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Aquarius Films: from Lion to TV comedy

Aquarius Films producer Angie Fielder talks about the company expanding from features such as Lion and Berlin Syndrome into TV with Stan’s Matt Okine comedy The Other Guy.

2017 has been quite a year for Aquarius Films.

January heralded the Australian release of Lion, which they produced with See-Saw Films, and which went on to be nominated for six Academy Awards® (including Best Film) and made it into the top five most successful Australian films of all time at the local box office.

Also in January, it was announced that their feature Berlin Syndrome had been acquired by Netflix ahead of its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival. The psychological thriller from director Cate Shortland went to Berlinale in February and was released in Australian cinemas in April.

That same month, they went into production on their first foray into television, co-producing the comedy The Other Guy with eOne. Co-written and starring Matt Okine, with production funding from Screen Australia, the Sydney shoot wrapped in May and a mere three months later audiences can catch it on Stan (from 17 August).

Phew.

But speaking from The Other Guy set, Aquarius Films’ Angie Fielder has enjoyed the pace – and variety of genres – their slate has included.

And being able to turn a project around in less than a year has been exhilarating – albeit challenging.

“Creatively it’s very similar [to film],” she says.

“You’re working with six half hour eps instead of one long script. (But) the biggest difference for us is the time. We had a pilot script in November [2016] and here we are in May wrapping up our shoot, so it’s been a very, very fast development process.

“I think that is even quite fast by TV standards, but Stan had a slot in August that they wanted us to fill, (and) we wanted to make sure we got the commission so we agreed to fill it. It’s been fast and furious, but I think we’ve all really enjoyed the pace because with features it can be years and years and years.”

Stan’s Head of Originals Rob Gibson, co-producer Alice Willison, producer Angie Fielder, creator and star Matt Okine, executive producer Jude Troy, director Kacie Anning and star Harriet Dyer at the premiere of The Other Guy at the MCA.

Fielder first became aware of Okine’s comedy show – also titled The Other Guy – in early 2016 and thought it would work well as a TV series.

“So we approached Matt about optioning the series.”

Then September that year, Stan announced The Other Guy was one of four projects it was developing.

“Stan and Screen NSW paid for that development. We had a big writers’ room where we had a bunch of writers spend about a week nutting out the series and came up with a bible. We took that to Stan and they commissioned off the back of that.”

From there they went into a proper development phase, where they decided with Okine to bring in one other writer – fellow comedian Becky Lucas who had done some writing on Please Like Me.

“The character of Stevie, who’s played by Harriet Dyer and is hilarious – most of her dialogue is written by Becky,” Fielder says.

“Then we had Greg [Waters], who’s a very experienced script producer overseeing those guys and doing passes on the script when needed.”

The series is loosely based on Okine’s life, and follows radio host AJ (Okine), who’s adjusting to life on his own after his girlfriend of ten years cheats on him with his best friend.

“It is comedy, but it’s sort of comedy with dramatic elements. It’s got a lot of heart,” Fielder says. “But it is our first foray into comedy (and) it’s really nice to turn up to work every day and laugh.”

Fielder says tackling a new genre has been interesting, even in the shoot.

“This is our director Kacie Anning’s first big long-form TV series, but she’s done a great job and comedy is really her thing, so she brings a lot of knowledge to it in terms of not just timing and casting, but also just how you shoot something, and how that translates into the edit suite. That’s been quite interesting for us as producers.”

Fielder first met Anning when she was assisting directors Del Kathryn Barton and Brendan Fletcher on Aquarius Films’ short animation Oscar Wilde’s The Nightingale and the Rose. And they had seen Anning’s web series Fragments of Friday, which she wrote, directed and starred in (Screen Australia supported the second season), which they thought “was brilliant”.

“So when we first started discussing directors for this series, she was the very first name that popped up. And she was someone that Matt suggested [too] because he had worked with her on a sketch for Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am (titled Australia’s First Male Cop).”

"We just had this gut feeling that she was the right person"

There was some pushback for a more experienced director, but “we just had this gut feeling that she was the right person”.

Anning has lived up to that and then some, she says. “It’s been great to give her this opportunity and also great to just see how prepared and how focused and calm and creative she is.”

During the development and production of The Other Guy, Fielder says they had a lot of support from Stan.

“Working with a digital network like Stan there are not a lot of rules in terms of what you can and can’t do. They just really want to find people they feel a creative simpatico with and let you do it and not restrict that process too much,” she says.

“Rather than cater for a broader audience for ratings, they’re actually more focused on catering for niche audiences and even if the audience for something is only a certain size, if you can cater for that audience well then that will translate into subscribers.”

Fielder says as makers of content in Australia, the arrival of SVODs such as Stan is a positive. “The more networks there are that want to commission good content, the better.”

And there’s definitely more television on the horizon for Aquarius Films.

“We’d definitely love to do more comedy. We’d love to go to series 2 on [The Other Guy], but we’ve also got psychological thrillers, mysteries and also some children’s in development as well.”

The Other Guy airs from 17 August on Stan