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Podcast – Naomi Cleaver on producing NBCUniversal’s La Brea in Victoria

Producer Naomi Cleaver reveals what it was like producing a huge studio sci-fi drama series in Australia and breaks down the production roles.

Production still from La Brea, birds fly overhead as people look up to the sky.

La Brea

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Naomi Cleaver Naomi Cleaver
Producer Naomi Cleaver says the call to work on sci-fi drama series La Brea for NBCUniversal was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity – and not just for her.

Filmed in Victoria during the pandemic, the series – about a huge sinkhole that opens up in Los Angeles and creates a portal to a primeval land – also gave Cleaver a chance to bring on board Australian crew.

“I was able to just say, look I've got these amazing creatives that I work with: Carrie Kennedy and Ben Morieson, who are just the most beautiful [production] designers… and they had also not done a job of this size. But then amazing DOPs Mark Wareham, and Damian Wyvill who I worked with on Oddball; editor Angie Higgins; [costume designer] Erin Roche; our locations department,” Cleaver says on the latest episode of the Screen Australia Podcast.

“A lot of the crew, some of them I had worked with since 1999 and they were people where I really went ‘actually, if I could choose my A-Team that I think could get through any job, it'd be this A-Team.”

Cleaver says she pitched her ‘A-Team’ to the production after meeting with the series showrunners - David Appelbaum, Bryan Wynbrandt, and Steven Lilien – who she immediately felt an affinity with.

“[I thought] ‘we're pretty similar in our in our morals and our ethics’, which is a weird thing to gauge a job on, but it is one of those things whereby if you're going to be working 80-90 hours a week, which is sort of what it is when you're doing a show of this size during a pandemic, you better make sure that you're liking the people that you're working with. It's like a family, in the best of times. And they were just great guys.”

It came down to having a huge amount of shared trust and open dialogue between everyone on set, between the studio and on-the-ground production, but because of that, Cleaver says, it worked.

“It was a very large show. I mean, I think there's only one other series in Victoria that was bigger and that was Steven Spielberg's Pacific so large-scale in terms of budget,” Cleaver says, adding that it was more than AUD$100 million for the 10-episode series. Matchbox Pictures provided the production services on the series.

It’s also been a huge success, with reportedly 47 million viewers watching the series in the US and a second – even more expensive – season commissioned by NBCUniversal.

In addition to her experience working on La Brea, Cleaver also talks to her career working in the production department and the different roles she has held – from production assistant, to production manager or ‘PM’, line producing and then producing – as well as the various types of producers you can get.

“There are lots of different producers,” Cleaver says, describing herself as the kind of producer who is a ‘gun for hire’ and on the ground with the day-to-day running of the production. “The reality is that to make anything, really, you want to collaborate with producers that have got a different skillset to you… that when you do collaborate makes for a much, much stronger team.”

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