US miniseries to provide plenty of jobs in Oz

Childhood's End, a US science fiction mini-series based on a classic Arthur C. Clarke novel which begins filming in Melbourne on December 1, will be a great gig for Australian cast and crew and, most probably, VFX houses.

A high percentage of the cast and crew will be Australian, according to Brett Popplewell, who is partnered with Jeff Hayes in HayPop, the service company contracted by Universal Cable Productions.

Popplewell and Hayes were approached by NBCUniversal executives in February/March to assess whether the six-hour series could be made in Australia and, if so, to work out a creative and financial structure.

The Docklands Studios and Melbourne locations won out thanks to a number of factors including the Victorian government’s financial assistance, the location rebate, cast and crew availability, locations and a weakening of the local dollar versus the greenback.

Film Victoria CEO Jenni Tosi “really drove [the project] and helped push it over the line,” he says.  Melbourne will substitute for US locations including Pasadena and the Mid-West but the city is also one of the settings for the tale of an alien race, the Overlords, who turn Earth into a Utopia, which in the process destroys humanity's identity.

Popplewell says the NBCUniversal brass initially were worried about casting in Australia but are ecstatic with the first round of casting calls orchestrated by casting director Nikki Barrett.

Matthew Graham, creator of BBC's Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, is adapting Clarke’s novel and the director is Brit Nick Hurran (Doctor Who, Sherlock).

The production designer is Kiwi Philip Ivey, whose credits include Elysium and District 9 and, as art director, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Almost all the other 380 crew will be Australian.

NBCUniversal executives are impressed with the quality of Australia's VFX houses, he says. 

Popplewell and Hayes produced the USA Network miniseries The Starter Wife in Australia in 2008. He tried without success to persuade the US producers of half a dozen series or miniseries to location in Australia in the past couple of years. “People don’t how hard it is to get shows out here,” he says.

Last week Popplewell saw the first episode of Banished, the BBC First-commissioned series set in penal colony Australia, created by Jimmy McGovern and directed by Dan Percival and Jeffrey Walker, which he produced with McGovern’s producing partner Sita Williams. “It’s beautifully written, a strong, character-based drama where the cast, the directors, everything clicked,” he says.

Popplewell produced with James Cameron Deepsea Challenge 3D, the feature-length documentary which follows Cameron diving to the deepest spot in the ocean. The box-office results in the US and Australia have been disappointing, which does not surprise the producer.

“Making the film was an emotional rollercoaster ride,” he says. “I was pleased with the result. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but the responses from those who’ve seen it were brilliant. It will have a long life on DVD, VOD and TV.”