A foray into Aus­tralian pro­duc­tion is an op­ti­mistic toe in the wa­ter for Net­flix, writes Justin Burke

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

Walk­ing down a sandy track to­wards the ocean on the north­ern­most tip of Queens­land’s North Strad­broke Is­land, it would hardly be con­sid­ered a sur­prise to stum­ble upon a mix of gor­geous young Aus­tralians and for­eign­ers frol­ick­ing in the wa­ter.

Even spot­ting Elsa Pataky — the Span­ish­born ac­tress and wife of Aus­tralian ac­tor Chris Hemsworth — would not seem out of place given the fa­mous cou­ple’s nearby home town of By­ron Bay and well-doc­u­mented love of the beach.

But were Pataky to de­clare loudly “a queen who does not en­force her laws is no queen at all” while the group at­tempted to drown a young man in the surf, the other-worldly na­ture of the pro­ceed­ings would be hard to mis­take.

Such was the scene when ear­lier this year Re­view vis­ited the set of Tide­lands, Net­flix’s an­tic­i­pated first orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion in this coun­try. The eight-part su­per­nat­u­ral drama pro­duced by Bris­bane-based Hood­lum En­ter­tain­ment will pre­miere si­mul­ta­ne­ously in 190 coun­tries on De­cem­ber 14.

Nat­u­rally, lo­cal au­di­ences will be watch­ing keenly to see how Aus­tralia is de­picted. Seg­ments of the Net­flix’s 137 mil­lion sub­scribers who have watched its other su­per­nat­u­ral melo­dra­mas are all but cer­tain to tune in, and lo­cal screen pro­duc­ers will be pars­ing the se­ries for clues as to how an in­de­pen­dent pro­ducer in Queens­land com­manded Net­flix’s at­ten­tion ahead of all oth­ers.

At stake for the lo­cal in­dus­try is whether the stream­ing be­he­moth is suf­fi­ciently en­cour­aged by its Tide­lands ex­pe­ri­ence to spend more of its pro­jected con­tent bud­get in this coun­try, which ac­cord­ing to Gold­man Sachs could rise as high as $US22.5 bil­lion ($30.6bn) per an­num in years to come. (It cur­rently has just one other orig­i­nal in pro­duc­tion in Aus­tralia — an as yet un­ti­tled project with co­me­dian Chris Lil­ley — along with mul­ti­ple co-pro­duc­tions.)

But if Tide­lands’ ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ers Nathan May­field and Tracey Robert­son or their crew are feel­ing the pres­sure, it isn’t ev­i­dent on set this day in July. Many of the crew mem­bers wear straw hats and shorts, and some even go shoe­less. The be­gin­ning of school hol­i­days has re­sulted in a half-dozen kids be­ing on set, play­ing Uno or milling about with the ac­tors be­tween film­ing. Even when the pa­parazzi turns up from one end of the beach, film­ing is paused with­out ex­ces­sive angst.

In­side a de­mount­able tent filled with tall di­rec­tor’s chairs fac­ing a row of screens marked ECAM, CCAM and so on, ev­ery­one is star­ing at Pataky re­peat­edly per­form­ing her mono­logue.

Even­tu­ally she and the cast all turn to­wards the ocean, fo­cus­ing their sight­lines on a point where some­one (or some­thing) is ex­pected to sur­face later in post-pro­duc­tion. As if on cue, a pair of dol­phins leaps out of the wa­ter in that very spot, as the main cam­eras fo­cus on Pataky’s face, which re­mains re­gally im­pas­sive.

“She’s f..king great,” says some­one in­side the tent. “Cut.” Hood­lum En­ter­tain­ment, based a stone’s throw from the Gabba cricket ground in Bris­bane, will mark its 20th an­niver­sary next year, though the part­ner­ship be­tween May­field and Robert­son is four years older.

High­lights of their work across that pe­riod in­clude the 2012 ABC se­ries The Strange Call, Se­crets & Lies, which screened on Ten in 2014, and a US spin-off of the same name that starred Ryan Phillippe and Juli­ette Lewis. Oth­ers in­clude last year’s fea­ture film Aus­tralia Day, star­ring Bryan Brown, and crime drama Har­row star­ring Ioan Gruf­fudd, which re­cently be­gan film­ing its sec­ond sea­son.

Less well known are the com­pany’s mul­ti­plat­form cre­ations. Its in­ter­ac­tive on­line sites for the long-run­ning Bri­tish spy thriller Spooks won a BAFTA in 2008, and an Emmy the fol­low­ing year for sim­i­lar work with the cel­e­brated mys­tery drama Lost. (May­field says they’ve “al­ways thought out­side the square” and be­gan think­ing about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of tech­nol­ogy to con­quer ge­og­ra­phy well be­fore the ad­vent of stream­ing video on de­mand in the early 2000s.)

The Tide­lands project started six years ago, and the pro­duc­ers say they knew it was a script that was al­ways go­ing to suc­ceed when the cir­cum­stances were right.

“When we were do­ing Se­crets & Lies, we de­vel­oped such a beau­ti­ful re­la­tion­ship with Stephen M. Ir­win and Leigh McGrath, and we knew Stephen’s writ­ing DNA tended to­wards genre and the su­per­nat­u­ral,” says May­field.

“Very early on in Tide­lands’ devel­op­ment, the M-word (mer­maids) was trans­formed into the no­tion of sirens and all that mythol­ogy, and it hasn’t re­ally changed that first strong first draft of episode one.”

Along­side Pataky, the cast also in­cludes Aus­tralian ac­tors Char­lotte Best, Aaron Jakubenko ( Spar­ta­cus), Madeleine Mad­den ( Pine Gap, Pic­nic at Hang­ing Rock) and vet­eran Pe­ter O’Brien among oth­ers. The story re­volves around Cal McTeer (Best), a young woman who re­turns home to the fic­tional fish­ing vil­lage of Or­phe­lin Bay af­ter a decade in jail. The town is blighted by the drug trade and fea­tures a set­tle­ment of “hip­pies” called Tide­landers who are in fact half-hu­man, half-siren.

“We never thought of it as be­ing a lo­cal show; we are ob­vi­ously por­tray­ing the ge­og­ra­phy and norms of Aus­tralian cul­ture, but that’s as far as it went,” says May­field who, like Robert­son, has a home on North Strad­broke Is­land. “I don’t think we took it to the tra­di­tional Aus­tralian net­works sim­ply be­cause of the am­bi­tion of the script; there is no way you would see a genre piece like this on Aus­tralian TV. We needed a part­ner who un­der­stood genre sto­ry­telling.”

It may sur­prise some to learn that Net­flix’s famed al­go­rithms did not pick May­field, Robert­son or Tide­lands from a dataset, ac­cord­ing to Kelly Lue­gen­biehl, the com­pany’s vice-pres­i­dent of in­ter­na­tional orig­i­nals. Speak­ing to Re­view from Am­s­ter­dam, she says she had worked with them at Amer­i­can net­work ABC and the

Elsa Pataky in Tide­lands; Mat­tias In­wood and Char­lotte Best, be­low

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