Jungle’s Jason Burrows calls for better deals and training for screenwriters

Jason Burrows.

Jungle Entertainment CEO Jason Burrows advocates one key structural change if the Australian screen industry is to take full advantage of an expected, post-pandemic boom in demand for scripted content: Treat writers much better.

Burrows is confident Australia can produce drama which competes with the best in the world if writers are given more time for development, greater creative control, more training and mentoring and higher fees.

“If we don’t, we might as well stop making drama,” he said in a webinar with Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner yesterday.

“We should do that even it means Australia makes one less drama each year, as it will pay off in the long run for all of us.”

Too often, he says, projects go into production or pre-production without finished scripts due to numerous factors including network pressures to fill a gap in the schedule, limited development fees and investment, production companies’ budget priorities and the need to sometimes rush into production for cash-flow reasons.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, Jungle and BBC Studios called a halt to production of Wakefield, the eight-part ABC drama set in a Blue Mountains psychiatric hospital half way through the shoot.

Created by Kristen Dunphy and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse and Kim Mordaunt, the series stars Brit Rudi Dharmalingham’s as Nik, a gifted psych nurse who finds a dark secret from his past begins to intrude into his present.

The ensemble cast includes Dan Wyllie, Harriet Dyer, Ryan Corr, Harry Greenwood, Sam Simmons, Bessie Holland, Megan Smart, Victoria Haralabidou, Wayne Blair, Heather Mitchell and Kim Gyngell.

(L-R) Elle Reid, Sam Meikle, Bex Joyce, Bec Taylor, Kristen Dunphy, Camilla Soole and Kim Mordaunt (Photo credit: Lisa Tomasetti).

Jungle execs are in discussion with the Federal Government to secure permission to bring back Rudi and fellow cast members Felicity Ward and Nadie Kammallaweera from the UK and Sri Lanka when it is safe to resume shooting. He has contingency plans for three potential re-start dates.

Burrows told Deaner the production company has registered the 140-strong cast and crew with the JobKeeper scheme and is working through their eligibility – a heavy administrative burden.

On the other side of the pandemic Burrows is confident there will be huge demand for scripted content, creating significant, long-term export potential for Australian producers. But as he notes, the quality bar will be even higher, hence the need to elevate the role of writers.

Meanwhile Jungle has started pre-production on writer-director Craig Reucassel’s The Democracy Project (working title), a feature documentary and two-part ABC program co-funded by Screen Australia’s Producer Program.

Produced by Aline Jacques and fronted by Christiaan Van Vuuren, the show will investigate how money has infiltrated Australia’s democratic system, including corporate and political donations and the role of lobbyists.