Dead Gorgeous: articles

No ponies...New tween drama Dead Gorgeous gets the critics' approval.

Haunting the halls

THERE'S nary a surfer girl nor a horse-mad tween in sight in the ABC's new locally made children's drama series, Dead Gorgeous. In a rather gothic departure from the sunny settings of much Australian drama aimed at schoolgirls, this BBC collaboration, set in the gloomy halls of a co-ed boarding school, is all about the funny side of being dead.

"We acknowledged from the very beginning this was not iCarly," says executive producer Ewan Burnett, from Burberry Productions (Animalia, Sleepover Club).

"It's not a gag-driven sitcom. It allows us to get into character-given stories and it gives us so much more in terms of stories and timing."

In the spirit of Enid Blyton's Malory Towers, with a nod to Harry Potter and The Ghost and Mrs Muir, Dead Gorgeous follows the misadventures of three aristocratic English sisters, killed in a coach accident in Australia in 1861, and resurrected by the "Ghost Council" to live among the 21st-century students in the boarding school that was once their family home. The catch is, they mustn't be discovered walking through walls or making pencils levitate, or they'll be banished back to wherever it is that dead people go.

Britain-based actress Poppy Lee Friar (whose television credits include Beautiful People and A Touch of Frost) leads the ghoulish trio as prim and proper Sophie. Her sisters, dreamy Rebecca and nerdy Hazel, are beautifully portrayed by Australians Melissa Howard and Alexandra Coppinger. Familiar faces among the cast include The Saddle Club's Aisha Dee as the school's queen bitch; Tangle's Blake Davis as Rebecca's love interest; and political impersonator Gerry Connolly as kindly, bumbling Headmaster Griffiths.

"I'm just trying to be real," Connolly says during a break in filming at the Rippon Lea Estate in Elsternwick. "I have a history of doing theatrical characters rather than real people, so I'm discovering him as we go along, and trying not make him too eccentric."

As soon as the cameras roll, however, there is no taming the larger-than-life Connolly as he presides over breakfast with his charges.

Director Stephen Johnson (Yolngu Boy) says Connolly lends the right amount of comic flair. "We're trying to allow the comedy to play out through the drama," Johnson says. "We're keeping it away from slapstick. There's a really good energy on set — it's pure, it's exciting, there's an adrenalin rush with it. There's good music, beautiful looking kids, real kids of all shapes and sizes and great storytelling as well."

The script, written in Britain, combines fantasy with timeless themes of friendship and acceptance. But while the ghosts struggle to fit into their new world, combating the bullying tactics of the mean-girl gang, Burnett says entertainment is more important than "the message".

"We tend not to bang on about (moral issues) but it is about the genuineness of relationships and also, the girls acknowledge that one of the important things for them is their sisterhood, the fact that they're in this together," Burnett says. "One of the most enjoyable things about the show is that you take a teenager with a fresh pair of eyes and put them into our environment and they see things that I think the audience is going to find very funny. We've been able to have an obtuse look at our own world. I have a 15-year-old daughter and it's the kind of obtuse look I have at her world sometimes."

For second director Wayne Blair, known for his work with Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Bell Shakespeare Company, as well as short films The Djarn Djarns and Black Talk, working on a time-travelling, English-flavoured story set in Australia has been enlightening. "For me, growing up in Rockhampton in country Queensland, it's great directing a television play set in Melbourne in a private boarding school. It's furthest from me," Blair says.

"We're blessed with the three girls who play the lead roles. They're extraordinary. They're on every page and every day they do something really magical. And they're having a great time being friends here in the real world, so that's transposing across to what you see on screen."

Johnson says he and Blair have experimented with a "Caravaggio feel" to the production — an unusual effect, he says, for children's TV. "Every shot is breathing and alive," he says. "Whereas in kids' TV, everything is usually bright and fresh, we're trying to add some shade and give it some texture. It's picking up a bit on the fact that the characters are defined by darkness."

Dead Gorgeous airs weekdays from Monday at 5.20pm on ABC1, and is repeated weeknights at 8pm on ABC3 from Tuesday, April 13.

By Bridget McManus
April 01, 2010
The Age

Lady cadavers ... (from left) Alex Coppinger, Poppy Lee Friar and Melissa Howard are spectre sisters in Dead Gorgeous.

In good spirits

USUALLY if an actor picks up a script and reads their character is dead, they know they're in for a pretty boring day.

Being dead on screen is about as much fun as the real thing and involves a lot of laying about and not moving while other actors get all the good lines trying to figure out what happened. But not for Alexandra Coppinger.

Her character in the new ABC children's series Dead Gorgeous, Hazel Ainsworth, has long shuffled off this mortal coil — but that's just when all the fun starts.

After spending 150 years in limbo while they appeal their untimely death to the Ghost Council, Hazel and her sisters, Rebecca and Sophie (Melissa Howard and Poppy Lee Friar), are given a second chance at life and return to their old home, floating from room to room as ghosts who have the best of both worlds.

They can interact with all the living people that have moved in since they left but can also float through the air and walk through walls when they want.

"It takes a lot of time to walk through a wall," 12-year-old Coppinger says with a laugh.

"It seems easy but you have to walk through lasers, then go through green screens, then you have to get all these different shots and put it all together… it's a lot of work."

But it's clearly work she enjoyed.

In Dead Gorgeous, Coppinger and her co-stars show what happens when the three sisters come face-to-face with the 21st century.

There's new technology to master, new attitudes and the biggest shock of all — boys. "Well of course not for innocent Hazel, she's just 12 years old, but the older sister [Rebecca, played by Howard] is into boys and gets herself a boyfriend," Coppinger says.

"And we have to get used to using computers — at first our characters are quite scared by the thought of having to hold a mouse — but we make a lot of new friends to help us through everything.

"And really the biggest thing for them to get used to is that everyone's manners have decomposed into nothing. The sisters have to get used to a whole different lifestyle, where everything is very different… and it was all a lot of fun for us."

So much so that Coppinger admits she's keeping her fingers crossed there will be a second series of the Ainsworth sisters' adventures beyond the grave. "I'm really really hoping we get to do a second series," she says.

"I'd love to see the story through and see what happens to the sisters next."

Dead Gorgeous airs Monday at 5.20pm on ABC1.

By Scott Ellis
April 05, 2010
The Sun-Herald

Young TV audiences can't be patronised

Dead GorgeousDead Gorgeous executive producer Ewan Burnett says creatives cannot talk down to the 8 to 13-year old audience, because they have become very sophisticated.

"This audience has grown up with Harry Potter and fabulous feature film visual effects. They've seen it all and won't be talked down to," Burnett told Encore.

"Children don't need to be patronised. Dead Gorgeous respected the arts involved in creating a television show, and it's a pity that it has to be singled out as being unusual. The dumbing down of television is to the detriment of our cultures and our future," added producer Margot McDonald.

Dead Gorgeous is a co-production between Burberry Entertainment and Coolabi Productions, with support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria, and finance from the ABC, the BBC, UK distributor Cake Entertainment, and Nickelodeon Germany. The 13 episodes are currently airing on weekdays at 5:20pm on ABC 1, and will screen on weeknights at 8 on ABC3 from tonight.

The idea for the series — about three teenage sisters who died in a tragic accident in 1861 and, after 150 years stuck in limbo, return to their home to discover it's been turned into a school — was originated by Coolabi in the UK, who approached Burberry for its existing relationship with the BBC and experience in comedy/drama for the 8 to 13-year audience.

The scripts were written in the UK and the story was set in Australia and shot in Melbourne in 2009, using an Australian crew and cast — except for British actress Poppy Lee Friar.

According to Burnett, Australia is very good at creating character-driven comedy/drama for younger audiences, a genre that is distinctly different from the "gag-driven, American-styled sitcoms for kids".

In the case of Dead Gorgeous, having teenage ghosts as protagonists required visual effects to bring the stories to life, and the producers had to accept that their budget would not allow them to deliver feature VFX.

"If we tried to compete with feature effects on a children's television budget, we would have only been able to make a couple of episodes for the money.

"Our approach from the very beginning was to have two or three 'wow' effects in each episode and as many smaller effects as possible created by edits, shifts in light, unexplained prop movements and the kind of low-tech trickery which worked so well on classic series like The Ghost & Mrs Muir and Randall and Hopkirk: Deceased," said Burnett.

Burnett believes there is a 'strong market appetite" for a further 13 episodes, but a second series is not a certainty and still depends on the ratings success of the show in the UK and Australia.

Cake Entertainment has secured a number of international sales, which will be announced at MIPTV in Cannes next week.

April 13, 2010