The evolution of The Principal began when screenwriter Kristen Dunphy met with Essential Media producers Ian Collie and Rachael Turk, and discovered a shared interest in creating a series within the ‘inspirational teacher’ genre (think To Sir With Love, Dangerous Minds and Freedom Writers). Dunphy had previously worked on the television series Heartbreak High and Blue Water High, both of which explored the experience of high school from the students’ perspective. Her husband had since retrained as a teacher and she felt the world of the teacher was rich territory for an adult drama.
Collie was keen to set the series at a public school in an ethnically diverse, low socio-economic area, where the challenges to both students and teachers are most extreme. Dunphy and Turk were then raising teenage boys and shared an interest in notions around masculinity explored by psychologist Steve Biddulph in his books Raising Boys and The New Manhood. The idea of a principal taking over a notoriously rough boys’ school brought all these ideas into focus.
Dunphy and Collie pitched the show to the late SBS Commissioning Editor Caterina De Nave, who was enthusiastic but suggested the idea – and in particular the central character – needed “dirtying up”. So discussions began about ways to bring more complexity to the story, and a crime mystery thread was introduced. Dunphy and co-writer Alice Addison interviewed and shadowed several principals of public high schools in Western and South-Western Sydney, so as to ground their work of fiction in firsthand observations.
Once the screenwriters felt confident with the material, script editor Joan Sauers came on board and director Kriv Stenders (Red Dog and Kill Me Three Times) signed on, becoming closely involved in the story’s development. Through this collaborative process the team was able to work towards a single, shared vision, resulting in this unique and powerful series.
The Principal airs over two weeks, starting Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 October at 8:30pm on SBS.
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