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When sports, comedy and drama collide: The Warriors

How the team behind The Warriors adapted their idea and format to reel in a different demographic.

When co-creators Tony Briggs (The Sapphires) and Rob Connelly (Tim Winton’s The Turning, Paper Planes) first cooked up the idea for The Warriors, it was intended to be a drama series, broken up into hour-long episodes.

But after they took it to ABC TV, the then Head of Indigenous Sally Riley (now Head of Scripted Production) suggested they look at half-hour episodes.

“That was a real turning point for the project,” Connolly says.

“Sally Riley (said) ‘this is how people consume content now. Go for a younger audience. What would happen if you approached this as 30-minute blocks that people can watch on their phones through iview?’”

So Connolly, who produced the series, and Briggs, who co-wrote alongside Indigenous writers Tracey Rigney and Jon Bell, went back to the drawing board and reconceived the show in a “comedy-with-heart-type flavour”.

“It’s been massively challenging, because we don’t generally do it (that genre),” Connolly says. “We’re dramatists, we’re not known for being comedians and it’s been a challenge, but an exciting one. I think if you look at TV audiences (and) the way they consume content, particularly younger people, that shorter format is fantastic.

Gordon Churchill in <em>The Warriors</em> Gordon Churchill in The Warriors

“I remember watching my younger daughter watch Nowhere Boys on her phone… and I thought, ‘you can see the future coming’. And a lot of the discussions with the ABC in this current climate have been about their iview platform and how incredibly impactful that is. Certainly with Barracuda, the figures were off the chart for how many people watched it on iview.”

Connolly directed all four episodes of Barracuda, which were released in an unusual way – following the premiere of episode one on ABC TV, every episode dropped on iview. And audiences embraced this strategy with each episode averaging at least 76,000 viewings in their first 28 days online.*

Briggs says the nature of The Warriors story lent itself to the shorter format. It follows up-and-coming player Maki (played by newcomer Gordon Churchill), who moves to Melbourne from his remote Aboriginal community after being handpicked to revive a once-great football club. It’s there that he finds himself living with two other rookies and a jaded footy star, who together come face-to-face with the pressures and temptations of being a pro athlete.

“It’s fast, exciting, everything happening, it’s all new. We can package it (into 30 minutes). You wouldn’t think so, but we’ve got football scenes and everything…it really works as a half hour format so it was a good decision.”

Screen Australia supported The Warriors from development through to the shoot, and CEO Graeme Mason says it’s a fresh idea the agency is delighted to be a part of (Film Victoria also provided funding).

“The creative team behind it are uniformly excellent and especially as it’s catering for a different audience that’s not kids, but not that older demographic either. This is going to be more the 16-40 age group, who are really not as well served, so full credit to the production team and the ABC,” he says.

“I think the two things that people love the most in Australia are sports and screen… so what better than to put the two together.”

Vince Colosimo in <em>The Warriors</em> Vince Colosimo in The Warriors

What’s more, it’s rich in diverse characters and story – something Screen Australia’s Seeing Ourselves report showed we need more of in television drama.

“It’s a show that’s diverse in many aspects. There are Indigenous people in front of and behind the camera, but also people from a range of ethnic backgrounds – really reflecting what you do see on the sporting fields.”

John Harvey, who co-produced alongside Connolly and Liz Kearney, says The Warriors has been particularly important for Indigenous storytelling in Victoria. As well as Indigenous writers, the series was directed by Indigenous filmmakers Beck Cole, Steven McGregor, Catriona McKenzie and Adrian Russell Wills.

“The commitment of Rob (Connolly) around developing Indigenous storytellers has been important for this. It empowers Indigenous filmmakers to tell their stories – from writing to creating the show, and then directing - all the way through. It helps to enrich the storytelling. And I think Rob as a storyteller understands that,” Harvey says.

“He understands the fundamental idea that to get that authenticity, people have to be in those positions where they’re calling the shots, they’re bringing those fresh stories to the screen and I think that’s been a really exciting thing about The Warriors.”

The other exciting element for Harvey is how the show touches on relevant contemporary issues, such as racism, but they don’t drive the show – they are more just part of the tapestry.

“It’s essentially a show about four young guys in a sharehouse trying to live out their dreams,” he says.

“How do they overcome their differences? How do they overcome some of their demons? And to have two non-Indigenous guys under the same roof as two Indigenous guys is something we don’t see on our screens… These young fellas are just being young fellas and get up to all their crazy antics. It’s a fun show.”