Money Changes Everything

Press release time!

Screen Australia has announced 14 feature films, eight online projects and 20 television dramas that will share in $1.6 million of Story Development funding.

The latest slate includes Toni Collette’s directorial debut with feature film The Best Of, and an anthology of Shakespeare’s works re-imagined by teams of creators including Leah Purcell, Elise McCredie and Anchuli Felicia King called Shakespeare Now.

Screen Australia’s Head of Development Nerida Moore said, “While this has been a turbulent, challenging time for many in the industry, it hasn’t stopped the drive, passion and imagination of Australian creative teams. In fact we have continued to see applications coming through with really strong and distinctive content, with the application numbers across March-June this year up 76% on the same period last year.”

“It’s exciting to see re-imaginings of well-loved stories such as Shakespeare Now and an animated series inspired by The Sapphires. And we continue to support storytelling on all platforms, with two online series from comedians Gabriel Willie (better known as Bush Tucker Bunjie) and Chloe Black who are each creating their first scripted narrative comedies.”

You can read the whole thing here, and rarely have we seen a more sustained assault on the idea that scripted television production in Australia is in any way driven by audience demand. So yeah, business as usual.

Still, after spending much of the year (decade?) bemoaning the fact that there simply isn’t all that much Australian comedy around, you might think we’d be thrilled at the prospect of a rush of new comedy projects lurching towards our screens. Oh sure, none of them sound funny – more on that in a moment – but it’s the execution that counts in comedy and any one of these could conceivably be a winner.

Unfortunately, it’s extremely unlikely that many (any?) of these series will ever make it in front of an audience. Well, the Shakespeare one probably will as they’ve already got the ABC on board and adapting Shakespeare means they don’t have to spend money on scripts, but by the time they get around to making this the ABC will be a couple of people driving around in a car shouting out the weather report to passers-by so lets not count our chickens just yet.

But otherwise? This is development funding – cash being given out to various insiders, mates and cronies to polish up some concept or another until the free money runs out they can pitch it to a network willing to put in some real funding to make it happen. Do we have any of those in Australia interested in this kind of thing? Do you really have to ask?

This (partially) explains why so many of these concepts are pitched as “comedy”, despite sounding about as funny as… well, this:

A six-part television comedy called DNA Dad (working title), centred on neurologically diverse young man Michael who discovers his biological father is UK actor Ben Miller, and travels to London to meet him. The connection leads both men to discover the true meaning of family.

Hilarious stuff, and we haven’t even got to The Mayor of Nothing, in which Andrew Knight decides to remake his hit Seachange only instead of moving to a quirky seaside town now our lead “in a grief-induced act of insanity, buys a rundown village in rural Italy and drags his three daughters on an ill-conceived restoration mission”. Yeah, that grief-induced insanity always gets the big laughs.

But because “comedy” sounds slightly more commercially appealing than “drama”, pretty much everything not set in the past or featuring a “mysterious young girl” is either a comedy or a dramedy, thus rendering those terms completely meaningless. You want proof?

Six-part dramedy New Animal, from writer Marieke Hardy (Laid), based on the upcoming debut novel by Ella Baxter. The television series follows 28-year-old oddball Amelia who works as a cosmetician at a family funeral parlour. After the sudden death of her mother, she is drawn into the local BDSM community in an attempt to deal with her grief. New Animal will be produced by Jason Stephens and Helen Bowden of Lingo Pictures (Lambs of God).

Where to start? Putting aside the involvement of perennial funding body favourite Hardy, what exactly makes an “upcoming debut novel” worthy of funding when presumably the whole idea of putting cash into adapting novels is that if you wait until they’ve been published you can pick the successful ones? Oh right, because the novel has such a brilliant concept the funding body wants to get in early and lock down the rights. What’s this book about again?

It’s somewhat telling that Laid is the series chosen to remind readers of what Marieke Hardy is capable of – or at least it would be if she had any other above-the-title credits to her name – because Laid was the last time Australian comedy tried to combine sex and death in such a thought-provoking fashion. Of course, going by the ratings the thought usually provoked was “is there something else we could be watching”, but at least the fine folks at The Age will be there to talk it up yet again because it’s not like they’re now owned by a rival network committed to the downfall of the ABC oh wait we didn’t think this through and fuck when did it stop being 2011.

But here’s the good news:

‘Development’ refers to any stage of a project’s creation as it travels towards production. It can involve everything and anything that will help get a project to the screen, from various stages of scripting to filming a proof-of-concept, such as a short film or series pilot. It can take many years for a project to reach the screen, and each project’s timeline from development to release is different due to many factors including financing, cast, locations and festival timing.

They could have just shortened that paragraph to “don’t hold your breath”.

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