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Every Cloud Productions: raising the bar

From Miss Fisher to Newton’s Law: why Every Cloud Productions wants to see more women in front and behind the camera – and what they’re doing about it.

When thinking of positive representation of women on television, it’s easy to think of Phryne Fisher –capable and intelligent, she’s the title character of hit series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

Now Every Cloud Productions are back at it, hoping to once again raise the bar (pun intended) with Claudia Karvan’s barrister Josephine Newton in Newton’s Law.

It’s part of Every Cloud Productions’ mandate – the company which was founded by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger in 2009 – to create diverse stories with strong female characters.

Eagger says the pair was brainstorming for a Screen Australia Enterprise scheme a few years ago when the seedling of the legal drama that would become Newton’s Law cropped up.

“We wanted something with a strong female leading character and we had worked with author Kerry Greenwood on Miss Fisher, who was a Legal Aid solicitor at the Sunshine Courts before she wrote (the novels Miss Fisher is based on). And her sense of social justice and her preoccupations we thought were fascinating,” she says.

Originally the character started out as an older woman, targeting a different audience, but through the input of ABC, the age came down – and in turn they were able to cast Karvan in the role.

“It’s very much a dilemma around the balance of working and being a mother, wanting to make money but wanting to contribute… of juggling your head and your heart,” Eagger says.

In Newton’s Law, Karvan plays a barrister who put her career on hold and became a suburban solicitor when her daughter was born. Some 15 years later, a chance to return to the bar arises, but leaving her old life behind proves tougher than she thought. What results is “the shenanigans of Upstairs, Downstairs”, says Eagger, but played out in an Australian legal office.

When looking for directors to helm the series, Eagger says similar to Miss Fisher, they have always had a proactive approach to promoting women behind the camera.

“Some of that’s by design and some of it is just because we are a female-led company and we do focus on female storytelling. We definitely wanted a female lead director (for Newton’s Law),” she says.

And they found one in Jennifer Leacey, who directed Mary: The Making of a Princess and episodes on Wanted, Wonderland and The Wrong Girl.

“She was very good on tone,” Eagger says, adding that the life-affirming, often fun, tone of Newton’s Law is what sets it apart from other series with similar themes.

While Jennifer Leacey was set-up director, Jennifer Perrott and Jonathan Brough also came on board to direct episodes.

“It was also about mentoring new talent because a lot of our directors are now being snaffled up overseas in the UK and America,” she says, naming Kate Dennis, Jessica Hobbs, Cherie Nowlan, Jet Wilkinson and Kate Woods as some of the directors now overseas.

“You just go ‘oh my god, there’s this drainage’. And we’re a company that has made a lot of television, so we know how to mentor people and can afford to break in a few people.”

Another way Every Cloud are fostering new talent is through exploring the online/multiplatform space. Eagger can remember when she and Deb Cox were learning the ropes, there were long-running series where you could really understand your craft – opportunities that, because of the changing nature of television and shorter run series, just don’t exist as much anymore.

“But multiplatform is an opportunity for people to start moving into series storytelling or longer format storytelling,” she says.

“I think that area of multiplatform has to develop to more hard-hitting drama (because) these more emerging or inexperienced people, no one’s going to necessarily give them an hour of TV script to write. Not yet. But they need to be moving into longer-form storytelling.”

It’s where their web series Deadlock comes into play.

Deadlock’s been able to create that opportunity for us to form relationships with people we want to keep working with,” she says.

The web series about regional Australian youths was developed by emerging teenage writers at a script lab in Byron Bay in December 2015. It was run by Skins creator Bryan Elsley, who was brought over from the UK through Screen Australia’s Enterprise Stories grant.

“But the other thing is that Deb and I are both mothers – my children are teenagers and we really wanted to make something that related to them on a platform that we saw they were utilising. We’re losing that 15 to 25-year-old audience. They might be watching The Get Down on Netflix, but what Australian drama are they watching?”

In addition to receiving Enterprise Stories funding, Every Cloud Productions have also been recipients of Enterprise People, without which Eagger says they would “be drowning”. It meant they could bring on Katherine Fry as a development producer and manager and has “been such a boon for the company.”

“We were able to go to MIPCOM and Content London with a very strong slate of highly developed projects that made Every Cloud very attractive to the global market.”

It’s been an important step in expanding the company.

“You have to look at your business and how you can become less dependent on government funding and look towards the more global market to make yourself sustainable.”

Essie Davis as Miss Fisher in Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries

With a series such as Miss Fisher’s, which Eagger says has sold to more than 160 territories and has a cult following in the US, their business strategy is to build on that brand.

“Whether it’s a feature, prequel or stage show… You’re seeing that more and more – the crossover of IP. An important part of our business is building brands that can do that,” she says.

“Representing Australian classics is also important and we’ve been looking to do Seven Little Australians. We want to do things more with international markets and platforms, so having the Enterprise funding has been able to give us broader horizons, but still cater very much to the Australian audience too.”

Newton’s Law starts on 9 February on ABC and ABC iview. Visit their Facebook page or follow the conversation with #NewtonsLaw

It is an Every Cloud Production presented by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Screen Australia, in association with Film Victoria.