Dylan River makes merry for ‘Robbie Hood’

‘Robbie Hood’ writer-director Dylan River (front) and (L-R) actors Jordan Johnson, Pedrea Jackson and Levi Thomas.

SBS’s Robbie Hood puts a new spin on the Robin Hood folk tale, setting it in modern day Alice Springs. It follows 13-year-old Robbie and his two friends Blue and Little Johnny, who together set about rectifying injustices they see in their community – though things don’t always go to plan.

The short-form series – 6 x 10 minutes – is the result of a partnership between Ludo Studio and 1788 Productions, and was supported by Screen Australia, Screen Territory and Screen Queensland.

Writer-director Dylan River says the show is based on both his own and his family’s experiences growing up in Alice.

“It’s a gift to the youth of Alice Springs, and I guess the whole town, making light of some more problematic issues and things that we see day-to-day here.”

River penned the scripts with Kodie Bedford, and it was produced by Tanith Glynn-Maloney and Meg O’Connell, with Charlie Aspinwall and Daley Pearson EPs.

River has previously made a variety of shorts, was DOP on upcoming Good Thing Productions doco The Australian Dream and the co-DOP and second unit director on dad Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country. His feature documentary, Finke: There and Back will also be released theatrically via Madman later this year.

However, the short episodic nature of Robbie Hood was a new challenge; it was like coming up with six short films at once.

“The difficulty for the writing and the editing of the series was to try and make it efficient and make people connect as quickly as possible. You’re a lot more conscious about anything you’re putting in it, whether it be a line of dialogue, or a look or glance. You set up your shot trying to be conscious of time, making sure you’re jumping into the action as quickly as possible. It’s a good learning curve for longer-form.”

The majority of the cast and crew come from Alice Springs and surrounds, a consideration that was important to River.

“It was even more important for me that those three main roles – Robbie, Little Johnny and Blue that they were from Alice Springs, they understood this town and they would talk like kids from here.”

Pedrea Jackson is Robbie, Jordan Johnson is Blue and Levi Thomas (son of Trisha Morton-Thomas) is Little Johnny; Robbie Hood is the screen debut of each. River is proud of how hard each worked and their performances.

Musician Andy Golledge plays Robbie’s Dad, and also provides the show’s soundtrack. “Andy was a true find,” says River.

“He didn’t like instructions, he just liked to go for it and he had his own ideas of what the character was. I think he brought a lot of warmth to Dad, and a lot of realness, because I probably wrote him a bit colder than he was.”

River also makes a cameo as creepy pool attendant Pervin’ Mervin.

“I didn’t realise it’s on my IMDB now. I am now a fully-fledged actor (laughs). I don’t know why I did that role to be honest. It was really because no one else wanted to do it. I couldn’t think of anyone in town who I would ask to do it who wouldn’t get offended by me asking them to do it… But I think it was good for the kids because that was our third day of shooting – it was good for them to see me act a bit like an idiot and embarrass myself. It gave them confidence.”

While Robbie Hood was initially commissioned as a children’s show, some of the humour is quite adult. However, River says SBS were supportive.

“They were very open about it and as it became more and more ‘mature-aged’ they allowed me and the producers freedom and trust to do what we were doing. I hope it’s found a nice middle ground that kids can still watch it and adults can watch as well.”

In addition to Robbie Hood, River has recently been working on a number of music videos. However, his long-term focus is on narrative features. He has a number of scripts in development that he is about to start applying for funding for. He also recently shot six-part doco series and ‘cooking show’ The Beach for NITV, which sees his dad Thornton experience life on an isolated beach in the remote Dampier Peninsula.

Robbie Hood is currently streaming on SBS On Demand and airs tonight on SBS VICELAND at 9.35pm.

“I’m nervous and excited to see what Australia thinks, but especially Alice Springs. That’s the true test for me, because it was made for this town and, people might love it and people might hate it.”

An original version of this story appears in IF Magazine #189 June-July.