No tyranny of distance for Essential Viewing

Essential Media & Entertainment has released the mother of all press releases to announce their production and development slate for 2008-2009, the expansion of their Northern Ireland production office in Belfast and the establishment of a production office in New York.

This follows the announcement of a substantial grant and loan package from the Australian Film Commission (AFC) under its Screen Business Venture Program, Australian independent production company.

“Despite the tyranny of distance from the main world media markets I have always wanted to build a flourishing independent production company making world class product – based out of Australia. With recent changes to the funding system here combined with the strong relationships we have built with offshore broadcasters and some timely assistance from the AFC realising that vision is now possible,” says Essential Media & Entertainment CEO Chris Hilton.

For 2008-2009, Essential is pursuing a diverse, creative mix of documentary, factual entertainment and drama.

Essential’s current television production slate includes:
The Last Confession of Alexander Pearce: a factual drama for BBC, ABC, RTE and The History Channel directed by Michael James Rowland (Lucky Miles), starring acclaimed Irish actors Adrian Dunbar (The Crying Game, My Left Foot) and Ciaran McMennamin (Jericho) and an ensemble Australian cast including Dan Wylie, Don Hany, Bob Franklin and Chris Haywood. Shot on location in Tasmania and currently in post-production.


Scorched (a co-production with Goalpost Pictures and Firelight Projects) a tele-feature for Nine Network and Granada International directed by Tony Tilse and starring Vince Colosimo, Georgie Parker, Cameron Daddo and Les Hill. Scorched will be complemented by the most sophisticated and innovative wrap-around online experience yet devised for an Australian drama. Currently in post production.

How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer on the science behind six degrees of separation and the science of networks, for BBC Horizon, ABC and Discovery. Currently shooting around the world along with two other science programs for international partners Robot Revolution and The Real Hobbit.

Solo for National Geographic US, BBC, and ABC. The story of Andrew McAuley’s brave attempt to cross the wild Southern Ocean from Australia to New Zealand unsupported in a kayak.

Whatever! for ABC. Generations of parents have wondered why their children turn into obnoxious, angst-ridden, reckless, lazy and rebellious monsters. Whatever! has the answers in this series. Using groundbreaking on-screen tests, we go where adults fear to tread.

In regards to feature film development, producer Sonja Armstrong from Essential has recently returned from Cannes with strong international interest in the romantic comedy Almost French based on the Australian bestseller of the same name by Sarah Turnbull. It will star promising actor Emma Booth (Clubland) and is written and to be directed by Kate Dennis with Executive Producer Troy Lum from Hopscotch Films.

Other feature films in development include Saving Mr Banks the story of the Australian creator of Mary Poppins scripted by Sue Smith (Brides of Christ, Bastard Boys); a feature adaptation of Peter Temple’s international crime bestseller “The Broken Shore”, winner of the 2007 Gold Dagger the prestigious UK Crime Writers Award; and Show Pony, an Australia-NZ co-production with Tim White of Southern Light Films written by emerging NZ writer, Jodie Molloy.

In TV drama, Essential is developing the series Rake about Cleaver Greene a criminal barrister who attempts to win the unwinnable – both in his professional and personal life – starring Richard Roxburgh and by writer/director Peter Duncan (Unfinished Sky, Hell has Harbour Views, Children of the Revolution).

This is in development with ABC Australia and the Australian Film Commission with a cross platform wraparound in conjunction with Hoodlum, the award winning digital entertainment company based in Brisbane.

In development on the factual slate, Essential are specialising in the core areas of history, science and factual entertainment with projects such as The Birth of Shopping, Razor Queens, Making of Modern Australia, Burke and Wills: The Longest March, Weather Warriors and Food Matters all at financing stage.

Recently delivered films screening at festivals or on TV:
The Choir – a feature documentary coproduced with National Geographic Feature Films about the music which unites a group of inmates battling to survive in South Africa’s biggest prison will have a simultaneous world premiere at Sydney Film Festival and Los Angeles Film Festival on 21 June. Director: Michael Davie Executive Producers Jake Eberts, Adam Leipzig and Rosemary Blight.


Miracle on Everest a drama documentary on the near death and remarkable survival of mountaineer Lincoln Hall premiered on National Geographic Channel in USA on 20th May to a strong response. To be screened on ABC on 15 July.

Ten Pound Poms in competition in the Dendy Awards at Sydney Film Festival, recently screened on BBC2 to 2.6 million audience making it the highest rating show in its strand (also on ABC last November to a one million, five capital city audience.

In addition, plans are already well advanced to expand Essential’s Northern Ireland production office in Belfast and recruit an executive producer to head that operation:

“Essential has built a reputation for producing high quality British and Irish content. Now with the advent of the Producers Tax Offset in Australia and the Ofcom regulations in the UK favouring production in the “Nations”, there are even greater opportunities for expanding Essential’s production base back in my home country of Northern Ireland” says Essential’s head of production Nial Fulton.

Essential is also in the process of establishing a significant production office in New York in order to secure large series commissions from the US networks.
Essential has been working with Lisa Zeff, a highly experienced and respected US executive producer, to establish its New York operation.


“The benefits to the Australian industry will be significant. Apart from further raising its profile, Essential will be able to provide international career paths for our talent, giving them a gateway to high profile, high budget productions” says producer Ian Collie, one of Essential’s co-founders.

Established in Sydney in 2005 by Chris Hilton, Ian Collie and Sonja Armstrong, Essential Media & Entertainment has grown to become one of Australia’s largest producers of factual programs receiving commissions from some of the world’s major broadcasters including BBC, PBS, National Geographic and Discovery. Essential has also worked with most local Australian broadcasters.

[release from NIX Co]

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