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PART 5: PRODUCER NATHAN MAYFIELD ON SECRETS & LIES

Secrets & Lies doesn’t have the recognition factor of many others in the list of Screen Australia dramas that have sold well but it has spawned two seasons of a US version, is near the top of the list because of its international popularity and was a game changer for Hoodlum because of how many doors it has opened and is still opening.

Martin Henderson in Secrets & Lies

<h6>Nathan Mayfield</h6><p>CCO / Executive Producer, Hoodlum</p>
Nathan Mayfield

CCO / Executive Producer, Hoodlum

“Shows need a champion and Cineflix was it"

“We are over the moon at Secrets & Lies’ sales success. Even before it went to air in Australia we had a lot of sales with Channel 5 in the UK and France 5 getting the ball rolling in other countries.

“We knew (distributor) Cineflix Rights from going to MIP for 15 years but hadn’t dealt with them. They only pick up a handful of scripted productions each year and we were relatively unknown so they took a risk. They gave it absolute enthusiasm. Tracey (the other partner at Hoodlum, Tracey Robertson) and I were very active in the sales strategy. We didn’t micromanage but we didn’t just hand it over. We were in on meetings with key buyers of key territories. Cineflix liked this one degree of separation. Some don’t. Shows need a champion and Cineflix was ours.

“Now we’re seeing the results of second and third windows and revenues have been flowing back and being returned to investors.

“One of the key selling points was that Secrets & Lies was innovative. Of course the buyer is focussed on the television show and making sure it’s a great story and fits their schedule, but Cineflix was also able to say ‘but wait there’s more: we have extra material for other platforms’. This was because the audience was able to get more clues on their tablets or mobiles, which made them feel smart. Audiences love a good thriller – and a pat on the back and being told ‘you’re a good sleuth’. This material was never going to sell the show but it enhances its chances, differentiates it in the marketplace and acts as a tipping point.”

The drama had a speedy gestation

“We are also over the moon at the speed with which we developed, produced and delivered Secrets & Lies. Stephen (Secrets & Lies head writer Stephen M Irwin) was a joy to work with and he delivered a script that excited Tracey and I. And we were hungry. We were in production within six months of reading the script for episode one.

“Rick (Rick Maier, head of drama) at Network Ten read it and said ‘yes’ very quickly. He said he’d never seen Tracey and I with such a sparkle in our eyes. It was like we had a big secret. The distributor, Cineflix, said ‘yes’ within 24 hours to fit a Screen Australia deadline. Screen Queensland was also on board. The industry is so lucky to have government funding and we should never take it for granted.”

On the set of <em>Secrets & Lies</em> On the set of Secrets & Lies

Survival depends on finding other ways to earn revenues

“We’re not owned by anyone and don’t have deep pockets. You can’t escape the reality that we are in a hits business. The survival of the independent TV production business depends on finding other ways to earn revenues. Our digital business does that for us – we partner with global broadcasters and brands to create immersive digital campaigns, branded content and games that extend the stories of existing franchises.

“But things also change greatly when you have a hit. Having a show that sells is a gift because it enables us to pay for seasoned Australian writers of great calibre to develop new stories. We also now have development money from individual distributors on specific projects – this sits outside the POD deal (production overall deal) that the US arm of the business has with ITV Studios US.”

See here for more detail, including how Hoodlum made two local seasons of Secrets & Lies for US network ABC.

Hoodlum thinks in terms of two pathways now

“The success of the Australian series reminded us how important the Australian business is (Hoodlum has offices in Brisbane and LA). The Australian business gave us entry into the US. Also, we retain ownership in the IP (intellectual property) of the Australian shows, so when the distributor makes enough sales we get some of those returns and can develop more stories. The US business is very important to us. The aim is to strike a balance, which is one reason that I’m based here and Tracey is based in the US.”

Under the American television model it is most common for IP to rest with the studio and the producers earn fees and don’t benefit from sales revenue.

“In 2014 we were the first recipient of seed funding under Screen Australia’s then new high-end television program, aimed at finding shows that would resonate with international audiences. Ours was an eight-part thriller called Tidelands, which was also Stephen’s work. It was developed specifically for Amazon Studios, which bought the script for the pilot. There are a lot of opportunities but it’s highly competitive.

“We always consider who the potential global buyers and broadcasters might be for a show, what elements they’d be looking for and what else is in the marketplace. We wanted Secrets & Lies to stay grounded and were very aware that it – being Australian- gave audiences a view into a different world. What sells internationally isn’t necessarily what a domestic broadcaster wants. The balancing act is delivering a show that appeals to domestic buyers with the production values and strong universal story that global buyers need.

”We consider ourselves to have two pathways to getting television made now: material that has a home on Aussie television and material that doesn’t naturally have a home here but may have a home in the US or the UK. The reputation we now have as a result of Secrets & Lies means we can now re-look at material we may have passed on two years ago because we didn’t see where it could live back then. We’ve got 10 TV dramas in active development at different stages. We’re open to everything from features to factual.”

It was announced in August 2016 that Hoodlum is making the feature Australia Day.