One of the features of Series Mania at ACMI is that there are moderated sessions with the creators and stars of shows after their screening. I didn’t get to the Patrick Melrose Q&A because I went to an encore screening, and I ran out of my Harem screening (I left Patrick Melrose early to see this one) before the Q&A so I could get to Dead Lucky. If I’m only going to be at a festival for one afternoon, I’m going to pack in as much content as possible. ACMI recorded all of these sessions, which may appear on their podcast at a later date, but I don’t work there so all of this is guesswork. The Dead Lucky screening consisted of the premiere, followed by a Q&A featuring star Rachel Griffiths, creators and showrunners Ellie Beaumont and Drew Proffitt, and was hosted by Tara Lomax. I took notes during the session, and I’m writing them up here.
One of the first things that was said about Dead Lucky by either Ellie or Drew (and I think it was Ellie), is that it “won’t leave you feeling ripped off.” Dead Lucky was devised as a four episode miniseries, so that’s what it should do, but as one of the people who doesn’t like finales that tie up every loose end, this raised my hackles – just a little bit. More on that later.
Ellie and Drew said that in this series they wanted to subvert and experiment with genre. This is a crime thriller that focuses on characters, like Happy Valley or Killing Eve, which they cited as influences. Dead Lucky and Killing Eve were likely in production at the same time, but the amount of times that the panel mentioned the show is evidence of the impact it’s had in a few short months. Later in the session, Ellie and Drew said that they pitched the show to SBS – which is always where they’d envisioned it – around March or April 2016, which also gives an idea of the turnaround in television production.
The next thing they said is that crime is about complicity from different people. In Dead Lucky this isn’t limited to the criminal – they know who they’re looking for – but also the store owners, the international students who are being underpaid at the store, as well as bureaucratic systems, and the misogyny of Grace’s boss. It all sounds very The Wire.
Rachel Griffiths was involved in the project from the production stage, which is unusual for an actor. She was able to give notes on scripts, which is something that she wasn’t used to. She kept pushing Ellie and Drew for a thesis or logline for the show, which is difficult when they’re trying to subvert genre, describing the show as a post-noir post-black comedy (that’s what’s in my notes).
Something that was really important to Ellie and Drew was that the Sydney in the show reflect Sydney’s real life multiculturalism. They pushed for all the characters to have equal time, which is what makes the series work. We see Charlie’s family, as well as Mani and his girlfriend’s (I cannot find her character name anywhere, I should’ve written it down) overcrowded sharehouse. In addition to dealing with the pressures of being international students, they’re faced with pressures from their families about being in a relationship with someone outside their culture.
Ellie and Drew also spoke about making Sydney a character in their show. While I think the location is central to the story, saying it’s a character in the show is a bit much. It’s a phrase that’s gained traction since The Wire, and it’s become a phrase I’m a little sick of hearing. I haven’t seen the other three episodes, so I might feel different at the end of the series.
From that point there was discussion about the differences between film and television. Rachel Griffiths mentioned that the way television is made has changed, and there’s a lot more focus on the director than there used to be, which is a good thing. It would take an entire essay to unpack that statement, but she has a point. Television has for so long been an inferior medium that we now consider great television to be ‘cinematic’. On the other hand, I think television is a great medium for telling stories about characters because there’s not that kind of time in a feature film, which Ellie and Drew said was the reason they were drawn to television as a medium. Shows that came up in this part of the discussion were Killing Eve (again), as well as Big Little Lies, which was directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who also directed all of HBO’s Sharp Objects (which I love).
Someone in the audience asked if the rise in reality programming has made it difficult for Ellie and Drew to get jobs, which they answered in the negative. They did say however, that it’s becoming more difficult for emerging writers to break into the industry.
The discussion moved to the topic of adaptations, given television’s fondness for adapting books – all the other shows I’ve mentioned here were originally books, even The Wire was inspired by creator David Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, based on the year he spent with homicide detectives in the Baltimore Police Department. Television executives are more likely to commission an adaptation than an original work because books already have an audience. Ellie and Drew said that this makes them worry that we’ll lose the capacity to plot and write original stories.
The final question was whether the show will continue beyond the miniseries. Ellie and Drew said that they had sold the rights to the show in the United States to Sundance’s streaming service (which was news to Rachel), and it depends how it’s received in foreign markets. It ends well so there’s no issue if it doesn’t continue, but they’re happy to keep going if they get the opportunity (and all the actors are available – Yoson An is in Disney’s live-action Mulan remake). Rachel liked this idea because she wants a franchise.
- Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets was also adapted into NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Streets. There’s a lot of crossover. I’m going to need to reread some of my television history books to figure this out in my head.