Karl Zwicky: Crownies - ABC long running drama series is about um.. lawyers by: Anne Richey
Screen Hub Wednesday 19 January, 2011
The ABC is back in the biz of long form drama, with the 22-part 'Crownies' now in the works. We spoke to Karl Zwicky about his plans for the show.
Crownies, the new 22-part tv series being produced for the ABC, tells the story of “five young solicitors fresh out of law school, as they face the pressures and endearing madness of modern single life”
(press release). The series is being produced by Karl Zwicky. They start shooting on Friday.
“It’s exciting,” Karl explained. “For a start, the ABC is really behind us. It’s their first long run drama series for almost a decade.” The ABC have been running much shorter shows in recent years.
Karl finds the 22 episode structure to be “a very different beast. You can really explore the characters and let the audience follow the show in a lot more detail.” Audiences can also take a few episodes to realize that a new series is on – difficult if it’s short form.
He noted that ABC have a lot of drama on their slate at the moment, and that “doing a series like this is a bit of a change of pace for them. It’s not the sort of show where you can have all the scripts ready before you start. It’s a locomotive and when you hop on board, you can’t get off.”
The show will feature young actors, not all of whom are well known. Karl considers it to be a very strong cast, noting that the auditions were a revelation. “How they brought the script to life!”
The community of characters are all smart, focused and committed, although “they do have personality faults and many things to learn.” To Karl, “the given factor of a lot of our characters is that you have to be smart to get into law. But that doesn’t mean you know how to live your life. That’s the conflict that makes the show so interesting.”
There’s also “lots of humour in the show. To live with and prosecute some of these cases, and to research them, you need a defensive mechanism. Often that’s humour.” They’re hoping to attract a broad demographic for the show – young and old, male and female. The show doesn’t have a lead actor, but instead, “the audience will make up their own mind” about who their lead is.
In terms of style, look, pace and energy, they’ve looked towards The West Wing, and well as UK shows such as This Life and North Square. The latter shows are about “urban young people who have a lot to prove.”
The project began when Greg Haddrick began working with Hilary Bonney, a Melbourne writer and barrister. “She’d been talking to Screentime about the fact that the DPP (Department of Public Prosecutions) is a rich source of stories about justice meted out in an imperfect way. And uniquely it's about those prosecuting rather than defending.”
Screentime was excited about developing the show, an enthusiasm that the ABC shared. Karl believes that their interest “comes from the fact that even though all the characters want justice to be served, there are so many twists and turns, and whether the law is served is the question.”
Karl believes that in Screentime, the ABC “sees a company unafraid to go out sideways in terms of storytelling. ABC has never said this is the way it must be told… They were looking for a show that talks to a broad audience but also has something new to say about the process of justice.”
Utilizing her work in the DPP, Hilary became involved in the script department, and the team has maintained a good relationship with the NSW Office of Public Prosecutions. According to Karl, many real cases serve as inspiration for the series, providing springboards for stories and what the characters have to deal with.
The scripts were about a year in the making, and Karl came on board with the project in September 2010. They hit the ground running fast to arrange the sets, contracts, cast and other pre-production matters. It concentrated the mind, “rather than being stuck thinking will it happen or won’t it? There’s always been a momentum behind the show.”
Jane Allen is on board as script producer, and is a former solicitor herself. Greg Haddrick and Jane Allen have been writing the scripts, along with Kylie Needham, Tamara Asmar, Blake Ayshford, Justine Gillmer, Peter McTighe, Chris Hawkshaw, Stuart Page and Sam Meikle. The writers generally had an interest in criminal law to begin with, and Screentime as a company has a history of successfully mining case histories in criminal law.
“The big difference is that [Crownies] is not about defence. We’re dramatizing what's called The Dark Side. That’s a really big change.” Also, the young solicitors don’t spend much of their time in court. Instead, “it’s about liaising with victims, whether cases make it to court, whether witnesses turn up. It’s the background to the success and failure of cases.”
Crownies is largely set in the office and the homes of the young solicitors. The production team have leased houses to use as locations and have a complete studio set in Auburn.
The directors for the show are Tony Tilse, Cherie Nowlan, Chris Noonan, Grant Brown, Lynn Hegarty, Garth Maxwell and Jet Wilkinson. Each block (two episodes) will be shot over twelve days, and they expect to shoot “pretty much until August.”
The casting was done through Ann Fay and Leigh Pickford at Maura Fay Casting, with Bruce Young on board as DP and Tim Ferrier as Production Designer. Karl is Series Producer, with Lisa Scott and Jane Allen as Co-Producers. Post is being done at The Lab, and sound at Tracks Post. At ABC, those involved include Carole Sklan, ABC’s Head of Fiction, as well as Greg Waters and David Ogilvie.
Karl had previously worked with Lisa on A Model Daughter: The Killing of Caroline Byrne where she was line producing and Karl producing, as well as The Cut. He worked with Jane as part of the script department at McLeod’s Daughters and he’s worked with Greg Haddrick several times, including on Model Daughter.
Karl’s worked in industry as a director for a long time, with credits including PAWS, City Homicide, Sinbad and the Minotaur, K9, McLeod’s Daughters, Farscape, All Saints, The Flying Doctors and Heartbreak High. Although he had previously produced The Gerry Connolly Show, his move into producing came while working on McLeod’s Daughters. He explained that “it transpired that the producers were moving onwards and upwards and they asked me whether I’d be interested.” He happily took the role.
He holds to the belief that the Australian industry needs “more producers who come from directing and writing” - the creative side rather than the production management side.
He believes that his experience directing has made him a better producer in terms of assisting the various departments. “Many times I’ve had to put my other hat on,” and expects to be shooting a pile of stock footage.
He’s found that “With a producer hat on, you have a sort of macro view, while as a director you have a micro view. The key thing, the hardest thing of course, is getting the best cast, crew and scripts.”
Originally from Perth, Karl attended AFTRS and although based in Sydney, for the last 10 years the one place he worked least in was Sydney. He therefore fought very hard for the show to be made there. With many of the key locations in Parramatta and the city council being very supportive and keen, his quest was successful. Plus, he can ride his bike to the Canal Road offices which he is rather chuffed about.
The show is likely to begin screening mid-year.
Anne Richey After four years on staff at Screen Hub, Anne Richey is working on her own scripts, far from phones and daily deadlines.