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Every Cloud Productions has made three series of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which is represented by all3media International. Fiona Eagger explains the strategic thinking that went into the production.

<h6>Fiona Eagger</h6><p>Co-founder with Deb Cox of Every Cloud Productions</p>
Fiona Eagger

Co-founder with Deb Cox of Every Cloud Productions

The aim was to make a female and book based drama

"Essie always wanted to 'rattle the cage'"

“It was timely to have a mischievous kick-arse feminine hero and it caught people’s imaginations. Miss Fisher is like a little cult classic in the US: PBS screened season one and two first, then Netflix wanted to launch season three as its own. In the UK it got its first run on Alibi, then sold to Channel 5. It has also sold to France 3 and Italy’s Rai1.

“On a lot of shows people aren’t making female leads proactive. We are very vigilant about that. It’s why Essie (Essie Davis who plays the title role of Phryne Fisher) is so important: she always wants to rattle the cage. Often key creatives, writers and broadcasters ask whether we are sidelining Jack (Nathan Page’s character and Miss Fisher’s offsider) but if he were the lead and he had a female sidekick, those discussions wouldn’t arise.

Miss Fisher is a fantastic property created by the author Kerry Greenwood. It’s murder mystery with great costumes but, because Kerry was a legal aid solicitor in Sunshine, she brought a great sense of social justice to the work, looking at such subjects as abortion and the sexual exploitation of women. She’s written 21 Phryne Fisher books and the depth of the work behind them is a credit to their success.

“It was the first production for Deb (business partner Deb Cox) and my company Every Cloud Productions. I’d produced The Society Murders and worked on the development of the first Underbelly (both for Screentime) and knew crime was hugely popular domestically – and I like working in a form that’s popular. We knew what our level of expertise was and we had experience in returning series.

“We also wanted to do something female based and, so we could get it into production quickly, book based. We looked at a lot of Australian crime fiction but a lot of it was a bit nasty and full of damaged people. We were the right people at the right time when it came to these books, although a UK company had the first one, Cocaine Blues, under option for a feature film. The two weeks during which they were deciding if they wanted to extend was very nerve wracking for us! Kerry was very happy to have two women take on Miss Fisher and for her to be on the national broadcaster: she believes in the ABC and that it’s important that Australia has its own voice.”

“We knew exactly what we wanted to do”

“There was great clarity around Deb and my vision for Miss Fisher. We knew exactly what we wanted to do with the property. We wanted Phryne Fisher to be a great role model for women and we wanted it to be fun. We had a great team: Kerry, Deb and I, Essie, start up director Tony Tilse, who has worked on the series throughout, our heads of department and, at the ABC, (then head of fiction) Carole Sklan and (development manager) Jo Bell, who had great knowledge of the genre.

“We had to convince people that we could do period on that budget. I wrote a manifesto of all the period shows that I grew up on to prove that Australia has done period well and could do it very economically. But I don’t think it’s a game for new players and we joke that we’re the pensioner crew, all stalwarts of the industry. Miss Fisher costs $1.1 to $1.2 million per hour but looks like it costs a lot more. We are grateful to those who were willing to take a leap of faith. We wanted every episode to be bigger and better than the last. We’ve had some very ambitious episodes and people don’t realize how tricky they are to pull off on our budget. Where and how we film is always an issue.

“The domestic industry has not celebrated Miss Fisher’s success as much as it could have. That said, Roger Lanser won an ACS (Australian Cinematographers Society) Award in 2012, Marion Boyce won an AACTA (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts) Award in 2014, and the show and Essie have been nominated for various awards. Production designer Robbie Perkins and visual effects supervisor Scott Zero and others have also done amazing work.

“There are well established timeslots for crime around the world. We went with all3media International because they handle Midsomer Murders and Inspector George Gently and know the market. I understand we are one of all3media’s best sellers. We were a little bit gobsmacked at some of the very strong offers on the table at the first MIP. Clearly people wanted a crime series that was female lead. It wasn’t until the launch party at the market that we realized how valuable the show was and how interested people were. (All3media’s former managing director) Louise (Pedersen) and (head of acquisitions) Maartje (Horchner) understand the genre and bent over backwards to impart their expertise but not impose. They emphasized the importance of respecting and being true to the genre and were very particular that the title should have the word ‘murder’ in it.”

Essie Davis in <em>Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries series 1</em> Essie Davis in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries series 1

“We’ve turned into manufacturers and retailers!”

“We have spent a lot of time and effort extending the IP (intellectual property). The costumes are one of the stars of the show and we have worked in partnership with the National Trust on costume exhibitions. The Trust was tentative initially but we’re travelling the next exhibition nationally. We have our own merchandising line of jewelry and scarves with Marion Boyce. We’ve launched a colouring book. We’ve turned into manufacturers and retailers!

“We created the Festival of Phryne, which includes murder mystery dinners, walking tours and music shows. We’ve had hundreds of events. It’s lovely to have a property that you can extend like this and we have a passionate fan base. These activities generate media interest and keep the brand alive. Total revenues from all these activities would cover the wages of the person that runs the merchandising side of things.”

A Miss Fisher feature film is in the works

“The first two series of Miss Fisher were supported by Screen Australia and a very substantial advance from all3media helped make up the financing shortfall in season three. Miss Fisher has been growing in value with each new season and if we were to make a fourth it would mean previous seasons would be repurchased to play again – especially by SVOD (subscription video on demand) and pay TV because they generally buy much shorter runs than broadcasters, sometimes only 12 months.

“Shows have to have a domestic broadcaster. If they didn’t there would be a big hole in your finance plan. We have looked at doing a fourth as a co-production with Ireland.

“Essie is now living in London – she had a part in season six of Game of Thrones. A 13-part series requires her to be here for half a year so we’ll be lucky to get her back for a fourth. But she has committed to a feature and it’s written.

“You have to know your product and listen to your distributors. Not everything appeals internationally and that’s OK.”