‘The Heights’ is a career step-ladder for Sarah Bassiuoni

Sarah Bassiuoni.

When Sarah Bassiuoni started as a note-taker on the second series of the ABC’s The Heights, she seized the opportunity to write an episode on spec.

The co-creator and showrunner, Matchbox Pictures’ Warren Clarke, was so impressed he commissioned her to write an episode of the drama serial set in a social housing tower and the adjacent, rapidly gentrifying inner-city community.

Not only that, the screenwriter was invited to join the production as a trainee script editor under the guidance of script producer Romina Accurso and script editors Hannah Carroll Chapman and Megan Palinkas.

“Sarah’s journey from note taker to writer and trainee editor is real testament to her natural talent as a writer along with her work ethic and sheer determination,” says Clarke, who co-created the drama with Que Minh Luu and produces with For Pete’s Sake Productions’ Peta Astbury-Bulsara.

Bassiuoni got her chance on the show after meeting Debbie Lee, Matchbox’s director of scripted development, last year when she was working as a script coordinator with Courtney Wise, creator of Lingo Pictures/SBS’s miniseries On the Ropes.

“It’s been fabulous; I have learned so much,” Sarah tells IF. “The creative team is really focussed on helping emerging writers, directors and across all departments.”

The daughter of an Egyptian Muslim father and an Irish Catholic mother who was born in Saudi Arabia, she embarked on a career in the screen industry three years ago after deciding her original profession as a lawyer wasn’t for her.

She had specialised in human rights including providing legal aid in Alice Springs and running police misconduct cases for a community legal centre in Sydney, but became disillusioned.

After completing graduate certificates from AFTRS in screenwriting and directing in 2016 she wrote and directed the short films Little Secret and Dunes.

‘Car Park Clubbing.’

Last year she took part in Screen Australia’s Developing the Developer Program which aims to build diverse voices in the screen industry. Former Screen Australia development exec Louise Gough led a 4-day workshop for the 10 participants.

That will be followed by a six-week placement for Sarah with the development team at Fremantle, starting in November. Separate to that she is developing a legal-based drama with Fremantle.

Also she directed Car Park Clubbing, an online comedy funded by Create NSW, the ABC and I.C.E.

Now screening on iview and ABC Comedy’s YouTube site, the 4-part series of shorts produced by Elliot Clifford and written by Monica Kumar, Tasnim Hossain and Sophea Op features the latter trio as young women from Western Sydney who hang out in the car park of a doughnut shop and form a surprising friendship triangle. The creative team hopes it will lead to a second season.

As a writer-director she sees a clear separation between those fields, explaining: “With my writing I am leaning heavily into police and legal and community-based shows like The Heights. With directing I am exploring lighter things like comedy and coming-of-age.”

She and emerging writer Sarah Emery are among the recipients of Creative Partnerships Australia’s 2019-20 Match Lab program, which will help them raise funds for Real Bright Hard, an online series which is teenage coming-of-age story.

Feeling no regrets about her dramatic switch in career, she reflects, “In my old job I fought for the happy ending as much as I could, but you often came into someone’s life after moments of disaster. Now I get to create the happy or just ending, which is really satisfying.”