Fiona Eagger addresses the challenges facing TV drama producers

Fiona Eagger.

Fiona Eagger.

The biggest challenge facing TV producers next year is figuring out ways to keep Australian dramas screening on the free-to-air broadcasters, according to Fiona Eagger.

Eagger, who co-founded Every Cloud Productions with Deb Cox, welcomes the raising of the TV Producer Offset to 30 per cent but laments the abolition of the local content sub-quotas for FTA networks.

“For Australian producers our greatest challenge is keeping Australian drama alive on our free-to-airs,” she tells IF. “All the networks want to keep making Australian drama because when it hits the sweet spot, it creates great audience loyalty to a brand.

“But they’re worried about their revenues and livelihoods so, hand-in-glove with Screen Australia and the state agencies, we have to be really clever in how we put deals together.

“We are resilient and inventive but it’s not easy when the government gives on one hand but takes away on the other hand.”

The extra funding in the budget of $30 million to Screen Australia and $20 million to the Australian Children’s Television Foundation over the next two years will only be effective if those bodies can leverage more money from the market players, she said.

One solution to the financial constraints facing broadcasters is to secure a bigger percentage of the production budget from overseas sources. Hence North American streaming platform Acorn TV agreed to co-commission the second season of Ms Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries with the Seven Network.

Acorn acquired the first series, all three seasons of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and the Tony Tilse-directed feature Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.

Pre-production of the 8 x 1 hour series is underway in Melbourne with Beth Frey again producing. Shooting starts in November with Lynn Hegarty as the set-up director, together with Kevin Carlin, Amanda Brotchie and Jess Harris.

The script producer is Peter Mattessi, a prolific Melbourne-based writer whose credits span multiple episodes of EastEnders, The Heights and Neighbours. The writing team includes Cox, Elizabeth Coleman, Felicity Packard and Michael Miller.

Geraldine Hakewill returns as 1960s sleuth Peregrine Fisher, with Joel Jackson as Detective James Steed, Catherine McClements as Birdie Birnside, president and mastermind of The Adventuresses, Greg Stone as superintendent Percy Sparrow, Tuby Truslove as Birdie’s brother Sam and Louisa Mignone as Violetta Fellini.

Film Victoria and All3media International are co-funding the series. Every Cloud has a first-look development deal with the distributor, which also handles overseas sales on Miss S, the Chinese adaptation which stars Mai Yi Li as Miss Su Wen Li, a beautiful and witty socialite who forms an unlikely alliance with righteous inspector Luo Qiuheng (Gao Weiguang).

Tencent Penguin Pictures, Shanghai 99 Visual Company and Easy Entertainment produced the 30 x 1 hour drama and have the option to make a further 20 episodes.

‘A Sunburnt Christmas.’

Meanwhile, Christiaan Van Vuuren is making his feature directing debut on A Sunburnt Christmas, a Stan Original film now shooting in rural South Australia, produced by Every Cloud and Lisa Scott’s Highview Productions.

The idea germinated at a dinner early this year with Stan CEO Mike Sneesby and director of content Nick Forward when Eagger lamented the lack of contemporary Christmas-themed movies.

The Stan execs liked the idea so Cox fleshed out the story with writers Gretel Vella, Elliott Vella and Tim Walker, who, co-incidentally, had pitched her a Christmas project with a magic realism setting.

The plot follows Daniel Henshall as Daryl, a runaway criminal dressed as Santa Claus who crashes into the outback home of a struggling single mum (Ling Cooper Tang) and her three kids (newcomers Lena Nankivell, Eadan McGuinness and Tatiana Goode).

Sullivan Stapleton is Dingo, a mobster on the hunt for Daryl. The funding came from Screen Australia, Stan, the South Australian Film Corporation and Every Cloud.

Sophie Wilde and Bebe Bettencourt star in ‘Eden’.

Commissioned by Stan, Every Cloud and Balloon Entertainment’s eight-part series Eden explores the hidden lives of the locals in a seemingly idyllic coastal town following the disappearance of a young woman.

Created by Vanessa Gazy and produced by Fiona McConaghy, it’s based on an original idea by Cox, triggered by a tragic car accident involving young people when she and Eagger were shooting the ABC drama East of Everything in Byron Bay.

The cast includes newcomers Sophie Wilde and BeBe Bettencourt alongside Keiynan Lonsdale, Cody Fern, Cassandra Sorrell, Claude Jabbour, Alexandria Steffensen, Christopher James Baker and Samuel Johnson.

Set-up director John Curran and Mirrah Foulkes each directed three episodes and Peter Andrikidis handled the other two. The all-female writing team led by Gazy comprises Jess Brittain, Anya Beyersdorf, Clare Sladden and Penelope Chai.

The series is shooting in a COVID-Safe ‘bubble’ in the Northern Rivers. “The health and safety protocols cost a lot of money but Screen Australia and the state agencies have been very responsive in helping producers to mitigate the risks,” she said. “It’s been a strange, rollercoaster year.”