Mining is one of Australia’s most powerful and lucrative industries, and the ABC’s Dirt Game takes its viewers into the heart of it. Guy Davis spoke with its producer and leading man.
The new six-part ABC miniseries Dirt Game looks at the Australian mining industry from a number of angles, focusing a team of dedicated individuals from a variety of fields within the industry working together to help change the fortunes of a struggling Australian company.
But when there’s so much at stake in terms of the economy, the environment and even people’s lives, everyone has something to gain … and something to lose.
Here, Dirt Game’s producer David Taft and star Joel Edgerton take us behind the scenes and under the surface of this compelling new drama.
David: Dirt Game’s writer Michael Harvey
and I have been working on it for around five years. The inspiration is what you read in the papers every day, and have done for some time. There’s always a mining story, either in the main part of the paper or the business pages. And it struck us as a fairly fundamental part of Australian life, and an obvious vehicle. Mining seemed like a natural, iconic Australian industry. And it gave us the chance to look at issues not normally covered on television in locations that are unique to Australia. Joel: Mining really is a massive part of our economy. I mean, I’m talking to you on a mobile phone and certain elements of that phone came out of the ground. It didn’t really occur to me that mining plays such a key role in so many things I rely on every day.
Joel, what can you tell us about the characters involved? And how does your character fit into the scheme of things?
It’s very much an ensemble piece, with the action revolving around the characters played by Gerald Lepkowski, Freya Stafford, Katie Wall, Shane Connor and myself.
It provides a cross-section of the industry from the financial backers and the upper echelons of management to the union reps
In addition to its location shoots, Dirt Game was also filmed in the ABC’s Melbourne studios. I got a chance to look
and the workers themselves, the people going down the tunnels for 12 hours at a stretch. My character Shane is a union delegate to begin with. He’s a member of a blast crew, a regular kind of miner, with extra duties as a union rep. From there, he’s recruited by the mining corporation to start representing their needs. He trades off his integrity as a union rep for the chance to possibly change things from the inside. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.
What were some of the challenges the production faced?
David: The practical difficulty is that, unlike almost any other TV series I can think of, we had to go where the holes in the ground actually are. When you do a show like this, you realise what a big country this is, and how difficult it can be taking a whole crew to these places. But we’ve done it. We’ve filmed in country New South Wales, country Victoria and Western Australia, with other scenes shot in Melbourne and the metropolitan area.
at some of the mine sets and they struck me as incredibly realistic.
Joel: Having those sets was a necessity – it’s so expensive to lock down a mine because the majority of them are operating 24 hours a day. So approaching them to say, ‘Hey, would you mind stopping work for 12 hours while we film our TV show?’ doesn’t really work. And there’s also the insurance aspect: it’s expensive and time-consuming to go through the necessary processes every time non-mining personnel go underground.
How true to life do you feel Dirt Game is, David?
Storylines leap out at you from the pages of the paper, and part of the challenge has been to fictionalise them. When people are killed in mines or there are mining disasters, we in no way want to leech onto those stories. We’re using them as inspiration rather than literally. Mining doesn’t just deal with engineering and geology and commerce – it deals with the environment, with claims of native title, with industrial relations. And there’s economics on top of all that. It’s fertile territory for drama.
All in a day’s work: DirtGame’s Shane Connor, Freya Stafford, Gerald Lepkowski, Katie Wall and Joel Edgerton don’t mind getting their hands dirty.