Media Stockade fosters diversity with ‘Back to Nature’

Rebecca Barry.

Consistent with Media Stockade’s mandate to foster diversity, Indigenous filmmakers Dena Curtis and Kimberley Benjamin are each directing two episodes of the ABC’s Back to Nature.

The production company co-founded by Rebecca Barry and Madeleine Hetherton aims to soon restart filming the factual lifestyle series after production was disrupted by COVID-19.

A co-production with Jane Manning’s Threshold Pictures, the eight-part series follows Aaron Pedersen and Holly Ringland as they explore such areas as the ancient rainforests of Gondwana in Queensland; the high Country of the Kosciuszko National Park in NSW; the volcanic landscape of the Macedon Ranges in Victoria and Larapuna; and the Bay of Fires on Tasmania’s North East Coast.

Meanwhile, the producers are working with Flame Distribution in negotiating further format sales of The Love Experiment, a TV show designed to encourage intimacy among strangers, based on Dublin-born filmmaker Sinéad McDevitt’s short film How to Fall in Love with a Stranger.

Its development slate includes Pipe Dreams, a feature drama which Barry will co-write and direct, inspired by the true story of the Australian women’s bagpipe band in the 1920s.

Hetherton plans to write and direct The Day We Saved the Zoo, a feature documentary that follows the zoo keepers who fought off raging bush fires surrounding the Mogo Zoo last summer.

Barry discussed the slate and Media Stockade’s commitment to diversity in a webinar with Screen Producers Australia CEO Matt Deaner.

She and Hetherton were up-and-coming filmmakers when they decided to launch Media Stockade in 2012 after projects they were pitching to production companies were either knocked back or resulted in offers of “bad deals.”

“I wanted to be the producer I didn’t have growing up in the industry,” Bec told Deaner. During the pandemic-enforced lockdown, she said she are Hetherton have been pondering ways to increase diversity beyond “middle-class white women.”

In recent years the producers gave opportunities to six first-time feature filmmakers, sometimes overcoming resistance from broadcasters, and several others on projects in development.

‘The Day We Saved the Zoo.’

Bec stumbled on the existence of the women’s bagpipe band when she was doing some research on Isabel, Phyllis and Paulette McDonagh, the sisters, business partners and creative collaborators who made films in Sydney in the 1920s and 1930s.

There is no archive material for a documentary so she intends to tell the story in a feature full of drama, comedy, romance and, of course, music, with Timothy White as EP. She also plans to co-write a book on the band.

The Back to Nature production team finished shooting in Tasmania, Queensland and the Snowy Mountains and were three-quarters of the way through filming in the Hawkesbury when they were forced to call a halt.

The disruption and the need to supply personal protective equipment as part of the COVID-Safe protocols cost “a lot of money,” she said, so they are applying for additional funding from Screen Australia.

The series producer, Manning is directing three episodes and Media Stockade’s development producer Sophie Wiesner is helming one. The plan is to shoot the episode in Victoria, which Benjamin will direct, as soon as restrictions are lifted, while the Western Australian section is in doubt.

“It has been such a pleasure to work on Back To Nature with Bec, Jane and the rest of incredible crew,” Benjamin says. “They really are walking the talk in terms of diversity, following protocol and honouring First Nations ICIP [Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property], not to mention Aaron Pedersen is an executive producer too.”

It was Wiesner who suggested entering McDevitt’s concept modelled on a psychological experiment created by US psychology professor Dr Arthur Aron in the 1990s into the MIP Formats International Pitching competition in Cannes last year.

It came second, resulting in offers from several broadcasters for the format which poses 36 questions to strangers, followed by a good long stare into each others’ eyes.

The first international version commissioned by Belgium’s RTBF has just wrapped production. Media Stockade then brought on Flame Distribution, which licensed the format to South Africa’s Media24, which is producing the show for the country’s ViaTV. Other deals are in negotiation and the producers are keen to attract an Australian broadcaster.

Funded by Screen Australia’s Enterprise program, Sharp Advisory’s Wendy Mather is providing business coaching and advice on how to expand their production of social impact formats for Australian and international audiences.