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Podcast – Jason Stephens: Lingo Pictures

Producer Jason Stephens on starting Lingo Pictures with Helen Bowden and their approach to developing, creating, and selling Australian television.

Two images side by side, headshot of Jason Stephens and an image of Milly Alcock and Tim Minchin on the set of Upright

Jason Stephens, Milly Alcock and Tim Minchin on the set of Upright

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

The Australian screen industry is a business built on relationships, according to producer Jason Stephens.

It’s a theme that comes up throughout Stephens’ episode of the Screen Australia podcast, whether he’s talking about working with different broadcasters, to pitching television ideas, to how the production company Lingo Pictures came about.

Stephens, who started in the industry as a comedy writer before turning to producing, had been at Fremantle Media for a decade when he started thinking of branching out again.

“The idea of being an independent producer was really attractive - and finding a partner that I could work with and enjoy the process with,” he says on the podcast.

Director Jessica Hobbs, who Stephens had worked with on Devil’s Dust suggested he meet producer Helen Bowden, one of the founders of Matchbox Pictures who Hobbs knew through The Slap.

From there Lingo Pictures was born, and since 2015 has produced a number of series, ranging in formats, styles and with different broadcasters, including: Network Ten’s The Secrets She Keeps, which began airing in primetime on BBC One in July; Tim Minchin series Upright, as well as the most nominated series in AACTA history - Lambs of God – for Foxtel; female-driven four-part SBS series On the Ropes; and miniseries Wake in Fright for Network Ten (read about its journey from book to screen here).

Throughout the podcast, Stephen talks to a wide variety of topics around producing Australian television, such as the challenges and positives of shifting from a large production company to an independent one, creating a sustainable business, working with different broadcasters, and how long the turnaround is from television idea to delivery.

For feedback about this episode, please email [email protected]

Watch:

  • Lambs of God and Upright on Foxtel
  • The Secrets She Keeps and Wake in Fright on 10play
  • On the Ropes on SBS on Demand

Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, SpotifyStitcher or Pocket Casts

Audio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia podcast. I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication Screen News. On this episode of the podcast, we're joined by producer Jason Stephens from Lingo Pictures, the production company behind Australian TV series, including The Secrets She Keeps, Upright, Lambs of God, On the Ropes and Wake in Fright. Throughout the episode, Jason talks about starting Lingo Pictures with Helen Bowden, creating a sustainable business, working with different broadcasters, and proof as to why this is an industry built on relationships. Remember, you can subscribe to the Screen Australia podcast through iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify or if you subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter, we'll take some of the effort out for you and send you all the latest episodes, as well as any updates from the local screen industry. For feedback about this episode, please email [email protected] Now here's the chat with producer Jason Stephens from Lingo Pictures.

[00:01:07] Caris Bizzaca So Jason Stephens, welcome to the Screen Australia podcast.

[00:01:10] Jason Stephens Thank you.

[00:01:11] Caris Bizzaca And so first of all, you know, a bit of background. Can you talk through your background in the industry, maybe your trajectory to becoming a producer and then starting Lingo Pictures with Helen Bowden?

[00:01:22] Jason Stephens Wow, OK. Well that could be quite a long answer. My way into the industry was kind of like a lot of people, I sort of fell into it, really. I was studying Arts/Law at Melbourne Uni and took a year off during those courses to become a member of the Melbourne University Revue, which back then was like a comedy revue that travelled around Australia. And whilst I was on that revue I sort of learnt how to sort of perform, but also write comedy and doing a lot of that. So when I came back from that year, I was asked to write comedy scripts for a lot of comedy shows that were happening back then. And then after my degree, I got offered a job with a group called The D Generation, which had their own breakfast radio on Triple M in Melbourne and I thought I'd give it a year. And that was, you know, 30 years ago now. So I sort of got into the industry writing comedy, performing comedy, then directing, producing, then kind of got a bit sick of comedy and, you know, came into, I guess the more drama space. I've been doing that ever since.

[00:02:24] Caris Bizzaca  And so what prompted the decision to start Lingo Pictures?

[00:02:29] Jason Stephens I'd been at Fremantle for about 10 years as Head of Development and then Creative Director. I don't know, it just felt like it was actually 10 years and it felt to me like I'd done Fremantle. And I think Fremantle probably felt the same way about me. I mean, I'd sort of been there for a long time and I was keen to do my own thing, which was kind of a decision based on, you know, I guess you get to a certain stage in your career and go, okay, whatever I'm going to do from now on, I'm going to really want to do. And the idea of being an independent producer was really attractive and finding a partner that I could work with and enjoy the process with. So I sort of again, sort of met Helen. I didn't know Helen very well and was introduced to her via a mutual friend of ours, Jessica Hobbs, who's a director.

[00:03:17] Caris Bizzaca Who worked on The Slap with Helen.

[00:03:18] Jason Stephens Worked on The Slap with Helen and worked on Devil's Dust with myself. So Helen and I didn't know each other, but we knew Jess and Jess recommended that we catch up for coffee. She'd heard that we were sort of both after the same sort of thing, which was, you know, setting up an independent production company. And we had, you know, numerous coffees and talked about what we wanted and decided to dive in and that was six years ago.

[00:03:40] Caris Bizzaca Because Helen came from Matchbox Pictures around the time that it sold to NBC Universal.

[00:03:47] Jason Stephens Exactly. So Helen had been a founding member of Matchbox, got sold to NBC and then left around the same time I left Fremantle. So it was kind of, you know, good luck, I guess.

[00:03:58] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And just quickly, you mentioned your role at Fremantle. What did that kind of entail, those two roles?

[00:04:06] Jason Stephens Well, I was, you know, Creative Director, so my job simply was to come up with new ideas, sort of create new business, which was in the unscripted space as well as the scripted space. I also had my own JV with Fremantle. I managed to negotiate a JV under my own sort of drama banner.

[00:04:25] Caris Bizzaca And JV for people who aren't..?

[00:04:26] Jason Stephens A joint venture with Fremantle. So I was an employee and you know, had my own company with Fremantle which specialised in high end drama. And we did, I did with Fremantle, five dramas in five years. Better Man, Devils Dust, Killing Time, Mr and Mrs Murder. And that was, you know, a really successful sort of initiative, I guess. So yeah. I mean it was a great job, there's some benefits in being in a big company. There's lots of development money and access to the international family. But, given that Lingo is a much smaller company, there are certainly benefits for being nimble and, you know, being your own boss,.

[00:05:06] Caris Bizzaca And so on that point, what were some of then the challenges, though, from going from a large company like Fremantle Media to running an independent production company?

[00:05:18] Jason Stephens Well, I guess, you know, it's like any anybody starting a new small business in any field. I mean, it's a huge challenge. And there are issues like cashflow. I mean, cashflow is probably the biggest practical challenge for a small company. And so Helen and I decided in the early days that we wanted to make sure that we didn't want to start a company and be doing it from our houses. Although looking back, everybody's kind of doing that now. So, but at the time, it was like we want to have a front desk, we want to have infrastructure, we want to have access to accountants and legals. I mean, that stuff when you're a small company can soak up so much time. And so we were invited to do a two project deal with Endemol Shine. I know Mark Fennessy and Carl Fennessy from my earlier career. And they said, look, let's join up, let's do this two picture deal and see how it goes. And that gave us, I guess the comfort of having an office and having infrastructure. We gave a bit up for that deal. But at the time, it was the right deal for the right time. And we did Wake in Fright under that deal and Lambs of God. So we basically produced it as Lingo but Endemol Shine, were our production partners.

[00:06:35] Caris Bizzaca And that's called is it a POD, a producer overhead?

[00:06:41] Jason Stephens I don't know. Yeah, there's lots of different names for that sort of deal. I think every deal can be different. You know, they provided, as I mentioned infrastructure and we sort of did the producing and we sort of split the profits. And, they were both really successful shows. But once that deal was over, we decided to do our own thing and we haven't looked back since.

[00:07:02] Caris Bizzaca And also, with that deal, did that mean that the distribution side or the sales were handled by Endemol Shine International?

[00:07:11] Jason Stephens Yes, well, that was the idea. But in the end, Lambs of God was looked after by Sky Vision. So Endemol Shine and you know, the distribution deal, the distribution business is quite separate to the production business. The International London office looks after the sales, so had nothing to do with the Australian business as such, although they're under the same roof. But Endemol Shine, unfortunately, just pulled out at the last minute, which kind of left us in a bit of a sort of quandary. But thankfully, Sky Vision loved the Lambs of God scripts and said, look, you know, we'd love to jump on board.

[00:07:46] Caris Bizzaca It worked out. And so in terms of the kind of projects that you look for at Lingo Pictures, you've mentioned a couple, you know, Wake in Fright, Lambs of God, there's also On the Ropes, The Secrets She Keeps and what am I missing?

[00:08:01] Jason Stephens Upright.

[00:08:01] Caris Bizzaca Of course Upright - how could I have missed that? So can you talk me through the kind of projects that you're looking for at Lingo Pictures?

[00:08:09] Jason Stephens Sure. Well, I think, you know, on the basic level it has to sort of engage us. We have to be excited when we see it. And I think these days it's getting harder and harder. You know, I think the days where you just sort of take an idea and go ok I think we can get this up and commissioned and, you know, I think now that the business has become a lot more global and we're sort of competing with the rest of the world, that I mean, it just has to be, it has to excite you personally. I mean, I guess that's for everybody, really. But also, I think it has to sort of be a little bit noisy, a little bit different for the market.

[00:08:42] Caris Bizzaca To have that cut through?

[00:08:43] Jason Stephens Yeah the cut through is something that everybody speaks about and noise is the other word that people use. And you kind of know it when you see it I think. And every project is different to each other. I mean having Tim onboard for Upright obviously had a cut through.

[00:08:58] Caris Bizzaca Tim Minchin.

[00:09:00] Jason Stephens Tim Minchin, yes. And Lambs of God was such an unusual book, you know, it had unusual premise, incredibly interesting world, unique world. On the Ropes it was attractive for other reasons. So each project has its own sort of positives and I guess, you know, personally, you have to engage with the material and then you've got to think, well, can I sell it? And I think that's a question that people sometimes, they put it aside for a while, because that's the hard bit really. It's easy to get excited by an idea, but then you have to get other people to be excited by it to invest in it. So they're the two questions we ask: is it something that excites us and is it something that we can sell?

[00:09:43] Caris Bizzaca And when you say that we can sell, do you mean in terms of getting partners to come on board early to actually make the project? Or do you mean selling it down the track?

[00:09:53] Jason Stephens Well, a bit of both. I mean, initially it's about, you know, getting that finance plan to work, which means getting all the investors to want to be part of the project. So, traditionally in Australia, that's been Screen Australia and the state agencies and the sales agent and a network. Now that finance plan is changing a lot, so it can come together with more overseas money for example, either through a sales agent or a platform. But the second part of your question is, can it sell once we make it? And that's certainly been something that we always think about now in terms of our shows: let's make them, but let's make them that they can sell around the world. And The Secrets She Keeps, that goes to air on BBC One on prime time, which I think is one of the first shows, Australian shows, in recent memory to do that and that's sold incredibly well. I think it's our highest selling show in terms of territories it's gone into and there's interest in the format and that's something where all the investors will get, you know, money back and some. So that's been a great success and I think, you know, that's an obligation, as a producer, to say can we sort of make something where people get money back for a change. And Lambs of God has sold well, Upright has sold well as well. For a small business, it's like another revenue stream really, to have these residuals if you like, come through the door way after you've made the project. You know that is the goal.

[00:11:20] Caris Bizzaca And are you then able to put that back into, you know, the development of new ideas?

[00:11:25] Jason Stephens Absolutely.That means we can hire more staff or more development money for ourselves or invest in our own projects.

[00:11:31] Caris Bizzaca Okay. And so you mentioned the sale to BBC One but you also mentioned interest in a format. And so I was wondering if you could explain the difference between, you know, a tape sale and a format sale and how are they valuable to a business like Lingo?

[00:11:52] Jason Stephens Well tape sales are basically, you know, the sale of the show that you've made. And that is something the sales agent will traditionally look after. So you will make the show, we'll give the show over to a sales agent and they'll represent ourselves and the other investors in terms of selling that series around the world. And they'll usually put a sales advance into the finance plan. So I guess I think what they're really trying to do is recoup that advance in the first instance. So selling the show is the first thing that we'll do. The format sale is something that might come later on. I mean, they always sound quite attractive, a format sale. But practically, you know, you've got to sell the tape first because you don't want your sales agent having to sort of bump into the format sale in the same territory. So they'll say, let's just sell the show first and then we can look at the format sale down the track, as opposed to two people buying that separately and then sort of making the show that you've sold into the same territory, which can be very confusing for the market. Again, The Secrets She Keeps, there's a lot of interest in the format sale for that. We've had interest in Upright for the format sale of that, On the Ropes, the format has been sold. You know, it's a nice revenue if you can do it. But I think tape sales are still the revenue source that is the most attractive to the investors and to us because the money comes back a lot quicker.

[00:13:18] Caris Bizzaca  And then with the projects, I was kind of looking through your slate. And from what I understand, either you or Helen are maybe like the driving force behind different projects. Is that correct?

[00:13:31] Jason Stephens Yeah, pretty much. I mean, we're a really tiny company. There's a general manager, we have a Head of Development and then we have an attachment actually, a Screen Australia attachment who's become more full time, she's worked at Lingo, and Helen and myself. So we're tiny and we we don't develop a lot of things but what we develop, we really love and we really push to market. So that's kind of how it works.

[00:13:58] Caris Bizzaca And how do you kind of split who is going to work on which project?

[00:14:03] Jason Stephens Yeah, it's pretty organic and pretty informal. So, it depends who grabs it first. I mean Chris Taylor brought the idea of Upright to myself and we worked it up. And I guess my background in comedy, I knew Chris and I knew Tim and that sort of happened just organically because I had that sort of heritage and those relationships. Lambs of God, I mean, it was pitched to Helen and I at the same time but I guess I Googled the book and read it in the weekend and said to Helen, we need to do this book and option it and I don't know, I guess just with my enthusiasm and passion, I didn't want anybody else to do it. But I don't think we've ever had that conversation. We rarely have a conversation about who's doing things, which is, you know, a testament to our relationship, really. We kind of just - Helen with The Secrets She Keeps she sort of went up and met Michael Robotham, the author, up in North Sydney, and persuaded him to option the book to us. So it just kind of happens. And it's kind of nice that way that we don't have to sit down and go ok who's doing what. Usually it's about who's hands on producer at the moment. If you got too many things, I couldn't possibly do anything else, so Helen would jump on board. And we'll take in turns so I'll EP and Helen will produce and vice versa. It works well.

[00:15:21] Caris Bizzaca And you've worked with, across those series that we mentioned, it's not all with one broadcaster. On the Ropes is with SBS, you've got Lambs of God and Upright with Foxtel and The Secrets She Keeps and Wake In Fright were with Ten. How do you decide where the best fit for a series is going to be and who you're gonna pitch it to?

[00:15:46] Jason Stephens  Yeah, that's a good question. I mean, we like to think we know the platforms in Australia really well and what they're looking for. I mean, there is some crossover what they're looking for and it kind of changes a lot. I mean, at the moment, the free to air networks are kind of I mean, you know, it's difficult because they've got the SVODs coming in quite aggressively. But Rick Maier's been at Ten for a long time, and we think we know what Rick is after. And he's a sort of network guy who will take a bit of a punt. Hence Wake in Fright and The Secrets She Keeps. Foxtel has been a great client of ours and Brian Walsh is so passionate about drama. But we usually just go, ok, who do we think this project would be best for in terms of what they're looking for? And then just take it to them and pitch it. Simple as that.

[00:16:33] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Okay. And similarly, across all of those series, they're not one episode length, you know, six by half hour or six by one hours. You've got On the Ropes is the four eps because it's SBS, but Upright is 8 x 30 minutes. How do you decide, you know, what format a show is going to be in and what are the kind of discussions that you have around that?

[00:16:59] Jason Stephens Yes, that's pretty much a purely a creative decision and discussion. I mean, it's about I guess you get a sense if the story is best suited to a half hour format or a commercial hour format. Then I guess broadly speaking, there's like a BBC hour, which is like fifty five minutes. That is kind of loosening up a lot these days. But we felt Upright, for example, as a half hour format, just felt right in terms of the pace and the rhythm of the piece. Whereas Lambs of God was such an epic piece and you know, it was only four hours that we really wanted the time to explore all the characters. So, yeah, it's just a discussion you have on in the early days about 'ok is this a half hour or an hour' and it just kind of feels right.

[00:17:42] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Driven by a story more than anything.

[00:17:44] Jason Stephens Yeah absolutely driven by story. We hardly ever think about what the market's after or what that network's looking for in terms of half an hour or hour. I mean, the only thing I would say is half hours, they can be more tricky to sell. And so, you know, I guess we come into projects on the presumption they will be hours. And then it's a question, is it four hours or six hours or is it returnable. Or is this something we can do in half hours?

[00:18:12] Caris Bizzaca And is there one type that sells better internationally do you find?

[00:18:17] Jason Stephens Yeah. I mean, returnable hours always sell better because people can invest in the first series and if it works, that investment can be amortised over a few series in terms of their promotion and the money they put into the first series. Four by one hours, they have been tougher to sell, but Lambs of God's done well and that market is shifting a bit in terms of, you know, for example, the UK seems to be easier to sell a 4 x 1 hour series in the UK than the US. I don't know why. That's just the way it is. And half hours, you know, I think programmers overseas... the issue with half hours is they have to find another half hour series to sort of make the hour out. But that's all changing with the SVODs. But yeah, I mean, as a rule, returnable hours work best for us.

[00:19:11] Caris Bizzaca And so you mentioned the SVODs. When Lingo started, they were really kind of emerging on the Australian landscape. What do you think that they've brought to the Australian screen industry since their arrival?

[00:19:26] Jason Stephens Well, Stan has been a bit of a success story, I guess, in terms of investing in local content. I would say the others haven't brought much other than our viewing pleasure. And I think that needs to change. And that obviously is under discussion at the moment about their obligations to Australia and our culture because they're incredibly successful. And I guess, you know, the question is, should they be investing back into this and into our culture? And I think the answer is yes. But in terms of audiences, I think audiences are now very much exposed to how high end drama works in terms of production values, and in terms of scripting, casting. And so I guess the threshold for a successful drama is different than it used to be in terms of what you need to do, how you need to produce things and how much you need to invest to sort of stand alongside shows in the states and the UK.

[00:20:25] Caris Bizzaca And do you think that in terms of international sales, has the appetite for Australian content changed over the past, let's say, decade or so?

[00:20:35] Jason Stephens Well, yeah, I think so. I mean, I think the tradition has been, you know, McLeods Daughters, those sorts of dramas, returnable dramas have always sold well. Flying Doctors, those sorts of shows have always sold well overseas. I guess what we're asking the rest the world to do now is to buy our sort of more high end product. And yeah, I think the answer is yes. Our product is selling well. I think what's sort of falling between the cracks is the relationship dramas that we've done in the past and where they stand in terms of overseas sales. You know, domestic dramas that the rest of the world looks at those dramas and says, 'look, we have our own, really'. And so I don't know whether they want to import that type of drama into their own territory. I think that's harder for those types of shows.

[00:21:24] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Okay. And we were talking about the different broadcasters before. Because you've worked with a number of them, can you shed any light on your experiences in working with those different networks?

[00:21:38] Jason Stephens Yeah, it's kind of, it depends who's at the network at the time because it's a relationship business. So it's really about who you're dealing with at the time. I mean, we've had a great relationship with Foxtel over the years and very much entrusted us with so many great shows that we've been able to make for them. Again, I mentioned Rick Maier at Ten. We've had a good relationship with Rick. You know, they're all different and they're all looking for different things. But we're very much hands-on producers and we make sure that, you know, I consider them as a client. And so it's a client relationship that you need to sort of look after and service. So we're pretty serious about that in terms of making sure that they feel like Helen and I are across our dramas and they can pick up the phone any time and ask us questions about anything, really. And so we have a very close, direct relationship with the people we sell to, but they're all different and they're always changing.

[00:22:32] Caris Bizzaca And for 2020, for a lot of Australian production companies, they've had to really adapt because of coronavirus. For Lingo Pictures, how has that impacted any of the projects that you maybe have? How has it impacted Lingo?

[00:22:49] Jason Stephens Well, we were lucky. We weren't in production when the crisis hit, which would have been devastating for those who were. So we're very lucky that way. I guess one thing I would say is that one of the advantages of being small is that, you know, we don't have a huge overhead. So we didn't have to reduce work hours. We didn't have to lose anybody. We've all worked from home. Helen actually went to New Zealand for a week and hasn't come back yet. So she's been there for like three and a half months.

[00:23:20] Caris Bizzaca It's why she's not here today.

[00:23:20] Jason Stephens Exactly. She would have loved to have been here. But even that's worked out well because we're developing a couple of dramas over there in New Zealand at the moment, so her being in New Zealand is kind of working to our advantage. But not having that huge overhead meant that we have really put our heads down and gone ok, let's just develop really hard and that's what we've been doing. Zoom has been a revelation to myself. You know, I can't believe how well it's worked for us. So we've had lots of writers' rooms from people all around Australia working on shows for us and it's been great. So as a small company, we've been very lucky that we didn't have to, as I said, you know, put people off or take those measures that a lot of bigger companies have had to do. So really being nimble was great, you know, who would've thought? But yes, that's worked well for us. We were going to do Upright 2, second half of this year, but that's been put back. So that's the only sort of, I guess, compromise we've had to do this year. But this was going to be one of those years where we were sort of developing the first half anyway, and so it just meant we spent more time on on the scripting process, which, you know, I love, because it means when you're ready to go, you've got some great scripts.

[00:24:36] Caris Bizzaca And you mentioned Upright 2. In terms of what's coming up on the horizon, so that's one of the projects. Can you talk to any others that are in the pipeline?

[00:24:45] Jason Stephens Yes, that's kind of out there, Upright 2. Again, it's been so long since we did Upright 1, but it's selling well. It's about to go to air in the US, which is a big deal for us, in August. Tim's been so wonderful to work with in terms of obviously writing it and performing it, but also promoting it as well. And it was just a joy to make. So we'd love to do it again. Other projects, you know, we're talking to the Americans about some ideas we've got, you know, some local broadcasters. Can't give too much away. But we've got a very, I would say a great, interesting slate at the moment. I mean, everything's quite different to each other and I think they're all shows that feel different to what's been on air here before, which is exciting.

[00:25:33] Caris Bizzaca And so Lingo's projects have been all in the TV space. Are there any plans to expand into features, feature docs, online or any of those spaces?

[00:25:49] Jason Stephens Well, when we started Lingo, we said we'd never do a film only because we don't have much time. I guess when I say we don't have much time, I've never done a film. Helen has. I know enough about them to know they take quite a long time to develop and and finance. And I guess we're in a bit of a rush and television has kind of become this exciting sort of part of the industry, which is happening quite quickly and, you know, the television boom. I guess we'd never say never to doing a film but it would have to be something which I think could travel well overseas. And something that would excite us. But yeah, at this stage primarily, it's high end TV drama and being focused on that. I mean, we felt that in the early days that Lingo had to sort of stand for something and we had offers to do unscripted things and feature docs. But I think it's about having that discipline and going no, this is who we are, this is what we're doing and keeping it focused, so the market knows what you do and doing what we do, try and do it as best we can. So at this stage, no unscripted. At this stage, no feature film. But, you know, never say never. And lots of telly yeah.

[00:27:05] Caris Bizzaca And you just mentioned the speed of television comparatively to film. Generally, how long does it take to develop, you know, from the start of development to delivering a series to a network? How long is that process?

[00:27:21] Jason Stephens Well, it can vary. I mean at the moment we're doing something which has taking longer than I'd like it to but it's only because of availability of writers that we've got on the show, which are very experienced writers, and they've got quite a few projects lining up. Lambs of God was relatively quick, it was like two and a half years, maybe two years. You know, we sort of grabbed the rights the book, attached Sarah Lambert, pitched to Foxtel within three weeks, got it into development. It was only four hours, but that was about two years, I think. Secrets She Keeps was quite short, two years. But they can take longer depending on availability of people. And, you know, putting the finance plan together. And we develop about, maybe about six to eight shows at the one time, so we've got them lined up. But we don't develop as much as other bigger companies just because we like to sort of focus on the shows and I guess testing them to market as quickly as possible. And we don't, not waste time, but we don't have our wheels spinning too much on shows we don't think we can sell. So what we like to do is get an idea, get it up to a pitch document stage, take it out to market, see if market's interested. And if that's the case, then we sort of invest more time and more money into the show. If the market's not, we move on. Just because, you know, we can't afford to spend too much time on things that just won't be financed.

[00:28:49] Caris Bizzaca And something I was just wondering, because of your background in writing and comedy writing in particular, do you ever miss that side of it, for one, do you ever miss the writing side of it and also, how do you think that it impacts the way that you are as a producer, if at all?

[00:29:07] Jason Stephens Yeah, I miss it occasionally. But I mean, I think writers are amazing and I take my hat off to them in terms of what they have to do and I guess having done, when I was a writer, I was a sort of sketch comedy writer/comedy writer. So it's a slightly different discipline to drama writers but I truly appreciate what they do. And I you know, I used to perform a bit too. So, I also appreciate that aspect of of what performers go through in terms of getting the job and the pressures on delivering. So, yeah, no, it's been interesting to dabble in different parts of the industry. I think, as a producer, you've got a firsthand experience of what people have to do and the pressures around their job. But I love producing because you're kind of across everything. You know, when you're a writer, you're sort of head down and you're sort of delivering that script, but producing you know, you're thinking about casting, you're thinking about locations,  you're thinking about putting the team together, really. And so I love that. I love collaborating. I love working with inspirational people. I love watching people do their job incredibly well. I love working with the best of the best and getting people excited about projects that I'm excited about. And I also love being there from day one to the day you deliver to network. That's what the producer does. Where people kind of come and go in projects, but you're there at the end and that's incredibly satisfying.

[00:30:33] Caris Bizzaca And throughout that process, is there a part that you enjoy the most, whether it is, you know, in the development stage or the actual shoot?

[00:30:43] Jason Stephens Brainstorming's pretty cool because it's the early days, it's the honeymoon period and, you know, anything's possible. And in our heads, we're making the best possible drama ever made.

[00:30:53] Caris Bizzaca You're like budget? We can worry about budget later. That's fine, let's just chuck some ideas at the wall.

[00:30:59] Jason Stephens So that's very cool because you're in a room and it's early days and brainstorms have their own energy and excitement about them. But, you know, once you sort of get into producing, there's an inherent pressure with that and that can be exhilarating. It can also be quite scary but I think that's kind of why we all do it anyway, because the stakes are so high and there's a fine line between success and failure on some shows in terms of producing something which has the right tone, the right timing, the right cast, so many variables. And it's kind of that weird magic of getting them all in the same pot at the same time and coming out looking okay. And who kind of knows why it happens. All you can do is your best possible job, and hope it works out.

[00:31:43] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And do you have any advice for anyone that wants to become a producer?

[00:31:52] Jason Stephens Well, yeah. I sort of learnt, I didn't go to a producer course, I sort of learnt, you know, my first drama was in 2007. I wrote, well, I produced a telemovie called The King, which won an AFI award and Kris Mrksa wrote that, Matt Saville directed it and Stephen Curry was in it. We were all kind of at the start of our careers, I guess, in a way, and I learnt a lot. But looking back, I didn't know anything back then. So it's a funny old job, the producing job, because there's so much to be learnt by just listening and hanging around and making mistakes and not being scared to make mistakes. But I guess you want to sort of be around people who can look after you and support you and point you in the right direction. Incredibly satisfying but in terms of getting into it, I guess you just got to want to make stuff. That's the thing. Just want to make stuff and make things happen. I think you have to be good at relationships. I think you have to be brave. I think you need to like people because you're going to be talking and dealing and negotiating with lots of different people. But that's what I love about it.

[00:32:58] Caris Bizzaca Well from what you saying, you know, the theme throughout our whole chat is definitely those relationships whether it was Jessica Hobbs introducing you to Helen or it was the network relationships.

[00:33:09] Jason Stephens It's amazing. I just love being around people who are just, I mean I'm constantly amazed at what actors do and production designers do and directors do. It's like wow, what a job when you just watch people that close doing their job and it is quite magical at times when people do their thing, especially actors on set.

[00:33:28] Caris Bizzaca Great. Well, thanks once again for joining us on the Screen Australia podcast and talking to us all about producing.

[00:33:34] Jason Stephens Pleasure.

[00:33:36] Caris Bizzaca That was producer Jason Stephens from Lingo Pitches. To check out the series we mentioned, you can find Lambs of God and Upright on Foxtel. The Secrets She Keeps and Wake in Fright are on TenPlay and On the Ropes is on SBS On Demand. To get updates from the Australian screen industry, simply subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter and thanks for listening.