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Cate McQuillen gets grubby

International Emmy® Award-winning dirtgirlworld co-creator Cate McQuillen talks about expanding the kid’s series into the live action Get Grubby TV and building up the Northern Rivers talent pool.

More than 100 kilometres outside Byron Bay is a plot of land where Cate McQuillen and Hewey Eustace from Mememe Productions have built the home of dirtgirlworld.

‘Built’ might sound like the wrong choice of word considering dirtgirlworld is an animated series. But the International Emmy®-winning show has been reimagined as a live action series – Get Grubby TV. And writer/producer/director and co-creator McQuillen has taken the idea of shooting ‘in your own backyard’ quite literally.

“We’ve got about 100 acres and an old church that we’ve converted into a house. Then we’ve built dirtgirl’s world in the paddock, so we’ve grown the garden and built the houses,” she says. “When people come to film we camp, and there’s four showers, and it’s like being at a festival. We sing songs at night around the campfire and we fall asleep by 8.30pm because we’re all tired from shooting all day. So it’s a total bubble land of utopian filming.”

Get Grubby TV consists of 20 x 12-minute self-contained episodes starring dirtgirl and scrapboy (played by the original actors from the animation, Maree Lowes and Michael Balk) along with their new best friend Costa the Garden Gnome (Costa Georgiadis). Every episode includes a two-minute song composed by Eustace (Queensland duo Hussy Hicks play dirtgirl’s band) and a trip to meet a real kid who has something to share.

“It’s that whole idea of ‘what is getting outside and getting grubby?’. Because as much as it’s about dirt under your fingernails, it’s not just that, it’s about connecting with nature. It’s about being passionate about being outside and doing stuff, from obstacle courses, through to keeping chickens, through to being an amazing composter, to being able to surf, to being able to understand what plastics are doing to our oceans,” she says, with each child gaining a dirtgirl-esque moniker, like surfergirl or tentboy.

Get Grubby TV and dirtgirlworld have the capacity to reach little kids, but with this last series we’re getting really good feedback from 9-11 year olds – that primary school age where they want to be their own warrior (and) are older than the little kids who liked the animation.”

It was also an economical choice to move into live action.

“I was so excited by the animation and always will be, but it’s a process that still takes a ridiculous amount of time.”

To get an idea, creating 52 episodes of dirtgirlworld took two years of 20-hour days.

In comparison, Get Grubby TV took five months. They began writing the 20 episodes on 1 February and finished editing in the first week of July.

Much like the characters in their show, McQuillen and Eustace are also conscious of their environmental impact. So when they have meetings about sales of Get Grubby TV (McQuillen says dirtgirlworld has sold to 128 countries), as many as possible will be done virtually.

“If we do go overseas, I make sure that I offset the carbon on that and we stay at share economy places,” she says.

But it’s not just sustainability of the environment they’re concerned about – it’s about creating a sustainable screen industry in the NSW Northern Rivers, especially for women.

“Up to 80% or more of the team are from the Northern Rivers,” McQuillen says. “So we employ local people and heaps of women. And we grow each other during the project. So if you started out in props, you’d probably be art director by now…

“We had four female attachments this time, which we were able to get because of Screen Australia and Create NSW funding.”

The goal is to build up the talent pool in the Northern Rivers, so it isn’t just known for its beautiful landscapes or environmental messaging – it’s a place where great creative ideas come from.

With Every Cloud Productions’ youth-oriented webseries Deadlock shooting there with YouTube stars The RackaRacka and Get Grubby TV now airing on ABC Kids, that dream is on its way. But it’s thanks to a lot of hard work.

Northern Rivers Screenworks being here is the absolute reason, the heart and core of why we are doing so well,” she says.

“It’s why we’ve got Deadlock here (and) why we’ve got three or four features in development… It doesn’t happen accidentally.”

Get Grubby TV airs from Monday 4 September on ABC Kids

Get Grubby TV is supported by Screen Australia and Create NSW.