Dangerous: articles


Cast members from the TV series Dangerous on FOX 8 (from left) Nicole da Silva, Vico Tahi, Paul Pantano and Khan Chittenden.

Wheel of fortune

As the demographic heart of Sydney creeps steadily westward, local drama has been slow to catch up. Television dramas tend to be set in the inner city, by the sea or in the outback; the suburbs - where most people actually live - rarely get a look in. That's set to change with the launch next week of Foxtel's drama Dangerous, in which Sydney's east and west collide spectacularly.

Dangerous, from the producers of Love My Way, follows an ambitious political staffer, Donna (Brooke Satchwell), who is determined to get the real story behind a spate of ram raids in the south-western suburbs. Stonewalled by the detective leading the investigation (Joel Edgerton, in his first local television appearance since The Secret Life of Us), Donna heads west to dig around herself. Before long she stumbles across the gang behind the raids and falls for its charismatic leader, Dean (scene-stealing Khan Chittenden).

Donna is soon out of her depth, seduced by Dean and his outlaw swagger. Unfortunately, she has chosen a bad time to mix it with these miscreants as they've recently made some big mistakes. As creator and producer John Edwards puts it: "You know it's all going to end in tears and it does but in a very interesting and quite exciting way."

From the ram raid that opens the show and the dazzling credit sequence that follows, the show's tone is set. It's all roaring engines, screeching tyres and obscenity-laden dialogue, set to a furious rap soundtrack. There are a few holes in the plot but, with such momentum and energy, the only option is to suspend disbelief and hold on for the ride.

"It's kind of like The Fast and the Furious meets The Secret Life of Us," Edwards says. "That sounds a bit silly, because the politics are quite serious and its moral positioning is quite deliberate. You see it mostly from the point of view of the villains, which is a bit unusual.

And I hope that in these politically conservative times there's a bit of a hunger to see things from the point of view of the naughty ones."

At the heart of Dangerous is the ill-fated romance between Donna and Dean and the collision of cultures it represents. This cultural clash extends to the key creative partnership behind the show - head writer Fiona Seres and writer-co-director David Caesar. Seres is best known for her work on Love My Way, an introspective relationship drama set in the eastern suburbs, while Caesar is an uncompromising champion of the west, setting his film Idiot Box there a decade ago.

"David and Fiona are a very odd combination," Edwards says. "They have huge respect for each other but they see nothing the same way. Every now and then you get a bump but that kind of dialectic is what the show drives off."

Seres says she was apprehensive about working with Caesar. "I was like, 'He does these sort of shows all the time; what am I doing here?' But I think it was probably a really good mix - him being so within that genre usually and me having to learn about it."

As part of her research, Seres spoke to kids involved in ram raiding and drove around areas such as Macquarie Fields and Punchbowl. "Talking with these kids, it's about adrenaline and the fun they have from that," she says. "It's really quite addictive and it's hard to let that go. I understand that adrenaline stuff."

Seres, who lives in the eastern suburbs, was struck by the vibrancy of some of the areas she visited. "Punchbowl is just so beautiful and alive, which I think you can kind of see in the show."

The western suburbs setting was one of the factors that convinced Edgerton to take on the project, despite some wariness about returning to series television. Born in Bankstown, Edgerton spent time as a child around Parramatta and Parklea and studied drama at the University of Western Sydney. "When you grow up out there, you know how much car culture dominates," he says. "[Sometimes living in those areas] you have so little in your life ... that speaks of who you are. For the young guys out there, cars is one of those things.

"I think it's a real good thing that the show shows how much cultural diversity is out there. There's a line in the show from Donna saying that, when you drive out somewhere like Punchbowl or Bankstown, it's like going down a rabbit hole - you go through this tunnel and you emerge at the other side and the landscape and the atmosphere and culture are so dramatically different and it's so true."

The tunnels along the M5 freeway are something of a motif in Dangerous - a physical manifestation of the cultural chasm between east and west. This is accentuated by the show's distinctive visual style. Scenes in the east were shot with washed-out colours and almost no horizon, while those in the west used bright colours and lots of horizon. "It's quite deliberate visually how separate the worlds look," Edwards says.

A lot of thought went into the look of Dangerous and the results are impressive. It is almost cinematic, despite its relatively small budget. In fact the look is a direct result of the budget constraints, which forced Edwards and his team to experiment with technology. "I think you're better sometimes trying to maximise your resources rather than just do things in the same way," he says. "This show was born out of that kind of need; to try to use new technology in a different way."

Dangerous was shot by a small crew using lots of tiny high-definition cameras. "We're trying to shoot an action show as if we had a documentary crew," Edwards says. "It's like a guerilla unit. We're able to move smaller, lighter, faster."

Shooting with multiple cameras gives the show its distinctive, quasi-documentary feel and frantic energy but working in new ways inevitably creates challenges. Scenes were shot in one or two takes and the actors didn't know which footage would be used at any given time. "They had one bite at it and whatever they did was going to get captured," Edwards says. "Joel, for example, is very aware of whether he's in close up or not and he tailors his performance accordingly but you can't do that."

Edgerton agrees it was a challenging show to shoot but says he loved the sense of momentum. "You've got to be prepared for it when you walk onto set," he says. "But if you've got it in your head when you arrive on set that you've got to just be there and get ready and make sure there's a performance there straight away, then it's a really great way of doing it."

It was challenging not only for the actors. An unintended consequence of this way of filming was that the episodes came up short in the editing suite. "We've all shot episodes that have been a minute or two short before," Edwards says, "but we've never shot something that's been 25 per cent short. As soon as you started making it work, it was just short."

With filming well under way at this stage, the producers and writers had a problem on their hands. No one wanted to re-edit the episodes to run slower, as they all agreed the show looked great. The only solution was to write 10 minutes of extra material for each of the eight episodes and fast.

"That was terrifying and devastating," says Seres, who at the time was also working on scripts for Love My Way and Foxtel's coming brothel drama Satisfaction. When I saw the [original edit], I thought it was unreal. I was like, 'Oh, no - anything you put in there is going to slow it down.' I was so scared that it would be padding."

Everyone agreed the character who could afford to be fleshed out was Edgerton's detective and the best way to do that was to give him an offsider. So Jack Finsterer was cast virtually on the spot and Seres was put to work. "I wrote it that afternoon and the next day they were shooting it," she says. As Edwards puts it: "Our guerilla philosophy was really applying to every level of the thing."

It was a fortuitous decision. The scenes between Edgerton and Finsterer have real poignancy and provide a satisfying counterbalance to the action sequences that make up much of the show. They fit seamlessly, giving no indication of their last-minute conception.

What these scenes and Dangerous as a whole demonstrate is that taking risks pays off and, increasingly, pay television is providing an environment for writers and producers to take those risks. Dramas don't tend to be commissioned for free-to-air television unless they have broad appeal, hopefully generating good ratings and a decent return on investment. Shows with broad appeal, however, can also be bland, offending no one but inspiring no one either.

Subscription television is not so driven by ratings and can afford to air drama that is targeted and risky. Dangerous, for example, is specifically aimed at FOX8's young, male-skewed audience, just as Love My Way was conceived as appealing to a slightly older, female-skewed audience.

What Love My Way demonstrated, however, was the hunger among viewers for original storylines, moral ambiguity, complicated characters and edgy performances. It resonated with a wider audience than was anticipated and went on to become the benchmark for quality drama in this country. Hopefully, Dangerous will achieve the same thing, encouraging others to throw away the rule book and give Australian drama the kick up the backside it so sorely needs.

Dangerous premieres on FOX8 on January 16 at 7.30pm.

By Greg Hassall
January 8, 2007
The Sydney Morning Herald