By Michelle Pearson
Australian telemovies are often notorious for their vivid representations of real-life crime.
Joanne Lees: Murder In The Outback, The Postcard Bandit and Through My Eyes (the Lindy Chamberlain Story) are only mere selections of plotlines which provide the audience with engaging interpretations of crime realism.
Panic at Rock Island – produced by Tony Tilse and Rosemary Blight – however, offers an innovative fictional story which focuses on high-concept narrative – similar to the film plots of the ‘80s, or the type of realistic storylines you’d see in today’s ‘Midday Movie.’
Tilse is well known for his recent Channel Nine successes of Underbelly and Scorched, whilst Blight is also renowned for her work in Scorched and TV series Lockie Leonard.
These prominent producers within the Australian film industry have teamed up with an all-star Australian cast which includes Jessica Tovey (Home and Away), Grant Bowler (Ugly Betty/True Blood), Vince Colosimo (The Wog Boy) Dee Smart (Water Rats), Damian Walshe-Howling (Underbelly), Simone Kessell (Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities, Frost/Nixon), Anna Hutchison (Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities) and Christian Byers (The Tree).
Panic at Rock Island, which is due to be broadcast on The Nine Network later this year, depicts the story of music-crazed fans who are chilling out and enjoying life on a hot summer’s day at a top-act music festival. All is well in the world until a catastrophic disaster strikes when a deadly virus is discovered on the island. Its symptoms are shocking and it brings swift and painful death.
Filmed on Goat Island and the edge of Balmain overlooking the iconic Sydney Harbour, Panic at Rock Island transports viewers on an emotional rollercoaster as they witness the lengths people will go to for the love of their family – challenging personal perception of the family unit.
The telemovie however doesn’t preach to the viewer or tell them what to think, but instead has been described by Tilse as a film you can sit down to on a Sunday night with a large bowl of popcorn.
Due to the impressive lineup of contemporary Australian rockband’s such as Spiderbait, You Am I, and New Zealand’s R&B group Smashproof, Tilse states the telemovie will inevitably appeal to a younger target audience; however it will also attract older viewers due to the storyline’s exploration of relationships and "family" in situations of panic.
With a budget of about $3 million, using Sony F900 camera’s and a time constraint of only four filming weeks, this Australian telemovie portrays an intrinsic realism which looks beyond the commercialisation of film and onto the necessity for Australian production values within the industry.
“It’s our passion and drive to return to these bigger and higher concept stories which tend to be shyed away from due to budget concerns,” Tilse told INSIDEFILM.
“Australian telemovies need to present something good and this [Panic at Rock Island] is a bolder concept than what has ever been done before.”
Nine and Universal Networks International (UNI) are financially supporting the 90-minute telemovie, with the latter even purchasing the film at the development stage purely on the basis of its “cinematically rare” and universal storyline.
UNI was also attracted by the telemovie’s focal setting within the iconic Sydney landscape which will provide positive International exposure to prospective tourists within the overseas market.
Due to the telemovie being shot on separate islands engulfing Sydney Harbour, Goalpost Pictures Australia had to organise for large barges to transport all production equipment to Goat Island – ranging anywhere from performance stages, to the kitchen sink.
"We had water boats on hire," Tilse explains.
"Because Water Rats was also filmed on this same island many years ago, we were lucky to have access to people who were familiar with the system of how it all works.”
Although the filming process took a little longer than expected due to this strenuous bump-in process, the filming of live music performances – which inevitably require multiple takes – and a tight budget, Panic at Rock Island is set to be a stylistically unique television event which will whet the audience's telemovie appetite, carving a more versatile future for the Australian screen industry.