Giant Dwarf creative team is chasing a dream: a mini-studio

Julian Morrow. 

The brains trust at Giant Dwarf, creators of The Chaser empire, are planning to create a mini-studio which will not be reliant on the support of Australian broadcasters.

According to co-founder Julian Morrow the scheme is still evolving and they have yet to figure out one key puzzle: how to monetise content.

The aim is to capitalise on the success of the popular comedy venue Giant Dwarf theatre, the former Cleveland Street Theatre in Redfern, which the production company leased in 2013 and re-opened in 2014.

“We are trying to turn our theatre and part of our office into a mini-studio with the aim that you can create content on a much lower cost base without the need for big network resourcing,” he tells IF.

“How you monetise that is a much harder question. I am interested in developing distribution models for independent producers that provide more autonomy where possible. We’re looking at models from subscription to self-distribution, whatever is out there.

“The problem for a company of our size is that you get so absorbed with actually making the shows that working out the bigger business question is hard. The more you can distribute yourself, the better position you are in.”

This year Giant Dwarf has produced season five of The CheckoutThe Letdown, its first narrative comedy which premieres on the ABC at 9.35pm on October 25; Growing Up Gracefully, a TV comedy documentary series created, written and presented by sisters Hannah Reilly and Eliza Reilly; and, still in production, the ABC’s weekly current affairs show Planet America.

As for The Letdown, Morrow says: “I’m amazed there has not been a mothers’ group comedy before. It’s such a great premise. By the sheer chance on the date on which you give birth, it means you end up in a room on a regular basis interacting with people who are going through the very same thing but often with different backgrounds and experiences.

“No matter how traumatic birth is, the brain chemicals of evolution seem to work in a way that people make the same mistake twice, often three times or more, which is great for the propagation of the species.”

Netflix’s acquisition of worldwide streaming rights enabled the comedy to be made.

Alison Bell, who co-created and co-wrote the show with Sarah Scheller, described the budget as modest, adding: “Sometimes Sarah and I wrote as if we had a Game of Thrones-type budget. That said, we were very grateful for any budget and thrilled Netflix got behind us and threw us some cash.”

Series six of The Checkout is in pre-production; much of it will centre on a motherhood theme as panellist Zoe Norton-Lodge is pregnant.

“It’s a real testament to the ineffectiveness of The Checkout as a TV program that there are still so many rip offs and dodgy practices out there that we have more core material than we can handle,” Morrow said.

Hannah and Eliza Reilly received a grant from Screen Australia under the Gender Matters initiative for Sheilas, a short-form satirical series which will examine some of Australia’s most amazing women as well as some “badass bitches.”

Produced by Nikita Agzarian, the series will tackle such subjects as Fanny Durack, who was the world’s greatest female swimmer from 1910 to 1920, and Nancy Wake, who was a leading figure in the French resistance during WW2.

Also on the agenda is the annual The Chaser lecture, a charity fund-raiser which this year will feature Elio Casale, Oswaldo Graziani and Juan Andrés Ravell, comedians who created the Venezuelan satirical site El Chigüire Bipolar.

Morrow said: “El Chigüire publish fake news, linked to independent journalism and media, as a way into the real stories to engage the Venezuelan people in the movement against the military regime.”

The event will be held on November 30 at the University of Sydney’s MacLaurin Hall.  SBS screened the first lecture, Fairfax Media streamed last year’s and Morrow is still figuring out the media partner this time.