In this Q&A with TV Tonight, Peter Carstairs (pictured below, far right) and Craig Irvin explain how the Matchbox Pictures project is providing new opportunities for directors who have worked in other mediums.
Irvin (pictured, bottom) also wrote and directed, which is not very common in Australian television.
What attracted you to Nowhere Boys?
It was such a terrific concept. Nothing like this, as far as I knew, had ever been done in Australian TV before. That is, a high-concept show that really breaks from the traditional reality based drama but that is still naturalistic and truthful in tone. So I saw it as the first in a new generation of Australian television shows. The series is also made up of fantastic character journeys – great relationships, shifts in alliances, and real human dilemmas. It was just very, very good writing. It allowed us, as directors, to realise strong visual ideas (including an enormous amount of visual effects) but, more importantly, there is a real emotional truth to the characters and their journeys. And, on an emotional level, that makes it a very satisfying drama – that reaches both kids and adults. And, of course, I was excited about working with Matchbox. Tony (Ayres) and I have known each other quite a while and, over the years, we’ve have tried to find a project to collaborate on and Nowhere Boys ended up being that project. Or at least, it was the first one that has gone into production!
I was working on The Slap with Matchbox Pictures when Tony told me the concept- and I was hooked. I grew up loving shows like the Twilight Zone and the possibilities of Nowhere Boys immediately captured my imagination. It had that ‘what the hell is going to happen next?’ quality to it that is completely addictive as an audience and a creative. You could see that it had the potential to be something quite different, there were so many ways that you could take the characters and the story and I knew that Tony, as the showrunner would be pushing it as far as he could. I wanted to be involved right away. It was also a great team. It was clear from the start that Matchbox wanted to give Nowhere Boys a fresh perspective and have a combination of both experienced and new voices in the writing and directing of the series. There was an energy and excitement that started with the first writer’s room and continued through production.
Describe the biggest challenge during the shoot?
Time was always our enemy mainly because there were so many complex VFX and action sequences. But we had a smoking crew including our DOP Simon Chapman, who is now shooting ‘Cut Snake’ and, thankfully, we always managed to get through the schedule somehow. And we’re all very happy with the results.
Without a doubt it was time. When you are trying to create something with genre elements, there are inherent expectations from an audience e.g. action set pieces, pacing and tone, Visual Effects – and these things take time to get right. But we had an enthusiastic cast and, as Pete said, a crew of ninjas who helped make it happen.
What was your background prior to Nowhere Boys?
I come from a film background i.e. I studied at AFTRS then wrote and directed a feature film, “September” (Hopscotch, 2008). In fact, all the directors came from film backgrounds in one way or another – and to Matchbox’s credit they tried to find directors whose sensibilities and strengths suited the drama and tone of individual blocks. And I think that shows in the final product. Its subtle when it needs to be and muscular, too, when it needs to be. Visually, each block is from the same world, but increasingly different in tone as the journey changes and becomes darker and more action driven towards the conclusion.
I studied at the VCA before working as a researcher at Big and Little Films, which was Tony Ayres’ and Michael McMahon’s company before they were part of founding Matchbox. I wrote and directed a short film that was funded by Film Victoria called “Tethered” (2011) that got a great response and led to an attachment on The Slap (Matchbox, 2011) which was easily one of the best and most intense things that I’ve ever done. From there I did the research for NB and co-wrote the series bible with Tony.
Film or TV -do you have a preference?
I love both – but am far, far more interested in TV now than I was ten years ago. Television has changed so much in that short time (both the way we consume it, and the shows themselves). So I’m not the only filmmaker around these days who sees television as the new independent cinema. It’s an exciting time to be in TV I think.
I think that each has its own strengths and I love them both, so I don’t have a preference. Television has really pushed the boundaries in recent years and has come into its own. Its ability to tell complex stories with detailed character development is incredibly exciting. There is a lot of confidence in the industry about TV right now, the shows are getting far more ambitious and audiences are repaying the daring of creators by embracing it. It’s great.
What’s next for you?
I start work on a Seven Network drama in February. Craig and I have also co-written another feature film that I hope to direct soon (being produced by Buffalo Gal Pictures in Canada), and we have another TV show in development with Matchbox. Obviously, being writers as well as directors, we’re interested in being part of the development process from as early as we possible wherever we can.
At the moment the focus is on developing a bunch of new ideas while building on the experience of Nowhere Boys and looking for more opportunities to write and/or direct. A few projects are starting to come together which is very exciting… and of course NB series two may also be a possibility.
Nowhere Boys airs 6:30pm Thursdays on ABC3.