The Last Ride director contrasts the struggling film industry with the vibrant TV drama sector.
18 Mar 2013 - 10:19 AM  UPDATED 19 Mar 2013 - 9:33 AM

Why are Australians so eager to watch home-grown dramas on TV but only rarely do they venture to the cinema to see local films?

Like many industry figures, director Glendyn Ivin has pondered that question, especially in the past few years given the slew of top-shelf TV series and miniseries produced by John Edwards, Matchbox Pictures, Screentime and others.

Ivin has a few theories but his own career is a pointer as to why our TV dramas are resonating with audiences far more strongly than movies. Since he made his impressive feature debut with Last Ride, a 2009 father-and-son drama starring Hugo Weaving and Tom Russell, he's worked exclusively in television and on commercials. He is keen to direct movies but opportunities are limited in a chronically-underfunded industry.

Irony abounds in Ivin's case because the director had zero interest in making episodic TV until he was asked, after Last Ride, to helm episodes of Offspring, followed by the Beaconsfield telemovie and four chapters of the first series of Puberty Blues.

The director, who first came to attention when his short Cracker Bag won the Palme D'or at the 2003 Cannes International Film Festival, is attached to direct two films. He's collaborating with writer Mira Robertson on the screenplay of Cherry Bomb, based on the true story of a gang of teenagers who robbed a bank in Brisbane the 1970s, which he playfully likens to Puberty Blues meets Bonnie and Clyde. And he's keen to direct One Foot Wrong, a horror movie scripted by Wolf Creek creator Greg Mclean, based on a book by Sophie Laguna.

Almost certainly both projects will have to wait because he's set to direct five episodes of the second series of Puberty Blues this year, after which he will segue straight to Gallipoli, a mammoth miniseries for the Nine Network. The eight-hour epic, based on Les Carlyon's book, will re-enact 10 months in the Australian forces' WWI campaign in Turkey.

“I'm surprised how Australian audiences embrace local TV drama but have absolutely no interest in local cinema,” Ivin tells SBS Film. He hasn't seen Save Your Legs! but theorises that if the cricket-themed comedy had been made as a telemovie, it would have garnered, at worst, 800,000 viewers, vastly more than those who saw it in cinemas.

“As much as my first love is cinema, I'm so interested in television as a platform for telling stories in a cinematic way,” he says. “My approach to TV is no different to if I was approaching a film. In some ways I find the quick turnaround and the reduced budget of TV far more empowering. It forces you to be way more responsive and intuitive. Puberty Blues is evidence of this. I think it's great television but not something you would expect to see on a network. Times are changing. People are expecting more. I love how TV has a built-in audience. People love it and watch it.

”More and more filmmakers are crossing over into TV. The job of a TV director traditionally used to be quite technical. Now producers are looking for people who have a point of view and a style and a certain approach to the way they tell stories.”

Pre-production of season two of Puberty Blues starts in April. Ivin is relishing the chance to tackle new storylines as the narrative starts after the conclusion of the eponymous novel by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey. After shooting wraps in September, the director will start on Gallipoli, working with producers John Edwards, Imogen Banks and Robert Connolly.

“It's a beautiful book and it's a massive project, above and beyond anything attempted by us or on TV in this country,” he says. He estimates the entire budget will be the equivalent of what HBO and Steven Spielberg spent per episode on The Pacific miniseries. It'll shoot in Turkey and Australia next year and air on Nine in 2015, the 100-year anniversary of the Gallipoli battles. Ivin saw Peter Weir's epic movie Gallipoli when he was 12 or 13 and it left him with vivid memories. “It really scared me, the scariest film I saw as a kid. I was in tears afterwards,” he says. “It was a very powerful anti-war statement.”

Ivin isn't fazed about two rival Gallipoli projects, one to be produced by Matchbox Pictures and Sam Worthington's company Full Clip for Foxtel, which will focus on the Australian and English journalists who covered campaign, the other from Screentime and the ABC which will chronicle the experiences of the ANZAC nurses.

On Cherry Bomb, he and Robertson are writing a draft that's due to be completed by mid-year. Ivin got the idea when he heard one of the teenagers involved in the heist speaking on talkback radio after he'd been released from prison. The producer is Jane Liscombe.

One Foot Wrong is the saga of a five-year-old girl who makes friends and communicates with inanimate objects like trees and spoons. Ayisha Davies and Bianca Martino are the producers.

“The approach of filmmaking needs to change, particularly if it's for the Australian market,”
he concludes. “Super low budget [is preferable] and it almost needs to be approached in a very niche way. Films that are trying to attract broad audiences market aren't hitting.”