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Star-studded political drama sets up in town

Anyone who’s spent time in Los Angeles, New York, London or even Sydney might know the thrill of stumbling across a fully-fledged film set in the street.

And when you think of locations for big-budget productions being made for international distribution, Canberra isn’t the first that springs to mind.

The team at Screen Canberra are doing their part to change that with the help of their $5-million screen fund.

In the past, Australian political dramas might have brought a skeleton crew to town to film exterior shots of political buildings and institutions, but Blackfella Films are breaking that mould.

The Australian production company are spending several weeks in town filming for their upcoming six-part ABC drama, Black B*tch, with stars Rachel Griffith and Deborah Mailman right in the thick of it.

Having been filming in Canberra for three days at the time Canberra Weekly visited the set last week (20 March), Blackfella Films founder and Black B*tch producer Darren Dale had developed a true appreciation for our sprawling bush capital.

“Canberra’s extraordinary; I think the architecture here is so symbolic to so many Australians.

“Shooting here really grounds our drama … it grounds ours series because it is political,” he says.

Having been bought here in part with financial assistance from Screen Canberra, Dale says working with the local team has been a pleasure.

“They were quick to respond, they really make it attractive for us to come here and really been a fantastic support just in facilitating access to Canberra locations.

“We really do see that working with Screen Canberra is a genuine partnership. It’s great to not just have investment, but to have people behind the desks who are genuinely enthusiastic.”

Dale says that compared to the hustle and bustle he’s experienced filming in bigger cities, working in Canberra has been a delightful experience.

“It’s extraordinarily easy to work in Canberra, you’ve got great public spaces here.

Screen Canberra CEO Monica Penders (centre) says their investment in the project meant the cast and crew, including Deborah Mailman and Rachel Griffiths, set up and filmed here. Photo supplied.

“For us when we’re filming in Sydney, real estate is at such a premium, so to try to even film in a street is getting really difficult. But filming in Canberra feels like a dream.

“To be able to have our unit set up, and the ease with which we can work here means we can shoot longer, there’s less hours of our day taken in logistics so it’s all helps.”

A stipulation of Screen Canberra’s funding requires a certain amount of local employment during filming.

Dale says he takes a lot of joy in being able to provide opportunity for Canberrans looking to make their mark in the screen industry.

“Any opportunities to grow capacity in Canberra for the local industry, we’re really happy to support because we all started somewhere,” he says.

“We all started not knowing what we’re doing, so everyone has to be given their first job in the industry and that’s really exciting that productions can come in, work with local crews and get that training.”

Screen Canberra CEO Monica Penders says the project had already garnered international interest back when they financially supported it in 2018.

“Even before it was announced, when they went and pitched the idea, it immediately sparked interest from major players around the world.

“There’s also a big Indigenous focus, which is amazing, and the reaction around the world is spectacular.

“It definitely has global reach which means Canberra will be on screen around the world,” Penders says.

She said the Screen CBR fund’s investment is what’s meant they’ve actually set up and filmed here.

“You will get the feel of being in Canberra, and our town will be a character.”

Black B*tch comprises part of the Screen Canberra fund’s first round of investment, which was announced in September 2018 and saw $250,000 invested into three projects.

The series will screen on ABC TV at a date to be advised.

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