Set Visit: The Family Law

March 9, 2018
Figured Podcast visited the Brisbane set of one of this country’s smartest TV comedies.

Born from the pages of Ben Law’s 2010 book of the same title, Matchbox Pictures developed – from a single page skeleton – a series loosely-based around the telling of Law’s story. As with all productions coming out of Matchbox, the script and production was given a deft touch so as not to tokenise the story of a Chinese family but instead allow the audience an insight or even opportunity to relate to the breakdown of a nuclear family. Following on from its success on SBS in 2016, a second series was commissioned. Now in 2018 The Family Law is wrapping up its trilogy with its third and final season.

On set in Brisbane, Law said he had always seen the natural arc of the story as being a 3-part series, a notion shared between producer Julie Eckersley and season director Ben Chessell. Despite approaching all seasons with a light touch when dealing with topical and often socially relevant issues, which are somewhat amplified in the final season, the approach to handling them on-set or in the writers’ room sees little variance. As comes across in the show itself, the integrity in which the story is told begins from how it is produced. The Family Law is indeed a story with a Chinese-Australian family at its core, but it is the telling of everyday life – well everyday Law-life – that allows this show to weave itself into the tapestry of Australian television.

For Chessell, it was no different in directing a young cast than working with established adult actors. There is almost a tenderness on set, which through the aptitude of the ensemble cast and team behind the show, gives the series its charm, so fitting of its near sepia tones. Eckersley speaks of how the intention of the show was to always make the audience laugh but to then punch them in the guts. This may sound rough for a comedy, but The Family Law has always perfected this balance, which in essence is truth. Without the pain, we’re left with an unrealistic look at life which would remove the values and purpose of the show.

Although the story and inspiration was drawn from Law, the ethos driving the authenticity is from the family within Matchbox Pictures. In particular, Sophie Miller and Kirsty Fisher, who enable the show’s integrity to flow seamlessly on the screen. Sophie worked as the showrunner and producer and added a directorial cherry in Season 2 on top of her Family Law achievements. Whilst working at SBS Independent Sophie also worked on The Home Song Stories, Tony Ayres’ autobiographical film. As a script producer with over a decade of experience behind her, Kirsty turned her talents to the page as a writer for the show.

As with anything originating from the colourful and wonderful mind of Ben Law, the last instalment is fearless in its storytelling of intimate elements without the need to shock the audience. The true beauty of The Family Law is the finesse in which the depth of Law’s introspection is bared without a hint of self-serving, instead allowing the audience to look at themselves and our culture in general.

Season 3 of The Family Law will air on SBS later in 2018.

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