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Carrie Fisher: No More Postcards

Did I ever tell you about the time Carrie Fisher kissed me on the cheek? Stick around, I’ll tell it again soon.
Carrie Fisher was Princess Leia; no getting past that. Except, of course, she did. And then she stepped right back into being her last year. She was the right person to play Leia because she was the right age at the time and she is part of Hollywood royalty.
She was also the right person to have been Leia in retrospect, too. Can you imagine anyone else describing Jabba the Hutt as a “giant saliva testicle”? Anyone else who would bring an audience member up on stage to mount a Leia “sex doll” and whip it away before they get close enough to fulfil their childhood fantasy?
Actors, even those of Star Wars­­­-level fame, go in and out of the spotlight. Oh, you could spot Fisher on screen in the 1980s and 90s, but much of her hard work went on behind the scenes, as a script writer and script doctor. Hook, Sister Act, The Last Action Hero, The Wedding Singer, Scream 3. She had a h…

My Favourite Theatre of 2016

I sat down to write this list with some trepidation. I thought perhaps Melbourne theatre had not quite lived up to expectation. I’d had a general sense of dissatisfaction, with a few memorable bright spots. 
But as I started to make my list of favourites, I noticed that our mainstages – Melbourne Theatre Company and the Malthouse – both had strong years. Their high points were among the best of all theatre I saw this year.
This is also the first time in a while I haven’t seen theatre outside of Melbourne. No trips to Adelaide or Sydney this year, though thankfully we got a couple of great Belvoir shows and a Sydney Theatre Company production to remind me to get up there again next year.
One particular highlight of my year was the National Play Festival, which I wrote about. I couldn’t quite figure out how to fit it into my list – with it mostly being play readings and discussion panels. But definitely a high point of looking at Australian theatre this year.
There’s also a bunch of cab…

Sonnigsburg, Episode 6 – One Last Look

It took three years to get everyone to Sonnigsburg and now we’re at the end. Episode six was directed by John Erasmus and written by Keith Gow.
These last five weeks have been an amazing time for cast and crew to finally be able to share our series with you all. Apart from our dedicated Melbourne audience, we have people across Australia watching the series. We’ve also got viewers in the UK, Italy, Germany and the US. (Let us know if you’re watching from elsewhere, too!) Also we have a couple of viewers in Samoa!
I know some people who are waiting to binge-watch the whole series, once it’s online late Monday night. We’d love to hear from people who are having Sonnigsburg days or afternoons. It’s the perfect show to catch up on over the Xmas/New Year break, if you’re lucky enough to have one.
Posts on Facebook. Tweets on Twitter. The #Sonnigsburg and #ComeFindMe hashtags have been getting a workout. It helps us find you. It helps you find us. Make sure you tag your thoughts and feelin…

Sonnigsburg: Episode 5 – Executive Producer, Fiona Eloise Bulle

Episode five airs on Monday night. It was directed by John Erasmus and written by Fiona Eloise Bulle.
I’ve known Fiona for about eight years; we met online and through mutual friends who obsessed about musical theatre and, in particular, Wicked. We didn’t really get to know each other until a couple of years later, when she founded Cold Reading Series (CRS) in Melbourne and she invited me along to have a short script of mine read.
We were both writers, but we had different goals: I was starting to get stuff on stage and Fiona wanted to make television. But Cold Readings was a great monthly get-together, one of those nights that promises to be a good networking event – and actually was. We both met Glenn Triggs through CRS; Fiona went on to produce his feature film 41 and he’d later co-direct the pilot of Sonnigsburg.
I have met several other collaborators through CRS, most notably after the first public reading of a short play of mine, Like A House on Fire – which you can download fr…

Sonnigsburg: Episode 4 – A revelation or two

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 wa…

A glimpse into another world

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 …

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 rev…

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 occasi…

Sonnigsburg: Episode 2 preview

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 sc…

Madwomen Monologues 2016: Six Seasons Strong

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.

I started with Program Two on Thursday night, a collection that crossed genr…

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

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 experie…

On location... The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 6

After a table read of the first episode script (Sonnigsburg: Day One) on July 6th, 2014, production officially began with a two-day trip to Walhalla the following weekend.
Walhalla is a picturesque town in country Victoria, with fewer than twenty permanent residents. It’s a perfect setting for Sonnigsburg because it’s so visually interesting; nestled in the hills, trees all around, one road winding all the way through. All the buildings look authentically old-fashioned, even if they’ve recently been built.

It’s not so convenient to shoot in, though. It’s a two-hour drive from Melbourne and there is no mobile phone coverage up there, which makes it difficult to co-ordinate a film crew.
Much of our other outdoor filming happened in Warrandyte State Park. We spent a lot of time there, along with nearby Cresco Park scout camp filming in bushland and old mine tunnels. Fiona knew where a lot of these locations were from a childhood playing in those tunnels, several of which are now less ac…

Characters and casting… The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 5

We wanted to create Australia’s first supernatural drama. Back when we started work on Sonnigsburg, there really hadn’t been any prime time supernatural shows on Australian television. Since then, we’ve seen the first season of Glitch and the premiere of The Kettering Incident. Instead of being first, our show is joining the zeitgeist. Rural towns haunted by their pasts.
There was another key element that drove us to make some decisions early on – we didn’t want our cast to look like the rest of Australian television. We wanted to make sure we didn’t cast only white actors. We didn’t want all our characters to be straight.
When you make a decision like this early on, it informs the creative process. You write characters that reflect a wider Australian experience. You tell stories that look new and feel different.
Writers never want to feel like their characters or stories are ticking boxes, though. You want story to be paramount; but you also know that television doesn’t reflect the …

Directors (and learning new things)... The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 4

I was recently asked about the challenges and benefits of making an independently produced low budget TV series. It might be easy to say that everything was a challenge, because with a small amount of money, everything is a bit harder than when a show is fully funded. On the other hand, it also made us think about how to make things work with no money. It forced us to come up with creative solutions in how to depict large scale events that were baked into our plot.
It was great that Fiona encouraged us, in the writers’ room, to tell the story without worrying too much about how we were going to make it work. In some cases, though, we did find fixes in storytelling terms to make production easier. Other times we had to change locations or which characters were in certain scenes, based on actor availability. Having no money and limited resources is a challenge, but in some ways it’s a benefit. It makes you think more creatively.
The other benefit of doing everything ourselves is that i…

The Concept Trailer... The Road to Sonnigsburg, Part 3

I was going to write about our cast and crew today, but I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself. There was months of writing before we even considered casting; though we did talk about directors early on. We also talked about the mood of the show and the tone. As I said in my post about the writers’ room, we thought of Sonnigsburg as a Horror TV show.
But we soon decided that we’d rather the show felt creepy, unsettling and spooky, rather than scary or horrifying. Strange things that wouldn’t make sense. People waking up in odd places. Children who would appear benign and turn out to be… something else.
During our first couple of months of writing, we applied to the Community Broadcast Fund (CBF) for some money to go toward the production. We wanted some money to start the project with, to cover food for the cast and crew on set, to pay for filming permits and to hire equipment. We discussed crowdfunding early on, but for CBF we had a deadline to hit. And quickly.
As with any time y…