Disney+ unveils slate of nine new Australian originals

Rove McManus, senior vice president and managing director of The Walt Disney Company in Australia and New Zealand, Kylie Watson-Wheeler, and Donna Hay.

The Walt Disney Company in Australia & New Zealand has announced a slate of nine new Australian originals, including three scripted dramas, as part of its first wave of local content commissions and acquisitions for Disney+.

Announced at an event held at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, scripted drama series The Clearing, The Artful Dodger, Last Days of the Space Age join documentaries, Matildas: The World at Our Feet, Shipwreck Hunters Australia, Chasing Waves, and Fearless: The Inside Story of the AFLW, as well as lifestyle and factual general entertainment titles Donna Hay Christmas and What’s Your Toy Story? in the line-up, much of which will go to further expanding Disney+’s adult-focused Star general entertainment offering.

It comes as debate rages about the regulation of international streaming services ahead of this Saturday’s election, with the government proposing a two-tiered system designed to ensure SVODs are reinvesting 5 per cent of their Australian revenue in local commissions, while Labor has only committed to working with stakeholders to determine ways of boosting Australian content on the platforms.

In introducing the new programs, senior vice president and managing director of The Walt Disney Company in Australia and New Zealand, Kylie Watson-Wheeler, said the commissioning announcement cemented the company’s “international point of difference in bringing local and loved storytelling to life”.

“The commitment we’re showing through our local commissioning underpins the strong foundation of the long-term relationship we’re building with Australian and New Zealand content creators and the industry as a whole without the need for quotas or other regulatory intervention,” she said.

Of the scripted programs, The Clearing is an eight-part psychological thriller in which a woman is forced to confront the nightmares of her past to stop a secret cult intent on gathering children to fulfil its master plan. Adapted from J.P. Pomare’s novel In the Clearing, about real-life Australian cult The Family and its founder Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the series is created and written by Matt Cameron and Elise McCredie, alongside co-writer Osamah Sami. Teresa Palmer, Miranda Otto, and Guy Pearce lead a cast that also includes Hazem Shammas, Mark Coles-Smith, Tom Budge, Erroll Shand, Lily La Torre, and Ras-Samuel Welda’abzgi. Jeffrey Walker and Gracie Otto will direct the episodes, which are being produced by Wooden Horse’s Jude Troy, in association with Egeria’s Elizabeth Bradley, with the pair also executive producing alongside Elise McCredie, Cameron, Walker, and Wooden Horse’s Richard Finlayson. Filming will take place in Victoria in the coming months.

Senior vice president and managing director of The Walt Disney Company in Australia and New Zealand, Kylie Watson-Wheeler,

Walker is also on board for The Artful Dodger, a character drama set in 1850s Australia that picks up 15 years after the events of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist. Across eight episodes, the scripted series explores the adult double life of Dickens’ famous prince of thieves, now a surgeon, as he tries to shake his predilection for crime. The co-production with Sony is being produced with David Taylor and David Maher, of Beach Road Pictures, and Jo Porter from Curio Pictures. The series is written by Andrew Knight, James McNamara, Walker, Vivienne Walshe, and Miranda Tapsell.

There is less of a time jump for Last Days of the Space Age, an eight-part dramedy series set in Western Australia in 1979. A power strike threatens to plunge the region into darkness, while the city hosts the iconic Miss Universe pageant and the US space station, Skylab, crashes just beyond the city’s suburbs. Against this backdrop of international cultural and political shifts, three families in a tight-knit coastal community find their marriages, friendships, and futures put to the test. Created and written by David Chidlow, along with writers Alice Addison, Dot West, Jeremy Nguyen, and Alan Nguyen, the cast includes Radha Mitchell, Jesse Spencer, Deborah Mailman, and Linh-Dan Pham. The series is being produced by Princess Pictures and directed by Bharat Nalluri. Laura Waters, Emma Fitzsimons, Chris Loveall, Stephanie Swedlove and Anna Dokoza serve as executive producers, while Christine Pham is the series producer.

Joining the previously announced Matildas project in the documentary lineup is fellow women’s sports title, Fearless: The Inside Story of the AFLW, a world-first look at the AFL Women’s Competition (AFLW) and the powerhouse movement it has become for women in sport. The six-part series spotlights four clubs: Adelaide Crows, Collingwood, GWS GIANTS, and Western Bulldogs, exploring the journey, and sacrifice of the trailblazing AFLW players. Production is already underway for the docuseries, on which Michael Venables is director, Anne-Maree Sparkman is executive producer and Becky Taylor is series producer.

Whereas Fearless: The Inside Story of the AFLW features another aspect of women’s sport to that shown in Matildas: The World at Our Feet, Chasing Waves will feature another examination of the ocean culture to that of the previously announced Shipwreck Hunters. The eight-episode docuseries explores the unique and wonderful surf culture in Japan, highlighting the dramatic push and pull between convention and innovation. By chronicling the lives of both the trendsetters and the traditionalists, the series paints a captivating holistic picture of the global surf industry – from Australian-Japanese surfer, Connor O’Leary to freestyle surfers, Olympic hopefuls, and business people trying to make their mark. The locally managed series is currently in post-production and is produced by Boardwalk Pictures with Jason Baffa serving as director and Christopher G. Cowen as executive producer.

Completing the slate are two lifestyle and factual titles – Donna Hay Christmas and What’s Your Toy Story?

The former is a four-episode series produced and hosted by Hay that Benjamin Jones directs. Set against Avalon Beach and its picturesque surrounds on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Donna Hay Christmas is produced by Donna Hay Productions.

In What’s Your Toy Story?, Rove McManus hosts a new original competition format series, where teams of kids and grownups show off their skills at creativity, innovation, and storytelling as they bring their own toy stories to life. The eight-part series is being developed with Guesswork Television and Roving Enterprises.

Speaking about the slate as a whole, Watson-Wheeler said the new titles reflected a “significant” investment in Australian and New Zealand local commissions.

“Our second wave of local and loved content is taking great shape, with many more shows in various stages of development, including fabulous original concepts coming out of New Zealand,” she said.

“The opportunities are endless, particularly in young adult, comedy, and rom coms, which our audiences can’t get enough of.”