite place to record the music for his films.

Warner Bros wanted to replace the floorboards. Eastwood objected; any changes would affect the sound produced there.

I was standing on the Eastwood Scoring Stage of Warner Bros Studios in Hollywood where one of the biggest composers in the world was about to record the soundtrack to the final episode of one of the world’s most popular television shows.

And the tech who worked there didn’t think it was the big time.

It’s all about perspective, isn’t it? He just saw it as a job. I saw it as a glimpse into another world.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Sonnigsburg: Episode 3 - A Turning Point


Episode three of Sonnigsburg airs this Monday night. It was directed by Alex Scott and written by me.

The end of episode three came to us quite early in the plotting process. It’s the midway point of the series and Savannah’s story takes a turn… but no spoilers here. As we planned the series, we thought of the first three episodes as set-up and the final three episodes as pay-off. Everything that’s been put in place in the first three episodes, starts to tie together after the end of episode three.

The script for this episode, my first episode of television, went through the biggest changes of any of our episodes over its various drafts. It was a big episode in concept; it’s a pretty big one in its final form, too. But by the time we neared production, Fiona wanted a change in the structure.

I will also admit, after years of writing theatre, the first draft was probably a little dialogue heavy. A few too many lengthy scenes of two people in a room talking. The same information is revealed in the final episode, but in a much more visually interesting way.

Some of my favourite series are structured around conversation, but that’s not what Sonnigsburg is focused on primarily. And from a production stand point, given where much of the climax of this episode takes place, Fiona wanted more of the episode set in that same space.

It led to one of our biggest production days and perhaps the biggest in terms of cast; every character is in this episode and they all appear in and around the town fete and school play.

The first draft of episode three was completed in March 2014. Some additional dialogue (a voiceover) was written in September this year. This episode is a pretty big deal for me personally, and a key turning point of the series’ narrative.


Thursday, 24 November 2016

Bijou: A Cabaret of Secrets and Seduction


Paris in the 1930s. We are in a bar, sipping drinks, entertained by a pianist alone on stage. In walks Madame Bijou (Chrissie Shaw), the self-described Queen of the Demimonde. A woman regaling us with stories of her life and her pleasures.

The small Butterfly Club space, with its red drapery and upright piano, along with a couple of cabaret tables feels even more intimate than usual. Shaw, a 72-year-old theatre veteran, strides through the audience from the back of the house and we are transported.

The show flits from experience to experience in Bijou’s life, mostly focused on the men she knew at eleven and thirteen and eighteen and twenty-one. Some of these tales are bawdy; some are unsettling. Shaw’s character work through Bijou’s life is the show’s strength; we feel her adolescent uncertainty and the boldness she would gain as an adult.

Throughout the show, Shaw sings songs from the period – songs by Erik Satie, Emile Spenser and Kurt Weill. Alan Hicks plays piano and is an occasional sounding board or foil for Bijou.

There are genuinely moving moments in the stories and songs, but unfortunately the show lacks a strong narrative shape. The details in the show about the period and Paris and Bijou’s young life were evocative from moment to moment, but didn’t add up to much.

Follow your dreams, enjoy your pleasure and love is nothing but trouble. All interesting snippets of ideas, barely fleshed out.

“The mirror lies, much better to look in the glass,” Bijou says, as she contemplates another glass of wine. And I take another sip of mine.

This cabaret of secrets and seduction is full of both, but disappointingly unfocused.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Sonnigsburg: Episode 2 preview


Lily (Maree Shefford) in Sonnigsburg, episode two

Episode two of Sonnigsburg airs tomorrow night and premieres on YouTube the following day. It was written by Alex Scott and directed by Alex Scott & Meaghan Bell.

The episode introduces the character of Lily, the town doctor – who was mentioned in episode one. She’s played by Maree Shefford.

After filming episode one, we started shooting episodes two through six, based on actor availability and by location. Given our small budget, we couldn’t keep our cast together for too long, so our original plan to shoot the series mostly in order couldn’t be sustained.

Ian Stenlake (Stingers, Sea Patrol) had to finish filming all his scenes by early 2015. He only makes a cameo in episode two, but all his scenes from later episodes had to be shot long before the bulk of the series was done.

After all the introductions in episode one, episode two allows us some time to get to know these characters a bit better; dig into their pasts and the history of Mount Sunshine.

We released a sneak peek scene from episode two on YouTube:


And you can still catch up on episode one:


Please subscribe to our YouTube Channel to be notified as soon as episodes are posted. There will be a special sneak peek scene each week for the following episode.

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Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Madwomen Monologues 2016: Six Seasons Strong

Baggage co-founder, Christina Costigan in Butter

This past week, Baggage Productions has presented the sixth season of their annual showcase of women writers, “Madwomen Monologues”. Each year, they present two programmes of solo acts from female writers in different venues across Melbourne. Their latest season was presented at the Butterfly Club, their first appearance at that space – with full houses every night.

The two programmes this year were presented twice each, on alternating nights – and on Sunday night, there was a Madwomen retrospective, a collection from the past five years.

What has impressed me about “Madwomen” is the relative strength of their seasons. Collections of short plays presented as a season of theatre can be a good way to encourage works from new and emerging writers; but often this means a quality is wildly variable. Baggage has an ability to curate collections of short plays that are mostly quite strong. This year is no exception.

Tania le Page in The Last Supper

I started with Program Two on Thursday night, a collection that crossed genres from comedy to satire to science fiction. The short monologue lends itself to comedy better than drama, I think. Easier to make people laugh in a few minutes than to move them, but this is not a criticism. Program Two was comedy heavy.

Checkmate, by short play aficionado Cerise de Gelder, is about obsession and an addiction with checking things. Lauren Bailey catches the audience’s attention within seconds and keeps them laughing but mesmerised the whole time.

Sucking the Marrow out of the Limelight and Other Mixed Metaphors is a sharp satire about finding ways to please and pleasure yourself, by Baggage co-founder Christina Costigan.

While the one rule for this collection of monologues is that they be written by women, there are a small number of male performers scattered throughout the program. Jack Matthews gives an intense performance in Cindy Tomamichel’s Apocalyptic drama, Flick the Switch. Proving that you can make science fiction and drama work in the short monologue format.

Director Natasha Broadstock brought her signature over-the-top style to Niki na Meadhra’s One Moonless Night. The highlight of the night for me was Hashtag, about a mother coping with three children, one who has selective mutism; Lucy Norton’s work with the puppet and embodying the kindergarten teacher was a real stand out.

Program One on Friday night was a much more dramatic affair, though it started out with a slight comedy about an old woman and her husband’s ashes, in Hayley Lawson-Smith’s Smuggled.

A couple of other plays didn’t quite live up to their potential, I thought. Slight Denial and Gilmore Girls hinted at an interesting story that didn’t quite emerge. Naming the Baby showcased a lovely performance by Kathy Lepan-Walker but the script didn’t have the confidence of its convictions.

Gemma Flannery’s wild performance in Diane Worswick’s Tits Mainly was the comedic highlight of a dramatic night. But program one ended on a dramatic one-two punch of Bridgette Burton’s Proprioception and Sara Hardy’s The Tree Hugger.

Proprioception, in particular, proves that you can truly devastate an audience in ten minutes, with a top-notch performance by Phoebe Anne Taylor under Natasha Moszenin’s direction.

The retrospective night was interesting, because I’ve seen most of these plays before – a couple at previous Madwomen nights and others in different incarnations.

It was really great to have the opportunity to see some of these plays again; short plays usually live for one season and then disappear.

Tania le Page’s performance as a hitwoman in Cerise de Gelder’s The Last Supper is truly unforgettable and a great opening to the retrospective. Therese Cloonan’s The Gentleman in Room 7 is utterly heartbreaking every time. And Jane Miller’s Due Diligence is so strong.

To cap off the night and the season is a truly stunning performance by Wallis Murphy-Munn playing Miss Transgression in Lesley Truffle’s Memoir of a Trollop. It starts off with a song and quickly gets out of hand, but Murphy-Munn is in complete control of us.

It’s to Baggage Production’s credit that they go from strength-to-strength every year. Here’s to many more!


Wallis Murphy-Munn in Memoir of a Trollop
Disclaimer: I have worked with and known many of the writers, performers and directors in this season; many more than I’m usually comfortable with when reviewing. But there were so many people involved and I really wanted to celebrate the anniversary and the retrospective.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Two years' work… The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 7

Sonnigsburg, episode one by Fiona Eloise Bulle

Episode one of Sonnigsburg airs tomorrow night on C31 (Digital 44) in Melbourne & Geelong and on Channel 44 in Adelaide. It was written by Fiona Eloise Bulle and directed by Glenn Triggs & John Erasmus.

So much happened between the start of principal photography and the end of production. I’ll probably talk more about that in the coming weeks as the series airs.

The bulk of episode one was finished shooting first, though the final version of the opening sequence was shot only a few months ago. We learned a lot from shooting episode one. Having seen footage from the premiere, the writers were able to keep the actors’ performances in mind when working on the next drafts of their scripts.

We could also see parts of episode one that needed to be strengthened; a pilot episode does a lot of work to set up the characters and the world and we could see things that didn’t quite work. Scenes were re-written and re-shoots happened later in the process. Episode one was a learning experience for everyone and as production progressed, we got better and better at knowing what we were doing.

Production for the rest of the series was based mostly around locations and actor availability. With a cast the size of Sonnigsburg, it’s not always easy to get the actors you want, where you want, exactly when you want. Sometimes that meant re-writing scenes or setting them somewhere else. Sometimes it meant shooting most of episode six before episodes two through five.

Early in 2015, we launched a crowdfunding campaign throughIndiegogo. We raised $10,000 to cover some costs we’d already incurred – hiring equipment, buying equipment, paying for food and we were set for a little while longer. We got contributions from all over the world including from writer/producers of US TV shows like Chicago Fire and Angel.

We crossed the $10,000 barrier just before the deadline by a generous donation from Quest Payment Systems, a local tech company – ie. my actual day job. It was very heartening to have such strong support from people who had only heard me talk about my creative pursuits. Can’t wait to hear what they think on Tuesday.

One of the major issues that reared its head during production was the fact that the Federal Government was cancelling C31’s broadcast licence. For a long time, it looked like Channel 31 would cease airing on December 31, 2015. Could we meet that deadline? There were times when it didn’t look possible; and if it was possible, it would have been a rush.

Thankfully, the transition from free-to-air to online-only was given a twelve-month extension and everyone on Sonnigsburg breathed a sigh of relief. We had another year to finish off the show and make it the best we possibly could.

Principal photography finished in January 2016 and post-production began soon after, though in some ways it had been happening all along. We had wrapped all of our cast members by then, but as editing continued, we knew – if we could manage it – some reshoots were necessary.

Then there was special effects and music and colour-grading. There was so much still to be done.

Reshoots were done not so long ago. Insert shots even more recently. Episode one’s credits were finished last week and the episode sent to C31 and Channel 44 only days ago.

Work on the other five episodes continue, but we’re excited for you to see the finished product of episode one.

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