‘The whole experience was magical’: Bec Bignell on returning home for ‘Blueback’

Bec Bignell on the set of 'Homespun'.

Robert Connolly’s upcoming drama Blueback was much more than an associate producer credit for Bec Bignell.

Not only did the production of the film in Western Australia’s Bremer Bay coincide with a permanent return to her nearby hometown of Kojonup, but she was also pregnant with her first child at the time of the shoot.

While Bignell admitted to IF that working on a set located two hours from a hospital right up until the week before her baby was due was “a bit of a risk”, there was no shortage of support from colleagues and the surrounding community.

“It ended up being a really great set because [producer] Liz Kearney was also pregnant, so it was awesome to have that visibility of another woman working who was pregnant,” she said.

“A lot of heads of department were also women with kids and they were just great to work around because they gave me such really good advice around juggling on the other side, which I found so invaluable.

“The whole experience was magical because everyone was working very closely with the community and I knew a lot of people from the community, so I just loved it.”

Prior to shooting Blueback, Bignell was alternating between her regional home and Sydney, where she had previously worked as a senior international partnerships executive for ABC Commercial.

It was in this role that she established a relationship with Blueback producer Robert Patterson, who aside from eventually inviting her to join the Tim Winton adaptation, also mentored her on the projects she was working on independently.

After leaving the ABC towards the end of 2017, Bignell produced web comedy 600 Bottles of Wine via her and Marius Foley’s Cockatoo Co.Lab, with the series following a newly single woman (Grace Rouvray) as she navigates new relationship territory.

It ended up being repurposed into four 18-minute episodes and picked up by BBC3, TVNZ’s on-demand service, and Network Ten, a result that would “set the tone” for her next project, Homespun, which she wrote, produced, and starred in.

Set in a regional town, the story follows best friends Georgina (Bignell) and Pauline (Celeste Clabburn) who after getting their big break in a new show about life in bush, propose a fresh angle that relies less on the despair and more on the magic.

Bec Bignell and Celeste Clabburn.

“I particularly wanted to deliver a show that was really told from the perspective of regional Australians because most of the gatekeepers and stakeholders are urban-based, so I had really tired of seeing a narrative where it was all about romance when it came to the country and mainly led by men,” Bignell said.

“I wanted to tell a story of two friends that were led by ambition and make it fun, while taking the piss out of the city, instead of having the piss taken out of us.”

Homespun premiered at last year’s CinefestOZ Albany and has since been screened at the WA Made festival and the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival, with ABC Commercial set to take the series to MIPCOM.

There was also a red carpet premiere in Kojonup, where Bignell said everyone involved was “grateful for the opportunity to be seen”, leading her to strive for a similar environment on Blueback.

“Access is something I’m very passionate about, particularly for the remote areas of regional Australia where there is a lot of talent but there is no ability for them to have opportunity because in most cases it’s happening in city centres,” she said.

“One the things I was involved in with Blueback was being a conduit between the community and the crew, given I was from the area and they really trusted me to cultivate a really strong connection.

“I really appreciated that because there are situations where crews go into regional areas and they don’t connect with communities on the ground, or they don’t make contact with the First Nations people to learn about the land and the waters they’re visiting or anything like that.”

Bignell continues her relationship with Connolly’s Arenamedia via an unnamed web series that is set to go into post-production shortly.

She is also preparing to go into production as an associate producer on season two of Visible Farmer, a documentary series from Kauffman Productions detailing the stories of Australia’s female farming community.

In terms of her own projects, Bignell said she was keen to write stories from a regional perspective that resonated globally.

“I really aspire to write something like some of the work I am seeing overseas on the streaming platforms, such as Ozark and The Queen’s Gambit,” she said.

“I just find they are a really beautiful integration of all the different types of production in terms of the visual components really singing in line with performance and sound.

“The writing is just so smart and the characters are just delicious. Certainly what I wanted to try and do with some of the dialogue in Homespun is not try and spoonfeed anything to the audience, in terms of subtlety and shade of tone.”