‘The Unboxing’. 

There’s a guiding philosophy that’s successfully steered much of Hannah Lehmann’s career so far: When people are spending so much time on their phones and social media anyway, why not give them interesting content to watch via their apps?

Lehmann’s short-form work has garnered millions of views, with the Sydney filmmaker first grabbing industry attention after she distributed her 13 x one minute drama series The Out There via Instagram back in 2016. That led to her getting signed with Gersh Agency and Pathfinder in the US and a Snapchat Original commission in Two Sides, premiering last year. Screen Australia also recently sent Lehmann to LA as part of its Talent USA delegation, recognising her as an up-and-coming talent.

Two Sides, which she created, wrote and directed follows a teenage couple navigating a modern-day breakup in a split-screen format, showing both characters’ point of view of the breakup simultaneously. In December, Two Sides won Lehmann best director at the Streamy Awards. Snapchat has also ordered a second season, with Lehmann currently leading in the writers room in LA.

Closer to home, Lehmann recently co-wrote and directed Seven Studios’ series The Unboxing for Facebook Watch, released last November. Starring Tanya Hennessy as a beauty influencer, it is the first scripted comedy series Facebook has commissioned outside of the US.

Hannah Lehmann accepting her award for Best Direction at the Streamys.

Together with Imogen McCluskey and China White, Lehmann is also developing short-form series Surprise Party, one of 10 selected for development via SBS and Screen Australia’s Digital Originals initiative.

With the impending launch of Quibi in the US this April, Lehmann predicts the industry’s about to get serious about short-form. Quibi is billed at the first platform for such content. Every episode on the platform will be under 10 minutes, and it is specifically designed to be viewed on a phone and delivered in portrait and landscape mode. Quibi plans to release 175 series in the first year, including series with Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Lopez and Chrissy Teigan.

However, when it comes to her own career, Lehmann hopes to also broaden her slate out and work in traditional formats; she is in active development on several projects that are longer-form in both Australia and the US.

“I hope my work transcends run length. I’m interested in doing all sorts of things,” she tells IF.

The Unboxing is a product of Seven Studios’ content deal with Facebook Watch, inked last June – the first of its kind for an Australian production company.

Seven Studios is creating a range of brand new formats under the deal, including programs with Jordan Watson, Elise Strachan, Joel Creasey and Erin Holland, as well as extending the reach of existing brands including My Kitchen RulesHome and Away, Better Homes and Gardens and House Rules. 

Lehmann was brought onto The Unboxing by producer Liliana Munoz, who is currently working with Seven Studios thanks to a Screen Australia People Enterprise grant.

Munoz had been following Lehmann’s career since The Out There, waiting for the right opportunity to work with her. When the chance came up to create a series for Facebook, Munoz suggested to Seven Studios head of comedy Michael Horrocks they bring Lehmann in for a meeting. Within just three months, they had made The Unboxing with Lehmann co-writing with Erica Harrison.

“I was really impressed with Hannah not because she’s young, but because of the drive that was behind her. She clearly had a direction. As a producer, those are the things that I look for in directors – directors who are not just visionaries [creatively] but visionaries in terms of strategy of career,” Munoz tells IF.

Facebook Watch were a breeze to work with, Munoz says. In terms of casting, Facebook’s main requirement was that the series were led by someone with a strong Facebook/Instagram following who would be able to boost the series through their own pages. As a comedian and trained actor, Hennessy was a perfect fit and Munoz and Lehmann reports they’ve had a great response from her audience as well.

Liliana Munoz.

“It was really important to us when we creating the show, and to Tanya as well, to make sure her comedy was filtered through it, so that it would be able to able to resonate with the community she has online,” Lehmann says.

Starring alongside Hennessy are Maddy McWilliam and Priscilla Doueihy, both of whom Lehmann starred alongside in Imogen McCluskey’s film Suburban Wildlife, as well as Nick Hopkin, Hilton Howsen and Claude Jabbour. Lehmann was also able to work with many other past collaborators and friends, including cinematographer Lucca Barrone-Peters.

Within Seven Studios, the response to the The Unboxing has positive. Working with Facebook Watch has been viewed as an exciting venture and talent escalator, Munoz says. “They can see that it’s a way of testing material, testing characters… Everybody’s talking about diversity and new faces on the screen. This is one way of making sure that you do that.”

When it comes to short-form content more generally, the producer wrankles at content being defined by its run length alone.

“I’m tired of people saying ‘short-form’, because it’s just content. It’s just a show, just a program,” she says.

“As a producer, when you’re talking about producing a series that in duration is short, immediately the buyer will think, ‘Okay, low budget’… Why is that? You still have to go through the scripts. You’ve still got to go through your development. All of the things are still the same. So I hope that one day, that attitude changes.”

Munoz is also willing to put her hand up to argue that the business needs to look at the licencing terms being asked by broadcasters and platforms for such content. “The terms we are discussing are based on long-form, traditional content. That is not a true reflection of what you’re dealing with in short-form. Why should short-form series be treated like 10 one hours? Why would you want to keep that content? It expires; once you’ve seen it, or it’s been out there for three months, it’s gone. Nobody wants to know about it. They want to know what’s coming up next.”

Independently Munoz is also developing a range of projects, including series All My Friends Are Racist with writers Kodie Bedford and Enoch Mailangi, with Leah Purcell as a mentor; a feature film with Elissa Down, and Naked, a 7 x 1 series set in the last week of high school.

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