From left are Raj Labade, Gabriel
Alvarado, Shirong Wu and Kabir Singh.
When Mohini Herse began writing short-form series Appetite back in 2017, she initially intended it to be an “anti-love letter” to Sydney.
Then working for a commercial advertising company, the writer/director was intrigued by the juxtaposition of wasted food and the plight of delivery riders who were “putting their life on the line for the sake of a meal”.
“At the time it spoke to where Sydney was in 2017; we had lockout laws, the casino was being built at Barangaroo, and tram construction was strewn all over the city,” she said.
Six years later, the series is set to have its world premiere at next month’s Canneseries, where it will be the only Australian production to be an official in-competition selection.
Written by Herse, who also produces under her Fell Swoop Pictures and directs alongside Neil Sharma, the story follows three penniless food delivery riders who are brought together after their housemate mysteriously vanishes on the same night as a rider has a fatal roadside accident.
Forced to uncover the truth behind the accident, the unlikely group find themselves entangled in a mystery to uncover and expose the multinational food delivery behemoth, Appetite.
Initially intended as a short film, Herse took the original Sydney-centric concept to Fell Swoop Pictures co-founder Sleena Wilson, who encouraged her to continue developing it, leading her to apply unsuccessfully apply for Screen Australia, SBS and NITV’s Digital Originals initiative in 2019.
A year later, she was driven to take a new approach to the story after the deaths of five delivery riders on Sydney roads over a two-month period prompted an examination of gig economy practices.
“I thought [the project] would be a really fascinating way of exploring just how our world was being shaped by convenience culture,” she said.
“That’s how Appetite in this version was born.”
Appetite was selected for the Digital Originals initiative in 2020, with Hearse attending exclusive workshops while also bringing Elise McCredie on board as a script editor and Sharma as set-up director as well as welcoming writers Neilesh Verma and Grace Tan.
The team interviewed riders, community leaders, international students, academics, lawyers, and tech workers to better understand the often-invisible world of the gig economy and ensure that the delivery riders were seen for who they are, for the work they do, and the extreme conditions they do it under.
The 6×10 minute series was shot across 12 days in Sydney mid last year, with a cast comprising Shirong Wu, Gabriel Alvarado, Raj Labade, and Kabir Singh, as well as Marta Dusseldorp, who provided the voice of Appetite from Tasmania.
The other creatives involved included producer Karen Radzyner, and Jomon Thomas, who executive produced alongside Wilson and McCredie.
The Photoplay/Fell Swoop Pictures production received principal production funding from Screen Australia, in association with SBS, and assistance from Screen NSW.
Screen Australia and Screen NSW are also supporting Hearse, Wu, Radzyner, Singh Verma, Tan, and Sharma to travel over to Cannes for the premiere.
The creator said she was “stoked for the opportunities that the selection would open”, and hoped the satirical look at the gig economy would contribute to a wider conversation.
“It’s going to be an interesting one because obviously the audience watching it already participates so much with these apps; they’re so ingrained in our everyday life to the point where we don’t think twice when we push a button and our meal appears,” she said.
“I just want people to think twice before the push of a button and also understand the many stories and hard work that goes towards making that possible.
“It’s not at all a didactic approach; we’re poking fun at something we all benefit from but are also victims to as well.
Appetite will have its world premiere on Tuesday, April 18 at the Espace Miramar in Cannes, after which it will be shown on SBS Viceland at 9.30 pm on April 22 and be available on SBS On Demand.