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Scaling up and out

Screen Australia’s Premium Fund is allowing established creators to hone their craft, and for Adele Vuko, expand ideas.

It may be the end of the world, but a zombie apocalypse is no excuse to forget the baby wipes. Such is the premise to Over and Out, a web series from the team behind Bondi Hipsters – Christiaan and Connor Van Vuuren, aka the Van Vuuren Bros – and Adele Vuko, one of the creatives behind Skit Box.

Over and Out was among five recipients to share in a $500,000 funding pot as part of the Skip Ahead initiative with Google and Screen Australia in 2017 and has since gone on to win Best Short Form at Canneseries. Now, through Screen Australia’s Premium Fund, which is focused on assisting more established creators in film and television, it has received funding to develop a longform series pilot script and season breakdown.

It was always the intention for Over and Out to be a TV show, says writer/director/actress Adele Vuko, who co-wrote and starred in the series with her husband Christiaan Van Vuuren and their children. “Skip Ahead was a really wonderful vehicle,” she says, in enabling them to make both a proof of concept and an online series that could stand on its own.

Christiaan Van Vuuren and Adele Vuko on the set of Over and Out the web series

“And [we could] develop that proof of concept in a way where we ha[d] complete creative freedom to facilitate a strong vision… and prove its value or the idea online before we took it to networks.”

Vuko loves working with networks and fully intends to engage with them on the developed series, but she champions the ability to do a project “your way” and see what emerges before taking it out to market. “I would probably be wanting to do proof of concepts for absolutely everything I do going forward,” she says.

“I'm a massive fan of writers' rooms as well and I've worked closely with [writer/creative producer] Mike Jones over several projects … If you get a really great story editor and a good team of people around you - fellow writers, like-minded people, or the producers who you're working with - it's a really great way to flesh it out, [to] bounce thoughts and ideas off other people, and help you have a nice structure and outline for where you're going.”

Vuko notes that as part of Skip Ahead, participants were able to test their ideas amongst each other with industry professionals, namely Jones and writer/director/producer Julie Kalceff, supported completely by Google and YouTube. “… And we would test where we were at with our material and it was this really wonderful workshop.”

Vuko sees potential for the series on network television or streaming services.

“Whatever has the biggest budget!”

Adele Vuko Adele Vuko
But Vuko doesn’t have a preference for where it lands. “I love all the streaming sites happening here and around the world. I think it's really helping creators come into the fore, where they might not have been through traditional commercial networks. I think it will largely be about meeting different networks and seeing if they connect with – and their viewers would connect with – the content. We don't plan on taking away from the violence of the world or any kind of cussing. So it probably will knock out a few prospective commercial networks in Australia because of the content. It's not a kid's show, you know? It's not a family show you can show at six o'clock at night, primetime.”

Vuko and Van Vuuren will be showrunning, with the web series director, Connor Van Vuuren (Christiaan’s brother) directing – though Vuko hopes to direct at least one episode, and once again, she will star in it.

Meanwhile, this will be Vuko’s first foray into writing a half-hour television narrative, a “wonderful challenge” she says she is ready for, and an exciting one given she will be working with her husband. “The ideal would be to 100 per cent write it with Christiaan, so we'd write an episode each or split the episodes or however that works.”

It helps being married to your writing partner, Vuko says. “I'm always asking him stuff just randomly … and he'll ask me as well. So it's actually really great to have a person who's in the same industry as you to bounce ideas off.”

And they’ve been bouncing those ideas off each other for “a long, long time”, Vuko adds, reflecting on their eight or so years together. “He'd started the Bondi Hipsters while we were together, I'd started Skit Box... And it was really nice to be able to finally come together on an idea and a project that we're working on.”

It makes sense then that their journey of becoming real-life parents flowed into their creative work. And with both Vuko and Van Vuuren having experience in sci-fi fantasy, sci-fi horror and comedy, they took an innovative approach to modern parenthood’s challenges through genre. A general parenting story, “wasn't bringing anything new to a very well done, saturated, growing sub-genre of comedy and drama about parenting”. Vuko cites The Letdown and Catastrophe. “It would be hard to really shine through.”

Time

While Vuko is among more established creators, paving an innovative pathway has still been a long road. But she says, the important thing is to “just to keep developing stuff”, which includes not only writing but directing, and means looking at least one to two years ahead. “… You get a project or you shot something or maybe it's aired, but what's next?

It's easier said than done, admits Vuko. “It's extremely difficult, [but] with a lot of … self-motivation, [they are] the only really pragmatic, practical steps I think I can take.

“… It is that constant writer's anxiety of ‘I need more work, I need more work’. So my plan for the next 10 years of my life is head down, bum up, just keep writing, keep working.”

The socially-conscious seed grows

While the challenges of being a parent in the modern world is the basis of Over and Out, it is also reflective of Vuko’s socially-conscious creative approach. She’s a feminist and wants to discuss equality and equity in her work, “even if it's through zombie apocalypse”.

“One of the biggest goals ethically and socially I have for this project is that we achieve gender parity across casting and crew,” says Vuko. “So I'd like to have a balance of directors that are male and female and then filter that down all the way to the grassroots of the show.”