Wrong Kind of Black to open Series Mania Melbourne 2018
Princess Pictures’ high end ABC Television comedy drama series Wrong Kind of Black steps back in time to a tumultuous era in Australia’s history, one that resonates just as strongly today.
Based on the life and stories of Boori Monty Pryor, the four part series explores heartbreak and triumph, unconditional love and blind hatred, innocence and wisdom, black and white.
Wrong Kind of Black has been selected to open prestigious TV festival Series Mania Melbourne.
We chatted to the Executive Producer Emma Fitzsimons and Producer Andrea Denholm about the project, inclusion and diversity in Victorian screen culture and its premiere at the 2018 Series Mania Festival.
What is the genesis of Wrong Kind of Black? How did the project enter your filming radar and how did the team come together?
Kelly West, talented emerging Victorian producer, was working with Boori Monty Pryor at Youthworx and had shared with her some stories from his remarkable life. Kelly spoke to me about the idea of creating a short form narrative series re-enacting short anecdotes, some of which were beautifully told in the book Maybe Tomorrow written by Meme McDonald and Boori, others of which were stored in Boori’s remarkable memory. We were drawn to the stories and the openness, humour and pathos with which Boori told them.
With his encouragement, the idea was submitted to ABC and Screen Australia’s Long Story Short initiative as an 8 x 5 minute web series based on a selection of Boori’s anecdotes. It was one of five projects chosen for funding. In the early stages of developing the project, we spent many delightful hours with Boori and Youthworx, listening to more of his stories and learning more about his life, his culture and his family, and we realised that what we were dealing with was far more that a collection of anecdotes. We recognised an opportunity to bring to the screen an extraordinary personal story that spanned a tumultuous time in Australia’s history and lent itself to a longer form narrative, weaving together Boori’s childhood in Townsville and Palm Island and his young adulthood in Melbourne and, very briefly, in Perth.
Our stakeholders, ABC’s Rick Kalowski and Screen Australia’s Mike Cowap, generously supported our grander aspirations for the project and the change to a one hour film and four part web-series. The flexibility and confidence they demonstrated and their financial and creative support was invaluable.
Writer, Nick Musgrove, who was working at Princess Pictures under Screen Australia’s Enterprise People initiative, formed an immediate bond with Boori. Nick, together with Producer Andrea Denholm and Long Story Short story producer Mike Jones worked with Boori to shape his story into a complex narrative, moving between 1970’s Melbourne and 1960’s Queensland with Boori’s voice narrating from the present day. We were not only struck by his experiences, but also his enduring sense of humour and his optimism and hope in the face of discrimination and tragedy.
The script was ambitious and we needed additional funding to bring it to the screen. Film Victoria and Screen Queensland generously supported production of the project, together with the ABC and Screen Australia.
What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the project?
The story is set in 1960’s Queensland and 1970’s Melbourne. Filming a period piece is notoriously expensive – filming in two time periods in two locations on a low budget was very challenging!
Fortunately, the project attracted an incredibly talented and enthusiastic cast and crew who went way above and beyond the call of duty because they cared deeply about the show and knew this was an important story. Producers Kelly West and Melanie Brunt worked tirelessly, their commitment and resourcefulness getting us through many a tough situation. Director Catriona McKenzie artfully accessed both the comedy and the drama in the scripts, while somehow getting through the call sheets each day! She led a stellar crew, from highly experienced professionals like Murray Lui and Brad Francis to talented, enthusiastic newcomers.
The challenges came daily, but with them, came rewards. Young Monty (Nilbi Yasseries) and Paul (Christopher Ketchup) were cast only days before we started filming and neither had acted before. Their remarkable performances are a credit to Catriona and the team and the boys themselves. Getting to know Boori’s family during the production was one of the most rewarding aspects of the process.
The development process was challenging and ultimately very rewarding. Working out the best way to do justice to Boori’s story and to capture his unique perspective took a great deal hard work, collaboration and goodwill from everyone involved. It highlighted the importance of development funding and the benefits of supportive partners and creative flexibility.
Most rewarding of all is helping to bring to the world a story that is entertaining, moving and thought provoking. It is a story that celebrates Indigenous culture while traversing the introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act and the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, but it is never didactic. As Boori says, the audience can make of it what they will, but this film will be around forever and within it are lessons from the past that are relevant for the future. This is a personal story and for Boori, one of the most rewarding aspects is that the film supports the search for wellness on Palm Island and a leap of faith into the future.
How do you feel about Wrong Kind of Black’s selection for opening night of Series Mania Melbourne 2018?
We at Princess Pictures always knew this was an important story and we feel privileged to have been involved in bringing it to the screen, so we are delighted that it has being chosen for opening night of an event as prestigious as Series Mania. We hope that this event will bring more attention and a bigger audience to the show when it launches on ABC and iView – and hopefully around the world!
How do you see the progress in inclusion and diversity in Victorian screen culture? What can we do to improve further?
At Princess Pictures, we are constantly looking for stories that reflect social diversity and support social inclusion and we champion diversity on and off screen. We see progress in the type of projects that are brought to us and a greater industry awareness. It is exciting to see new ideas and new talent entering the industry.
We see Film Victoria’s commitment to mentorships, attachments and other initiatives as key to supporting partnerships and meaningful collaborations between experienced production companies/creatives and new or emerging talent to maintain authenticity, enable skills transfer and the creation of world class content reflecting greater diversity.
Wrong Kind of Black premieres on 19 July as part of Series Mania Melbourne 2018.