AACTA’s decision to introduce an award to recognise online video and series is indicative of a changing mindset about digital content, according to director Luke Eve.
Eve, whose series High Life is nominated in the category, tells IF in many ways “it’s time” that there was formal industry recognition of short-form, digital series. However, he recognises that it is a relatively young format and artform – albeit one in that Australia has been strongly backed, particularly via Screen Australia’s multiplatform fund.
“Having just spent quite a lot of time in Europe travelling around different festivals, it does seem like we’re quite far ahead in terms of supporting online series,” says Eve, who has also directed TV shows SEX: An Unnatural History and Great Southern Land.
“Everyone keeps pulling me aside and going ‘What the hell is going on in Australia?’”
With Screen Australia’s fund, and now AACTA recognition, the director has observed an increasing interest in creating digital series within Australia, and says the quality of such work has risen in recent years both at home and abroad. “We’re all pushing each other to create bigger and better stuff.”
A 6 x 10 minute series, High Life follows Genevieve, a creative and over-achieving 17-year-old student, played by Odessa Young (The Daughter), as she experiences her first manic episode of bipolar disorder. It was written by Glen Dolman (Hawke, Mystery of a Hansom Cab), produced by Eve with Adam Dolman, and executive produced by British comedian and mental health advocate Stephen Fry with Gina Carter.
The series’ AACTA nod comes after a veritable slew of awards on the international web festival circuit, including but not limited to the Grand Jury Prize at Toronto Web Festival, Best Drama, Best Director and Best Actor at Melbourne Web Fest, Best Drama at Berlin Web Fest, Best Director, Best Writer, Best Actor and Best Editing at the International Academy of Web Television Awards and Winner Best Actress at Marseille Web Fest.
High Life is not Eve’s first foray into digital series; it is a companion piece to 2014’s Low Life, a 6 x 6 minute show which followed a man in his 30s struggling with depression.
Low Life was initially released online for free. It went on win more than 20 awards at festivals, and sold to Amazon Prime and French SVOD platform Canalplay.
However, High Life was initially commissioned via French SVOD platform Canalplay, meaning its distribution path has been quite different.
The deal with the French platform came about after it sponsored an award that Low Life won at the Marseilles Web Fest, and indicated they’d be keen to see more from Eve, who then pitched them High Life.
“They were able to come on board and give us essentially an upfront licence fee and a bit of equity, which I was then able to use to leverage Screen Australia [funding].”
Locally, High Life was broadcast on 9Go! as a standalone and streaming platform 9Now in episodic form, and it has also sold to the US streaming service Fullscreen.
While it has been around eight months since the series was initially released, Eve says he is still working at least a few hours every day marketing and promoting it, and believes there is still the potential for further sales in Canada, the UK and Asia.
The growth of these international SVOD platforms like Canalplay, Fullscreen and Blackpills, all of whom are hungry for mobile-first content, has changed the game, says Eve, who will speak on the future of short-form drama at next week’s Content London conference.
“Years ago it was like: make something, release it on Youtube. That was it; that was a web series. Whereas now, they’re like little mini-TV shows; you’re doing a deal with a government agency and then an international broadcaster.”
The sales opportunities have also rapidly increased, says Eve, noting that when he made Low Life, there was “no way in the world” he imagined he could sell it to a major network like Nine.
As for what doors High Life has opened for Eve’s career, he says it is difficult to quantify.
He is currently in discussions about directing TV shows in Australia, and High Life has also helped as a proof of concept for a separate feature project that also focuses on mental health issues.
Titled I Met A Girl, the film – which Eve has been working on with High Life’s Adam and Glen Dolman for the last three or four years – follows a man struggling with schizophrenia who falls for a mysterious woman, Lucy, who may be all in his head. When she suddenly vanishes, he takes off across the country to find her.
Brenton Thwaites is attached to star as the lead, and Eve is currently looking to cast the role of Lucy.
“High Life is helping a lot with that in terms of getting meetings… But I still think there’s a bit of a tendency in the industry here, with traditional film and television producers, to look at a web series as something like ‘oh it’s a cute web series’.
“I’m hoping that with the AACTA nominations, people might start watching them and realising that there are actually really high production values and really well-crafted stories. It’s just about perception.
“I think overseas that perception has changed. In the US in particular, I think web series are a real door opener.”
TV and film projects aside, Eve remains keen to create work in the digital space. He believes it’s likely the next thing he’ll make is a 10 x 10 minute series about a young cult leader who claims he is the second coming of Christ. At a budget of $1 million, it will be double the scope of High Life.
Eve is also “toying with” the idea of completing the Low Life, High Life trilogy with Mid Life – “It just seems like a no brainer.”
“I would happily keep working in this space, because there are budgets now as well. Three years ago, after Low Life, I went ‘I don’t want to do another one unless there’s money and I can support myself’.
“But now there is – because of these different platforms and because of Screen Australia money, you can take a fee, own it, exploit and be smart about it.”
He adds: “I’ve made a real, concerted effort in the last couple of years to build a career in this space. Just because I thought it was interesting, and it was changing, and there were opportunities. So far it’s paying off, I think.”