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TBI Interview with scriptwriter/producer James Griffin

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South Pacific Pictures' Outrageous Fortune was one of the major winners in the most recent NZ On Air funding round. A grant of almost $10 million allows for 22 more episodes of the drama series,…

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South Pacific Pictures' Outrageous Fortune was one of the major winners in the most recent NZ On Air funding round. A grant of almost $10 million allows for 22 more episodes of the drama series, which covers the trials and tribulations of a West Auckland family. The Big Idea's Isaac Davison asked executive producer and scriptwriter James Griffin about how to create and sustain a successful drama in the fickle environment of local television. South Pacific Pictures' Outrageous Fortune was one of the major winners in the most recent NZ On Air funding round. A grant of almost $10 million allows for 22 more episodes of the drama series, which covers the trials and tribulations of a West Auckland family. The Big Idea's Isaac Davison asked executive producer and scriptwriter James Griffin about how to create and sustain a successful drama in the fickle environment of local television.Isaac Davison: Is your NZ On Air grant good news for local drama?
James Griffin: New Zealand drama comes and goes - some shows work and some don't. Because there are so few of them, and because they're often quite high profile and high cost, if one doesn't work and gets cancelled, it is a big deal.

On the other hand, Outrageous Fortune has rated well and done well critically. Being called back for a third season can't hurt local drama. It is unusual for a drama to go to a third or fourth series - Mercy Peak was the last hour-long episodic drama to get four seasons.

The cost per episode is going up, getting more expensive all the time. And 22 episodes is a big, daunting order. But we believe we have enough material to fill those 22 hours. There is plenty of life in these characters yet.

What is the criteria for NZ On Air funding? Is it based solely on ratings?
Several factors come in to play. Firstly, you have to have the will of the network to support a project. The network determines what it wants, and agrees to put up its share of the funding. With Outrageous Fortune, the good ratings and critical feedback, combined with the buzz around the show, helped acquire the new grant.

When a project is new, there is much more lobbying involved. The network lobbies NZ On Air to prepare them for the fact that they will be asking for a few million for, say, a new drama series.

At this point you generally have development funding and have completed some material, including story outlines. Once you apply for a grant, NZ On Air employs script and budget assessors, and gets independent qualitative assessment. A feasibility study is also undergone to see if your proposed budget is feasible. And because you are asking for a lot of money, you often have to answer questions from the board.

Then, it's simply a yay or a nay.

You are one of the lucky ones to acquire funding. How fair is the process?
Everyone plays their cards close to their chest so it's difficult to know if any projects have been rejected for funding. Most projects that jump through all the hoops, and go through the required process, would be very unlucky to be rejected.

Are you planning to market the Outrageous Fortune overseas?
Australian TV has picked the series up: Channel Nine will premiere the first series in December. It's very unusual for Australian networks to pick up New Zealand dramas. It's a tough market to break, I'm not sure why. Perhaps they don't like our accents?

Outrageous Fortune is already broadcasting on ABC Satellite channel into Asia, and Living TV in the UK, which is the channel that broke Kath and Kim.

Was the content influenced by UK's Shameless?
No, it wasn't. It's natural to compare it to Arrested Development and The Simpsons, with their dysfunctional family centrepiece. But I wasn't aware of Shameless until halfway through producing the first series of Outrageous Fortune.

What traits make the series successful locally and abroad?
It's unlike anything else on at the moment. It's in a different vein from the cops and lawyers shows, and the fact that it is a family-based show helps it stand out. It's well-paced, with a brash, unapologetic story-telling style. It's a wonderful and rare coming-together of many traits - from writing through to directing and acting and production.

What's in the pipeline for South Pacific Pictures?
Twenty-two hours of Outrageous Fortune! Aside from that, we have a feature film called Be Very Afraid, based on the story of one man taking on the Inland Revenue Department. We are also co-producing a television feature starring Martin Clunes, about a museum curator who ends up in a Maori Village up North.

Image: South Pacific Pictures' Outrageous Fortune.

29/11/06

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

30 Nov 2006

The Big Idea Editor

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