Comedy-drama ‘The Deb’ wins AACTA Pitch: Regional Landscapes

Mark Woods, Katie Huggins and Virginia Whitwell.

A comedy-drama about a teen boy’s quest to take part in his rural home town’s debutante ball as his drag queen persona will receive development support via the AACTA Pitch: Regional Landscapes initiative.

Announced on Friday, Katie Huggins’ The Deb was named as this year’s winner of the national pitching and screenwriting program, held in partnership with Screenworks, among a field of seven finalists.

Huggins pitched her feature film idea about a town’s response to a boy’s search for identity and recognition to a judging panel that included actress Pallavi Sharda, producers Virginia Whitwell and Isabel Stanfield, Event Cinemas general manager Claire Gandy, and Melbourne International Film Festival industry director Mark Woods.

Speaking at the Screenworks Regional to Global Screen Forum in Lennox Head, she said she felt “compelled” to make a submission after seeing a brief on Facebook.

“My process changed so dramatically from seeing that ad – I started out I talking through what I thought would be edgy, cool ideas and tried to think of an ‘Australian’ story,” she said.

“My original idea was so far from The Deb, I set it in Lightning Ridge where I had never even been, but the story didn’t resonate and I struggled to wrangle it.

“It was only when I thought of where I was from in Tamworth and my own experience that the characters came and the story was so much more effortless.

“I wrote the story to what Australia is to me and it couldn’t have been set anywhere else.”

Huggins will receive professional script development sessions with development executive and senior screenwriting lecturer at AFTRS, Kate Stone, feedback and mentorship from the judging panel, and profiling and industry opportunities through the Australian Writers’ Guild Pathways program.

AACTA awards and industry development manager Ivan Vukusic said The Deb was a “wonderful opportunity” to explore the many angles to identity and the journey to discovering your true self.

“It is a thoughtful treatment but also a fun one that celebrates love and acceptance and we’re confident that with the support on offer, Katie will take the project to the next level and find the right collaborators to bring this heartening story to life,” he said.

Screenworks CEO Ken Crouch said the standard of submissions for this year’s program were “incredibly high”.

“The standard of submissions for the AACTA Pitch this year was incredibly high and encompassed a huge range of diversity in terms of regional representation both on and off-screen,” he said.

“Encouraging and supporting stories that showcase regional Australia is really important to us at Screenworks, and we’re so pleased that we’ll be able to support Katie in the further development of her film through the benefits she will receive as a Screenworks Member and delegate at the three-day Regional To Global Screen Forum.”