Shooting on the road: the making of Leongatha

After the success of mockumentary series It’s Not You. It’s Bree, Channel 31’s writer and producer Shane Dunlop is now bringing another comedy Leongatha to TV audiences.

Spanning six weekly episodes, the show features a family road trip to a little town in the south-eastern countryside of Victoria, named Leongatha. It turns out to be a never-ending journey delayed by unexpected situations. 

Dunlop readily admits the show is largely based on personal experience. “Basically it’s about a struggling filmmaker who’s recently had a relationship breakdown,” Dunlop explains. “And he is asked by his cousin to film his wedding which takes place in a country town called Leongatha.” But Denny, the protagonist in the story, first has to get to another town to meet various members of his extended family before they all get into a mini bus and travel across the country together. Things do not go as planned and the motley crew will come across various obstacles before they reach the final destination. 

“That is the idea behind the story,” Dunlop says. “A cross-country trip on a bus with all your family members, heading to a wedding during a time when you are not necessarily in the best frame of mind to film somebody else’s wedding.” 

Different from It’s Not You. It’s Bree, Leongatha takes a more traditional narrative approach, telling a story that takes place in a twelve-hour time frame. Like the characters, Dunlop and his crew hopped on a minibus in November last year and started a five-day shooting trip on location in South Gippsland. 

According to Dunlop, one of the big hurdles with shooting on a moving vehicle is the limited space. “We had cameras, sound people as well as the family characters themselves, all in the same bus that was travelling along the country road, with all the bumps and all the turns. There were quite a few scary moments. I’m sure we may not have been operating under the strict occupational health and safety rules and guidelines,” he laughs. 

Moreover, developing a TV show which happens through the course of one day means the actors needed to maintain the same look throughout the filming process. “We had to make sure that we could shoot in November and continue in January and February,” Dunlop says. “So we are talking about a four-month span where we had to ensure that our cast was able to maintain their appearances without losing any continuity. When you see them in the fifth episode, they don’t look so different from the way they look in the fourth because in the series, it takes place 20 minutes after. It would also be a problem if was raining one day and sunny the next. But we got lucky and the weather was great while we were away.”

For Dunlop and his crew, the most difficult part in creating Leongatha was finance. Though awarded a grant from the Community Broadcasting Foundation, the producer realized they would have to work on a shoestring if they could not find any other funding sources. Besides running an Indiegogo crowd-sourcing campaign online, the production team had to get creative with how to organize the catering and accommodation.

Nevertheless, they were fortunate enough to receive a lot of support from the local community in Leongatha, a region that is seldom chosen as the location of television series. “The local communities were pretty keen and excited that there’s a series with the town’s name in its title and it features a lot of landmarks from that particular area in Victoria which doesn’t get lots of publicity,” Dunlop says. “The local support really helped us achieve the goal without requiring the kind of budget that normally would be required to have 20 people on location for a week.” 

Despite all the bumps and turns, the journey of the Leongatha crew terminated with a happy ending. “We certainly had a lot of fun while we were on location. As far as any hiccups or misadventures, we actually were quite ok. We haven’t had anything happening that was ridiculously out of control. I think most of the people that were involved, including the cast and crew, actually played as a family, living together and being away on location.” 

From The Partridge & the Pear Tree and It’s Not You. It’s Bree to this year’s Leongatha, Dunlop has been producing content for Channel 31 since 2010. Turning from a short film director to a TV producer, Dunlop finds his experience in community TV to be one of the most important steps in his career. “The process of finding film festival audiences is costly, tedious and extremely difficult,” he says. “But I find in Channel 31 the various opportunities that community television provides. You are able to really put in the hard work to be able to find an audience, and through that you are able to get some legitimacy to have your productions broadcasted."

Producing drama for community TV requires courage. “There are challenges in creating non-lifestyle programming,” Dunlop says. “I think what you find on community TV tends to be lifestyle programs such as fishing shows and car shows. But there tend to be very few comedies or fictions. I definitely feel like that you are disadvantaged if you are doing something that doesn’t have a niche market. If you are pitching a fishing show, you can probably get lots of funding from the fishing businesses. But as far as producing your own fictional program that fits into a more traditional framework, those opportunities don’t get presented a lot. So we were lucky to have the grant from Community Broadcasting Foundation which allowed us to make a series which I don’t see very often on community television. Without the funding, I wasn’t quite sure how successful we would have been in telling the story.” 

“What we are hoping for next is to get some other ideas and television programs that we’d like to make. We’d like to be able to make them with a little bit more money behind them and move to the next level whether that’s with television or an established production company and ultimately network television. These are the things we’d like to be able to achieve and hopefully Leongatha is another step in that direction.” 

Leongatha will air on Channel 31 in Melbourne and Geelong from Thursday 9th May 2013.

  1. The thought struck me half way through: Here’s the successor to “Dimboola”!
    What a great series. Thank you!
    I recognised so many people that I have met in my life. How excruciatingly real you made them. Every person and situation had just the right amount of exaggeration.
    My congratulations to all involved particularly the actors. How unselfconsciously they played the parts. I believed each and every one of you.
    Great script, great directing, great photography, great editing – we pause the action a few times to just look at the grass, the trees and the flowers.
    And what a great little town and area.

    My wife and I watched the first episode and then recorded the rest.
    We have replayed those 5 episodes 3 times so far but would love to get the whole lot.
    Put me down for a copy if/when you bring out a DVD.
    Please continue the good work,
    Max & Vicki Kendon

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