IF visits the set of SBS mini Deep Water, starring Noah Taylor and Yael Stone

Noah Taylor and Yael Stone (and soundie) on set. (Photo: Sean O’Reilly)

An old shed on Glebe Island wharf, littered with boat-building machinery and tools, sets the tone for one of the dramatic final scenes of SBS’s new four-part series, Deep Water, starring Noah Taylor and Yael Stone.

Stone and Taylor play detectives investigating a brutal murder case which appears to be connected to the real-life gay hate crimes that swept through Sydney in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

But it was a more recent murder which spurred Blackfella Films’ producers Darren Dale and Miranda Dear to get the series moving.

Dear and Dale, coincidentally were both in Potts Point, Sydney, when a particularly violent murder took place.

“He [Darren] was leaving and I was heading in and we both saw fire engines, ambulances, police cars and Darren stopped at the ATM near the building and heard from residents what had happened,” Dear says.

“A young man had invited someone home via a dating app and that morning he had been stabbed to death and the apartment was set on fire.

“Over the next few days we looked for the story in the press and there was very little. We then started asking questions: what’s life worth? Why isn’t this news?”

After a bit of research, Dear and Dale realized the extent of bashings and what appeared to be murders which occurred in the 80s and 90s.

“Everyone we talked to was surprised and didn’t seem to know about it or didn’t seem to know the scale of it and the fact that it really just went largely unchecked.

“We thought let’s explore this in drama let’s get the story out there. That was really the jumping off point.”

SBS are billing Deep Water as its first cross-genre, cross-platform event which will include a four-part drama series, a feature documentary and unique online web series and content”.

The series is executive produced by SBS’s Sue Masters, directed by Shawn Seet (Peter Allen: Not The Boy Next Door, The Code), shot by DoP Bruce Young (The Code, INXS: Never Tear Us Apart), and written by Kris Wyld (East West 101) and Kym Goldsworthy (Love Child, Serangoon Road).

Joining Stone and Taylor in the crime thriller are Stone’s husband Dan Spielman (The Code, Accidental Soldier, Offspring), William McInnes (The Time of Our Lives, The Slap), Danielle Cormack (Wentworth, Rake, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries), Craig McLachlan (The Doctor Blake Mysteries), Ben Oxenbould (The Kettering Incident, Old School, Rake), Simon Burke (Devil’s Playground), John Brumpton (Catching Milat, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) and others.

According to Dear, SBS provided early stage development funding at the first meeting. A strong cast for the project would soon follow.

“It’s a really amazing ensemble,” she said. “I think Australian actors are drawn to the material and I think Kris and Kym deliver terrific scripts.

“The premise itself was a big drawcard. People felt quite passionate about being involved in telling this story. I think the possibility of working with Shawn Seet, who is a director of such a calibre is quite a drawcard.”

Serendipitous timing and a 31-day shoot also helped bring Stone, who was in Sydney for a Belvoir play, from New York and Taylor from the UK for the project.

“I think with some of our other actors… you like good company. Because it’s such a high quality ensemble it became a little bit of a domino effect if you like.”

The series was shot entirely on location across Sydney in Bondi, Maroubra, Rozelle and Glebe.

Dear praised the “experienced” crew.

“There doesn’t seem to be any primadonnas and everyone goes about their business,” she says.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why we can aim for and have the ambition for high production values. Bruce Young has got an amazing eye and has a fantastic rapport with Shawn (Seet) because they have a kind of shorthand because worked together quite a bit before.

“It’s really interesting watching the rushes to see how they have the ability to elevate everything.”

Dear previously worked with Seet while executive producer at both SBS and ABC.

“He’s got an amazing mind. He knows what he wants, he’s clear and articulate, the actors love him the crew love him. He’s got a very calm quiet manner, but a very clear vision.”

Dear, who is also producing an ambitious six-episode drama based on Frank Moorhouse’s Edith Trilogy, says there were some elements of Deep Water which needed to be treated sensitively.

“Darren and I are both gay so it was very important to us to handle sensitively some of the more confronting material,” she says.

“I feel that Kris and Kym approached the material with the same mindset.

But while serious themes run through Deep Water, it is still a drama.

“There is no point making something that nobody is going to watch,” Dear says. “Your first ambition has got to be ‘please watch it’ and for people to find the drama compelling and entertaining.

“But there’s an element of it – we hope – that in bringing a story to light that not everyone is aware of, that actually we are shining a light on something that might change some hearts and minds and certainly bringing an awareness that these crime can’t go unchecked again.”