Amanda Brotchie on the transition from a Netflix comedy to ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’

Amanda Brotchie. 

Aussie director and writer Amanda Brotchie was in Los Angeles in January, her base for the past 18 months, when her friend and occasional collaborator Michael Rymer asked if she was interested in directing an episode of Foxtel’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.

A huge fan of the Joan Lindsay novel and Peter Weir’s seminal 1975 movie,  Brotchie was delighted to get the opportunity to work on FremantleMedia Australia’s re-imagining of the story of the disappearance of a teacher and three girls on Valentine’s Day 1900.

She had just directed two episodes of Girl Boss, a 13-part Netflix comedy inspired by the true story of Sophia Amoruso, a digital entrepreneur who founded the fashion e-commerce site Nasty Gal, and was thus comfortable in working on an elaborate studio production.  The show was created and partly written by Kay Cannon, screenwriter of the Pitch Perfect movies.

“I read the novel as a teenager and loved it and loved Peter Weir’s film,” she told IF from LA. “The idea of being part of such an iconic Australian show was thrilling.

“On Girl Boss I was working on a similar budget level with a fantastic team and all the big toys. It’s the same skillset.”

Brotchie did a Skype call with FMA’s director of drama Jo Porter, arrived in Sydney a week before shooting was due to start and met the lead director Larysa Kondracki on the set.

She joined the production after the Australian Directors Guild objected to the Canadian Kondracki on the grounds that she did not meet the net employment benefit test set by the Immigration department and questioned why a female Australian director was not employed.

Written by Alice Addison and Beatrix Christian, the miniseries stars Natalie Dormer, Lola Bessis, Anna McGahan, Yael Stone, Lily Sullivan, Madeleine Madden, Samara Weaving, Ruby Rees and newcomer Inez Curro.

A former singer with the band Not Drowning Waving, Brotchie first worked with Rymer on Angel Baby, his first feature, when he asked her to sing one of the songs in the 1995 romantic drama which starred John Lynch, Jacqueline McKenzie and Colin Friels. In 2002 she served as Rymer’s assistant on vampire drama Queen of the Damned.

The director is delighted that Amazon Prime Video will screen the 6-part drama in the US, observing, “It’s a real vindication of the whole process and the risks that Fremantle and Foxtel took in making a big, high-end show.

“I think it will be really well received because it is smart and engaging and visually stunning.

“I am very grateful to have the opportunity to work on this amazing show and to Michael, Larysa, Jo and Fremantle for creating that base for me. I am also grateful to Screen Australia, the ADG and Women in Film and Television for agitating for that.”

In the US, Brotchie is developing a TV show based on her experiences doing field work in Vanuatu in her previous career in linguistics, which supported her screen endeavours with her partner Adam Zwar. She got a PhD in linguistics from the University of Melbourne, specialising in narrative analysis. Brotchie and Zwar co-created and produced the ABC comedy Lowdown.

She moved to LA to boost her career but intends to alternate between the two countries, coming home later this year to work on Australian projects. “LA feels like a better place to be because there are a lot more opportunities than in Australia,” she said.

Zwar has just written an episode of the US version of Jungle’s comedy No Activity, commissioned by CBS’s streaming service CBS All Access, which will screen in Australia on Stan.