Amanda Higgs and Rachel Davis on the female-led ‘Mustangs FC’

‘Mustangs FC’ producer Amanda Higgs, director Corrie Chen, and producer Rachel Davis. 

When Amanda Higgs first met Rachel Davis a couple of years ago, the two producers realised they both were keen to make a female-led TV show for young girls – one that wasn’t focused on beauty or boys.

The result is Matchbox Pictures’ Mustangs FC, set to air on ABC ME from tomorrow. The 13 x 30’ series follows a group of girls who abandon the sidelines to start their soccer club’s first all-girl team.

Mustangs FC is “about celebrating female friendship in all its complexity”, Davis says. It’s unabashedly girl-focused, complemented by a cast and crew that is 60 per cent female.

The ABC came on board with the idea remarkably quickly, which Higgs attributes as a case of “right place, right time” given the conversation in the industry around female representation.

Davis says the subject matter also picked up on a simultaneous groundswell in the media around women’s sport.

The young cast was found via a nationwide call out, and includes new faces like Emmanuelle Mattana, Ashleigh Marshall, Monique Heath, Molly Broadstock, Gemma Chua Tran and Celine Ajobong.  They’re backed by a strong adult cast of Jacek Koman, Pia Miranda, Stephen Hall, Mike McLeish, Fiona Choi and Christie Whelan-Browne.

Given they were pushing female talent on screen, Higgs says it was important to match that with female talent off screen. Women took charge of Mustang FC’s writing, directing, casting, cinematography, production design, costume and editing.

‘Mustangs FC’.

“It wasn’t positive discrimination; it was finding the best people too,” says Davis.

“But we really did want a lot of women around us for this. What we found when we spoke to people, both male and female, was that they really responded to the material… It wasn’t just a job; there was a lot of passionate support for the crew about doing a show for girls that showed girls in a positive light.”

Higgs agrees it was about finding people who were passionate about the project.

“Kids TV, they have to do things on less money. So you really have to find people who are on board with what you’re doing, so that they appreciate that the challenges they face logistically and fiscally have an important outcome, and if we get that right it will be really rewarding,” she says.

“But I’ve always worked with more female directors. In fact, I think I’ve worked with more female directors than I have men. That’s really important if you’re making a show about women: you’ve got to see women leading.”

In particular, the producers say they wanted to push “interesting and bright” new creatives. Mustangs FC’s directors are Fiona Banks, Corrie Chen, Tori Garrett and Roger Hodgman. The show marks Chen’s TV directorial debut after three director’s attachments on The Leftovers, Peter Allen: The Boy Next Door and Nowhere Boys.

“We really wanted to allow some young creative talent that we both knew to have a real opportunity,” says Davis. “When we met [Corrie Chen] she told us she was the best prepared director who’d not yet directed an episode. She was so ready. So, so ready.”

Both producers describe the 12 week shoot as often tough. Many of the soccer scenes were shot in a Melbourne summer where temperatures were pushing 35 degrees or more.

“The soccer generally was a challenge for us, because it’s a big sports show on a children’s budget. We didn’t have the money of something like Friday Night Lights, but we wanted to pull off the look with the sport,” says Davis.

“Kath Chambers our female director of photography did a fantastic job of really looking at what worked best. Her and her team built this amazing rickshaw contraption that they put the camera on that they would pull up and down the side of the pitch so that they could shoot the soccer on the run. We also had a little Osmo camera that could go in and out of the girl’s legs so you really felt like you were in amongst it.”

‘Mustangs FC’ DOP Kath Chambers and director Tori Garrett.

Well-versed in adult drama, with credits that include Seven Types of Ambiguity, Barracuda and The Secret Life of Us, Higgs says she wasn’t prepared for how hard children’s television could be.

“There’s a lot expected of kids TV now, because it has to be equivalent of adult’s drama and comedy. We had big dreams and high aspirations for what we wanted the show to be, say and look like. We were very conscious of how sophisticated our audience is,” says Higgs.

“I think I talked more about the audience making this show than I have on any other show in a way; what’s important to them, how can we give it to them.”

Mustangs FC is pitched at the 8-12 year old age bracket. While Davis says while it might skew younger than series like Dance Academy and Nowhere Boys, they haven’t shied away from difficult material like peer pressure, body image and mental health.

Higgs hopes it will connect. “Honestly, I’ve never made a show where I feel like if we didn’t get our audience it would be tragic. I think this is such an important show and I feel like I really want the girls that we’re talking to to love it – really love it. If they didn’t it would break my heart!”

This article was originally published in IF Magazine June-July (#177).