Screen Australia reveals passion for the supernatural in sector

Twenty-two projects, a million dollars and a surge of ghost stories will keep the development wheels churning to build the national slate for 2021.

Ghosts, ghosts and more ghosts. Or horror, or genre-bending. Or comic cannibalism. While screenwriters have pushed to abandon realism for some time, it looks very much as if Netflix has turned our collective minds inside out. Who would have expected a revolt against our aggressively materialistic and intuitively wholesome society?

What is more, Screen Australia continues to back smaller and early career projects, in blatant defiance of the old-fashioned rules about needing a viable market.

The latest announcement of development from Screen Australia includes funding for seven features, 16 television dramas and five online projects.

The online projects tend to be more psychologically driven, interpersonal projects that rely on performances rather than flights of imagination. 

Read: Sonia Bible and the Witch of Kings Cross

You can read Screen Australia’s summary of some key projects here, but we will flick through to the actual lists. Where is the creative energy going? We are watching the rise of podcasts as either a form of development or a source of adaptation. That could be the most important message of the whole list.

Feature films

Premium

APARNA
Felix Media Pty Ltd
Genre
 Drama, Musical
Director
 S. Shakthidharan
Writers S. Shakthidharan, Jeyasingham Jeyamohan (Tamil dialogue)
Producer John Maynard
Executive Producer Bridget Ikin
Synopsis Separated during Sri Lanka’s civil war, a mother and son are re-united in modern day Sri Lanka.

DRUM WAVE
Carver Films Pty Ltd
Genre 
Folk Horror 
Director Natalie Erika James
Writers Natalie Erika James, Christian White
Producers Anna McLeish, Sarah Shaw, Natalie Erika James
Synopsis A young pianist, Yumi, is forced to confront her fear of motherhood when she marries her fiancé, Hiroshi, on the remote island he grew up on: a community with bizarre fertility rituals.

FINNEGAN’S FIELD
Sweetpotato Films Pty Ltd
Genre 
Horror
Director Sian Davies
Writer Victoria Madden
Producers Victoria Madden, John Molloy
Synopsis Finnegan’s Field is a dark fairytale about a twelve-year-old girl, Madrigal Barker, who mysteriously disappears for three years, only to return home just as mysteriously – but not quite the same…

THE CONCERT
Matchbox Pictures Pty Ltd
Genre
 Drama
Writer Penelope Chai
Producer Sheila Jayadev
Executive Producers Sophie Raymond, Bob Connolly, Helen Panckhurst
Synopsis A gifted violinist is forced to confront deep family wounds in her journey to perfect the solo at the school’s annual music concert, spearheaded by the formidable head of music. Inspired by the acclaimed documentary Mrs Carey’s Concert.

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ONE MORE SHOT
Truce Films
Genre
 Comedy Drama
Director Nicholas Clifford
Writers Alice Foulcher, Gregory Erdstein
Producers Virginia Kay, Jim Wright, Elise Trenorden, Emma Roberts
Executive Producer Virginia Whitwell
Synopsis NYE 1999. Minnie discovers a bottle of time-travelling tequila that takes her back to the start of the night, giving her a bottle’s worth of shots to change the course of her millennium.

SMALL SPACES
Triptych Pictures Pty Ltd
Genre 
Thriller
Writer/Director Shelly Lauman
Producers Kristian Moliere, Rebecca Green
Synopsis When Tash Carmody was eight, she thought she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away at a carnival, but no one believed her and she’s been traumatised ever since. Now seventeen, Tash starts to see Sparrow again, as disturbing memories of her childhood resurface. Determined to find out what happened the night of the carnival, Tash befriends Mallory to try to piece together a nightmare that won’t go away.

WENT UP THE HILL
Causeway Films HQ Pty Ltd & Pop Film Ltd
Genre 
Psychological thriller
Director Samuel Van Grinsven
Writers Samuel Van Grinsven, Jory Anast
Producers Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton, Vicky Pope
Synopsis Jack ventures to remote New Zealand to attend the funeral of his estranged birth mother and meets her grieving widow. But his search for answers becomes dangerous when his mother’s ghost returns to inhabit both her son and widow, instigating a life-threatening nocturnal dance between the three of them.

Television

Premium

CRITICAL INCIDENT
Matchbox Pictures Pty Ltd
Genre 
Drama, Crime
Writer Sarah Bassiouni
Producer Sheila Jayadev
Executive Producer Debbie Lee
Synopsis When a civilian bystander dies during a police pursuit, the lives of the pursued and the pursuer are thrown into turmoil. 

DUCK TURPIN
Cheeky Little Media Pty Ltd
Genre 
Action adventure, Comedy, Science fiction
Creator Darren Keating
Writer Ray Boseley
Producer Celine Goetz
Executive Producers Patrick Egerton, David Webster
Synopsis The most important duck in history, yanked into the future by time-travelling rebels on a mad scramble to the ends of the Earth… And the beginnings of something big!

FIVE BEDROOMS SEASON 3
Hoodlum Active Pty Ltd
Genre
 Comedy, Drama
Writers Christine Bartlett, Michael Lucas, Mithila Gupta
Producers Nathan Mayfield, Tracey Robertson
Executive Producers Nathan Mayfield, Tracey Robertson
Synopsis In season three the weight of the world bears down on the house, triggering both painful betrayal, and powerful new shows of strength and commitment— but will they prevail as a collective?

PRINCESS PRIME MINISTER
Timothy Bain
Genre 
Family
Writers Tim Bain, Charlotte Rose Hamlyn
Synopsis In a fabulous mythological medieval realm, a democratically-elected princess solves fairytale-style crises, as she blossoms into a strong, wise and empathetic leader.

DEVOTION.
Lingo Pictures Pty Ltd
Genre
 Drama
Writers Matt Cameron, Liz Doran
Producer Jason Stephens
Executive Producer Helen Bowden
Synopsis Devotion. is a drama about a high-profile family, as they grapple with morality, money, and family loyalty.

SNOWBALL
Matchbox Pictures
Genre
 Comedy, Drama
Writers Hannah Carroll Chapman, Romina Accurso, Briar Grace-Smith
Producer Warren Clarke
Executive Producer Penny Chapman
Synopsis Inspired by the hit ABC podcast Snowball, this is the story of how a swank Yankee con-artist scammed a naïve New Zealand family and what happened when they went in pursuit.

THE RICH MAN’S HOUSE
Fremantle
Genre
 Thriller, Mystery, Science fiction
Writer Alexei Mizin, Ryan van Dijk
Executive Producer Nat Lindwall
Synopsis When an avalanche traps Rita in an eccentric billionaire’s mountaintop mansion, she must confront the ghosts of her past to escape a powerful supernatural foe. Fusing Agatha Christie with Stephen King, and based on Andrew McGahan’s final novel, The Rich Man’s House is a series about wealth, ego and mankind’s fractured relationship with the natural world.

TOGETHER
Princess Pictures Pty Ltd
Genre
 Horror
Writer/Director Michael Shanks
Producers Laura Waters, Mike Cowap
Executive Producer Emma Fitzsimons
Synopsis After trading their social lives for a mortgage, a not-so-young-anymore couple move to the country to begin the next step of their strained relationship. Whilst settling into their new home, they contract an unexplainable illness – an infection that causes intense physical horrors the further apart they are. Now to survive they must separate before they become a single, new being – unable to determine where one of their bodies ends and the other’s begins.

TRADECRAFT
Rainfall Entertainment Pty Ltd
Genre
 Action adventure, Drama
Writers Maryam Master, Felicity Packard, Greg Haddrick
Producer Louisa Kors
Executive Producer Greg Haddrick
Synopsis In 1948 Dick Helms and Eloise Page joined the CIA as young idealists, determined to collect the Intelligence needed to plan targeted operations that would soon see the entire world filled with enlightened, peaceful, American-led democracies. So what happened?

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ANDREW THE BIG BIG UNICORN
Pirate Size Productions Australia Pty Ltd
Genre 
Family
Writer Dan Nixon
Producer Bryony McLachlan
Executive Producer Avrill Stark
Synopsis A creative and sweet hearted rhinoceros named Andrew grapples with growing up a bit different to his peers.

SEEN (formerly BROWN SKIN GIRL)
Roadshow Rough Diamond
Genre 
Comedy, Drama
Writers Ayeesha Ash, Emily Havea, Angela Nica Sullen, Sopa Enari, Jessica Tuckwell
Producers Dan Edwards, John Edwards
Synopsis It’s hard being mixed race in white spaces; especially when you (unintentionally) get mixed up in all sorts of drama. Follow Ayeesha, Emily and Angela as they glide (and sometimes elbow) their way through life in Sydney, as they struggle to maintain their hair and their sisterhood, dodging toxic relationships and trying not to let ‘where are you from?’ ruin their days.

OVER MY DEAD BODY
Amal Awad
Genre
 Comedy, Drama
Writers Amal Awad, Jane Allen, Kacie Anning, Adele Vuko
Synopsis A Muslim woman’s newly-independent life is disrupted by the ghost of her recently-deceased, conservative mother, whose supernatural presence is a mystery to both.

SICK TO DEATH
Everyone We Know, Rhapsody Films 
Genre Comedy, Drama
Creator / Writer Thomas Wilson-White
Producers Lizzie Cater, Alice Willison
Executive Producer Justine Flynn
Script Editor Jean Tong 
Synopsis When both of his mothers are diagnosed with terminal cancer, Chance, a self-involved queer playwright is forced to abandon his burgeoning career and return to his childhood home to become their full-time carer.

SORRY ABOUT THE MESS
Princess Pictures Animation Pty Ltd
Genre
 Comedy, Fantasy, Animation
Writer Cassie Workman
Producers Mike Cowap, Sarah Lang
Synopsis Lilly Peril, a cynical transgender punk-rocker, begins to lose her grip on reality when she is rejected by her mother. In this mind-bending animated comedy series, Lilly navigates heartbreak, new love, transition and a boss in the witness protection program in pursuit of her most honest life.

TROUBLED YOUTH
Vanessa Bates
Genre
 Comedy, Drama
Writers Vanessa Bates, Ross Mueller
Synopsis Three suburban middle-aged women reform their teenage rock band, Troubled Youth, to rage against the dying of the light.

WE ATE JEFF
Cordell Jigsaw Productions Pty Ltd in association with Tandem Media
Genre
 Comedy
Creators Nick Musgrove, Nick Russell
Director Catriona McKenzie
Writers Nick Musgrove, Nicolette Minster, Anna Barnes
Executive Producer Damian Davis
Synopsis A group of strangers survive a plane crash in the desert and reluctantly eat the dead pilot. To their surprise, they are rescued later that afternoon. They resolve to cover up their terrible secret.

Online development

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ADMITTED
2c Pictures
Genre 
Comedy, Drama
Director Mohini Herse
Writers Nina Oyama, Belinda Jombwe, Mohini Herse
Producer Jessica Murphy
Executive Producers Craig Anderson, Luke Eve
Synopsis After surviving an abusive relationship, stubbornly optimistic Caitlyn Atondo is tricked by her therapist into spending some time at a psychiatric hospital. During her stay, Caitlyn encounters an unlikely support system of colourful characters who help her come to terms with her past.

ARGUMENTS WITH MY MUM
Matthewswood Pty Ltd
Genre 
Comedy, Family
Director Jason Christou
Writers Jason Christou, Zoe Carides
Producer Lee Matthews, Naomi Mulholland
Synopsis The first-born boy of a Greek-Australian household might always be revered, but it’s his Mi̱téra (his Mama) who always knows best, or so she thinks…

DRAGON FRIENDS: DREAM KILLERS
Edan Lacey & B Jenkins & N.s Khan & Grace Rein
Genre
 Action adventure, Comedy, Fantasy
Director David Harmon
Writers Edan Lacey, David Harmon, Alexandra Lee, Michael Hing, Ben Jenkins, Simon Greiner
Producers Edan Lacey, Grace Rein, Ben Jenkins, Shakeera Khan
Synopsis When a group of friends is banned from their local trivia night, a strung-out dad must find a way to keep his splintering friendship group together. His solution: host a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

MID LIFE
More Sauce Pty Ltd
Genre
 Drama
Director Luke Eve
Writer Anna Lindner
Producers Luke Eve, Gina Carter
Synopsis A highly acclaimed London-based artist appears to have achieved the perfect life balance as mother, wife and creative, when at 48, everyone suddenly leaves her for better offers. Alone for the first time in her life, a new acquaintance, acute anxiety, is more than happy to fill every role available.

THE CASE OF THE DISPOSABLES
Dragonet Films Pty Ltd
Genre
 Action adventure
Directors Sonia Whiteman, Renny Wijeyamohan, Kate Riedl
Writers Renny Wijeyamohan, Keir Wilkins, Sonia Whiteman, Saman Shad 
Producers Karen Radzyner, Renny Wijeyamohan
Synopsis Some secrets are toxic. When her father goes missing just hours before a crucial immigration hearing, 14-year-old Priya and her rag-tag group of friends set out to find him. But when their search leads them to a local recycling warehouse, they stumble upon a living, breathing secret buried in the dark that will endanger the entire community. Now that they’ve scratched the surface, there’s no going back.

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.