For five and a half years, Tracey Vieira was CEO of Screen Queensland, overseeing a slate of diverse films and shows including Bluey, Goldstone, The Second and Dora and The Lost City of Gold. After almost six years in the post, in 2019, Vieira joined Hoodlum Entertainment, one of Australia’s most exciting production companies (Harrow, Netflix’s Tidelands, Five Bedrooms).
Founded in 1999 by Tracey Robertson and Nathan Mayfield, with bases in Brisbane and LA, Hoodlum have won Emmy and BAFTA Awards for their content, which includes the 2016 film Australia Day, a slate of VR productions, and Foxtel’s series SLiDE.
With new announcements imminent, a feature film in development, and a series with Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Productions in the works; we spoke about what Hoodlum are looking for, the major challenge of financing content in Australia, and the global opportunities for local screen producers.
You’ve worked in agency roles as CEO of Screen Queensland, as EVP International at Ausfilm in LA, and now in a production role at Hoodlum. The scripted market seems to be changing by the minute. What are funding bodies and broadcasters looking for from producers?
Screen agencies respond to what the market wants. They’re looking for us as producers to come to them with interest from broadcasters. The challenge for us as producers is the market just keeps shifting. It’s not so much what they’re looking for in terms of content, because it’s always about a great idea and understanding what the different companies want. It’s about the finance puzzle. That’s the big challenge. The Australian market is under pressure around being able to fully finance anything, it’s pretty much impossible to do so, which means you must have international money to make something work. And that means you have to have an idea that’s going to work in the Australian market but it also has to resonate with an audience beyond Australia. And I think that very much is driving us at Hoodlum in terms of the kind of content that we’re looking for and that we’re developing and making.
What is Hoodlum looking for from producers and creators?
We’re looking for returnable series. We’re looking for something that can be at least three series if not ongoing. We’re looking for things that are contemporary. Big ideas. We try not to think firstly around budget, because I think if the idea is big enough and we understand who we can sell it to, then we’ll figure out the money.
We are looking for things that have international appeal.
One of the first conversations we have if we really like an idea, if we’re passionate about a story is “where will this go?” We are more open to partnering with other producers than ever before, and particularly international producers. And again, that’s about access into multiple markets, making big ideas work and being able to access money.
Hoodlum has had a diverse, internationally appealing slate so far with shows Five Bedrooms, Harrow, Netflix’s Tidelands. What direction is the company heading going forward?
We have quite a bit in active development and more than 10 projects which have at least one broadcaster attached to them. We’ve got a fair bit that’s actively moving forward. And they’re really ambitious projects. Often, one of the things w’’re really excited about is if the project has something to say. That very much is something that drives our interest in a project. The projects we have in development are almost all series, we are doing a feature film as well. Feature films have their own challenges around how to make those here. Particularly if they’re Australian, they’re very hard to get up. We are still interested in feature films but they need to have a really compelling reason to make it, who we’re going to put in it, how we’re going to sell it.
You’ve said that you’re an advocate for embracing innovation, new platforms and for creatives to keep moving. Can you tell us about that?
We are constantly looking who we can train and how we can add more people into the writers room. We’re always looking for good ideas. One of the big challenges for us in Australia is that our writers keep moving overseas, because that’s where bigger money is, bigger opportunities. So, we have to keep developing people. I’m particularly passionate around making sure that we’ve got diversity in terms of everything that we’re doing and making sure that our stories, both in terms of writers and directors, are coming from people of diverse backgrounds. So that’s a real passion for us at Hoodlum. And I think that it’s something that you’ll see starting to really accelerate in terms of what’s coming out at Hoodlum.
You previously oversaw local filming in your roles at Screen Queensland and Ausfilm. Movie and TV production in Australia reached its second highest level yet in the last year boosted by productions such as Mr. Inbetween, The Hunting and feature Dora and the Lost City of Gold (which was shot in Queensland). What are your thoughts on the current incentives offered for Australia and are they enough to be sustainable?
It has been an incredible year. I recently talked about this with Screen Australia around the importance of actually working at capacity. We have had the big international productions but there’s also been a huge amount of local productions. And it has put pressure on us around crew facilities. From my perspective, that’s a really good thing, to have everything operating at full capacity, because that’s where we’re getting people in departments getting bumped up to Head of Department for the first time. People being given opportunities to work in production that they haven’t had before. And new facilities being built like Melbourne’s Docklands, which is building a super stage currently. I think that’s what we want to see continue, because that’s where we get growth. The big challenges for us are cuts to the ABC, who are one the biggest commissioners of content locally.
Secondly, the location incentive which has enabled production of not just the big American movies, but also shows like Clickbait and Shantaram which have Australian creators, and Mortal Kombat. We need to see that money continue. The current incentive, the $140 million location incentive uplift has almost run out. It’s going to be critical for the industry to try and get that money renewed or put in place a permanent offset. We need answers from government after all the reviews that have been done regarding outcomes. Whether that’s in terms of streaming having to make Australian content and what that’s going to look like, or whether it’s around higher regulation of commercial broadcasters. There have been a lot of conversations and questions, and people just want answers at this point. I think the longer that the government sits on it, the more tension it’s creating in the industry and pressure between the different organisations and I don’t think that’s healthy for the industry. Regardless of what that outcome is, we need to be able to have answers, and we need to have some certainty.
Is the international market getting smaller and more open to Australian producers and content because of the demand for diverse, globally relevant content such as Netflix’s Tidelands, Clickbait, Hulu’s The Other Guy?
Yes. The market has become more global. I think there’s less reluctance around hearing Australian accents. When I went to the US 16 years ago, we were making formats of Australian shows. There’s so much less of that. It is about making content that you can actually do internationally. When we sold Harrow to Hulu, they bought that as a show, not as an Australian show. They just saw that as really great content. It was a show. American show or British show, it didn’t really matter. I think as our content elevates, that’s where we need to be. Because one of the downsides at the moment is that in terms of international market and buying Australian shows, if they think it’s an Australian show, they pay less for it than they would if there was an American show. So, we need to make sure that as producers, we’re not underselling our content.
When someone sells something for less than its value, it actually has an impact on the rest of the industry and brings the price down. When we then go to that same broadcaster, they’re like, “Oh, we buy these Australian shows at this amount, so we’re going to give you that”. That makes it harder to raise money for our budgets.
So, we need producers to not give their shows away. And then we need to just make really fantastic content so that it is considered global content. It’s about fantastic Australian stories and content that is authentically us, but equally is bold enough and ambitious to sit in the international world.
Hoodlum is working on the show Shakespeare Now with Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Productions. Can you tell us about the series?
It is in development and currently being written. We’re aiming for the series to go into production in the next 12 months, and working very closely with the ABC here on that, as well as with LuckyChap overseas and our international partners. We went through a process of shortlisting from a massive list. There are some really amazing ideas in there from the treatments that have come through, which are now in the scripting process. And the talent that have come through are incredible.
Can you tell us about what else Hoodlum is working on?
We have some features on our slate. We have one we’re progressing quite quickly on. We’re onto the second draft on that one, and it’s a film we’re really excited about because it in many ways mirrors some of the recent globally successful Australian films in terms of the journey the characters go on. So, we can actually see the model of how it’s worked before. We’re looking to make it at the right budget level. It’s about understanding how the Australian market works, but equally thinking about what we will do with that outside of Australia, but making it first and foremost as an Australian film.