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Podcast – Writer-turned-producer Liz Doran on The Tailings

Liz Doran talks about the challenges of jumping from writing to producing for SBS series The Tailings and why mentorship works.

Liz Doran Headshot spliced with production still from The Tailings.

Liz Doran, The Tailings

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After training as an editor, Liz Doran carved out an enviable career as a writer working on hit TV series such as Please Like Me, Doctor Doctor and Dance Academy, and has most recently turned her hand to full-time producing on the SBS series The Tailings.

The Tailings came about while Doran was working with emerging writer Caitlin Richardson, a teacher who had pitched the idea for the show to SBS at a Tasmanian networking event. In The Tailings, a 6 x 10-episode series that was filmed on Tasmania’s West Coast, teenager Jas goes in search of the truth about her father’s death, while her new teacher at school also harbours secrets from her past.

Doran says Richardson had all the elements that help a person and idea cut through.

“She had a real voice, she had something to say, she had some really interesting characters and she had a perspective into a world that was fresh and different.”

While the idea was in development, Doran and Sue Masters – the then Head of Drama at SBS – were discussing who could produce the series. When Doran, who had been mulling over the idea to move into producing suggested perhaps she could do it herself, Masters was immediately on board.

“As soon as I said it I had this wave of panic,” she says, adding how co-producers Richard Kelly and Stephen Thomas would later come on board to share the load.

“It was a massive learning curve, which was really interesting for me because I quite naively assumed I knew what that job was and it turned out I really had not a clue. Outside of the creative, which I was totally across, there was so much more to it than I realised and it was incredibly daunting.”

Doran wasn’t the only person stepping into something different. On The Tailings they pulled together the creative team that included women in all Heads of Departments, and some who were doing a step-up or adjacent step within their field.

“I think that’s one of the things that’s really great for those short form series to do is to give opportunities to emerging people, like (production designer) Alicia Clements who had been working in the theatre but needed a screen credit or (director) Stevie Cruz-Martin who had a low budget feature credit [with Pulse] but hadn’t done any episodic TV or network TV.”

Throughout the episode of the Screen Australia podcast, Doran also talks to how she turned to her own peers and mentors such as producers John Edwards, Ian Collie, Joanna Werner, Amanda Higgs (and more); the importance of the development period and getting SBS support; and her advice for applying for funding.

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