By Tim Kroenert
Something changed between the first and second series of classy sex-worker soapy Satisfaction, although regular viewers would be forgiven for not noticing.
Having lost its primary location – an inner-city nightclub that doubled as the series’ up-market brothel ‘232’ – to a major metropolitan road works, the production took up residence at Melbourne’s Docklands Studios.
“Ken Cameron, the set-up director for series two, thought we’d gone into the studio halfway through series one,” cinematographer Darrell Martin says of the meticulously recreated 232 set. “Even he didn’t pick the difference.”
The series, produced by Roger Simpson and Andrew Walker for Lonehand, and executive produced by Showtime’s Kim Vecera, is an edgy, character-driven drama that follows the lives of a group of high-class prostitutes. Regular cast members include Kestie Morassi, Madeleine West, Dustin Clare and Alison Whyte.
“It’s about sex and human relationships,” Simpson says. “It’s not really about the sex industry in a documentary sense. No sticky carpets in our establishment. No down-market stuff. No sad stories about women who do it to support a drug habit.”
On set for production of the third series, it’s clear that cast and crew alike have embraced the studio environment, which combines authentic detail (“right down to the wallpaper” Simpson says) with a custom-built set designed to free up space for cameras, and the greater technical control that comes with working on a sound stage.
It’s a matter of efficiency, not to mention comfort. In fact Whyte, a stalwart of all three series, is the very image of comfort, coddled in a pink dressing gown between takes. (“It’s homely, isn’t it?” she says of the robe. “Just needs a bit of casserole down the front!”)
Whyte says the studio environment has eased the stress of shooting the series’ famously frank, if respectfully choreographed, sex scenes.
“Shooting sex scenes in those small rooms at the nightclub was claustrophobic,” she says. “This has got a lot more air to it.”
Luxury comes at a price, and the move to Docklands brought with it some serious overheads.
“It was a significant cost increase,” Simpson says. “But we’d never find another location like the one we had.
“The sound stage is not cheap, but the big cost was the set,” he adds. “But the network digested that on series two. From then on it’s kind of a saving, because you amortise the cost across successive series. The longer it goes, the cheaper that set becomes.”
Still, you have to spend money to make money, and Satisfaction is proving to be a boon for international distributor FremantleMedia. The series has sold to more than 70 territories, including Canada, Poland, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Israel, and France.
While they have yet to infiltrate the elusive US and UK markets, Simpson remains hopeful.
“Sometimes it takes 30 episodes before you can penetrate those markets,” he says. “And we’ll have 30 at the end of season three.”
As television series go, Satisfaction is a luxurious product. “It’s one of the few Australian adult drama series shot entirely on film,” says Martin, who works as cinematographer alongside a rotating roster of five directors across ten episodes.
“It was an edict very early on that film would be the thing that makes it look really original and cinematic.” As the series has progressed, they have tried increasingly to capitalise on the medium by using back-winding and other in-camera affects that can only be achieved on film.
“The schedules are tight,” Martin says. “We’re shooting often seven, eight, nine minutes a day, which is tricky, running two cameras pretty much all the time … sometimes it’s frustrating, but you end up with a fantastic result.”
To the lay viewer, the series has evolved in more obvious ways. There are a few new faces in series three, while other key cast members have departed.
“We thought this time we’d go with lesser known actors,” Simpson says of new cast members Camille Keenan and Renai Caruso. “We traded heavily on established actors in the first two seasons … but with an established show you can be a bit more adventurous.”
And what of the departures of key cast members Bojana Novakovic, Peta Sargent and Diana Glenn? “We know we can’t keep actors of this quality forever,” Simpson says. “They’re ambitious, they get other offers, they go to Hollywood, or back into theatre … If you cast high up the A-grade list, you’ve got to have some flexibility.”
Besides, as Whyte points out, such evolutions can be healthy if they “shuffle up” the cast dynamics. In this case, they also serve the story: “In a normal brothel you have a high turnover of staff,” she says.
“You wouldn’t see the same faces over and over again.”
Satisfaction series three premieres in December on Showcase.