Meg O’Connell.

Thanks to Screen Queensland’s Enterprise Funding, Meg O’Connell is adding two execs at her banner Unless Pictures to help drive her slate and grow the business.

One new hire is her frequent collaborator, producer Jackson Lapsley Scott. The other, yet to be chosen, will be a development producer.

The producer/creator/writer is teaming up again with writer Anna Barnes on vertical murder mystery series Apollo under the Snapchat and Screen Australia joint initiative.

O’Connell and Barnes were among the creatives behind the Ludo Studio/ABC iview comedy Content and the ABC’s Retrograde.

Set at an exclusive boarding school for children of the elite, Apollo will be a co-production between Unless Pictures and Kurt Royan and Dan Lake’s Orange Entertainment.

The plot revolves around the murder of the class president, which leads to a spate of killings. A student turned private detective investigates the case and finds her only lead is that everyone at the school is obsessed with an astrology app called Apollo.

O’Connell aims to make her directing debut on the 10 x 5′ series. Beatrix Christian is the story producer and Justine Flynn (The Unlisted) and Royan are EPs.

The slate includes Breed, co-created with Christian, a four- or six-part psychological horror series about a young woman who falls pregnant but is unsure whether she’s having a baby or a parasite.

On a lighter note, Debatable is a TV drama set at a high school debating team and revolves around the teenagers’ lives outside school.

As for the origin of the name of her company, Meg was inspired by Unless, a novel by the late Canadian author Carol Shields about a woman who writes a series of letters addressed (but not posted) to high-profile men accused of failing to recognise women’s achievements, following the disappearance of her eldest daughter.

“To me it’s about trying to tell female-focused stories that have not been told,” she said.

Clockwise from top left: Meg O’Connell, Retrograde script co-ordinator Abbie ‘AP’ Pobjoy, writers Declan Fay, Michele Lee and Anna Barnes and script producer Sophie Miller.

ABC Commercial has just been confirmed as the international distributor of Retrograde, the six-part narrative comedy filmed in isolation, co-created by O’Connell and Mark O’Toole, with Anna Barnes as lead writer and co-producer.

The idea was hatched after O’Connell and fellow producer Dan Lake launched an online bar for friends to hang out. They invited the ABC’s Sally Riley and Que Minh Luu to the virtual bar and pitched the show, which was co-funded by Screen Australia, Film Victoria and Screen Queensland.

Directed by Natalie Bailey and starring Pallavi Sharda, Ilai Swindells, Maria Angelico, Esther Hannaford, Nick Boshier and Ronny Chieng, it followed a group of 30-something friends as they drown their sorrows in a virtual bar during the pandemic.

At Ludo Studio she produced Robbie Hood for SBS On Demand, Content and the International Emmy® Award-winning ABC ME show Doodles, and she was development manager on Bluey.

Earlier in her career she worked in the Canberra office of WildBear Entertainment on several projects including Australia Doesn’t Just Want to Kill You (which aired on Discovery Channel) and the 13-part The Price of Empire.

Last year on a mentorship with Fremantle in the UK, funded by Screen Queensland, she met with execs at half a dozen companies in the UK and Germany owned by the production powerhouse.

Earlier this year she was named among Screen Australia’s Talent USA recipients. Given the travel bans, they will take part in virtual meetings and attend an online version of the Australian International Screen Forum later in the year.

“I am extremely grateful for everything I have learned,” she said. “At Ludo I was always pushed to think innovatively and try to make television in interesting formats, but always through a story and character lens.

“We have a really supportive industry. I really enjoyed the showrunner role on Retrograde. I’d love to make a feature and long-form drama and continue working with as many creatives as possible.”

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