Fat Cow Motel: articles

Julie Muller and children

FAMILY affair… Harrisville hairdresser Julie Muller, 33, who stars in the interactive Fat Cow Motel series alongside her brood of children, Hayley, 2, Dean, 6 and Amy, 11. The series was filmed in the south-east Queensland town.

Comedy series turns town into cash cow

DON'T be surprised if Thursday nights are a little quiet in Harrisville.

Residents of the tiny town south of Ipswich will most likely be glued to their TV sets trying to catch glimpses of themselves in the new ABC series, Fat Cow Motel.

The interactive comedy series was filmed over 13 weeks in the town and the production transformed many local landmarks and used plenty of townsfolk as extras.

The Fat Cow Motel experience was a family one for Harrisville hairdresser Julie Muller, 33, who starred alongside her brood of children, Amy, 11, Dean, 6, and Hayley, 2.

"The film crew and all the producers were fantastic to work with and most of the locals didn't mind that they had to be stopped at different intervals when they wanted to come through town," Mrs Muller said.

Co-producer of the series Nathan Mayfield said they deliberately wanted to get the locals involved in the production to encourage them to embrace it as their own.

"We paid them just as if they were extras, but I think it was more about allowing this town to own this TV show," he said.

"They were completely involved and when we were in Harrisville, we used to use the local hotels for catering and we begged and borrowed so many different pieces of farm equipment. It was amazing."

Neil Fergusson, manager of the Royal Hotel, which was transformed into the Fat Cow Motel for the series, said the filming brought a real buzz to the town.

And even though the first episode in the 13-part series only went to air last night, Harrisville is already reaping the benefits.

"The actual exposure was brilliant, and we've sort of only started to see the offset of that now," Mrs Muller said.

"On the weekends, people are really starting to come out and on Sunday we actually had some people come through that said they had registered on the Internet for Fat Cow and wanted to see where it was filmed."

The series invites viewers to solve a mystery each episode based on clues given and sought from the website www.fatcowmotel.com.au or via e-mail, SMS or iTV (on AUSTAR's ABC channel).

Fat Cow Motel is on ABC TV Thursday nights from 9.30.

By Emma Chalmers
Picture: Suzanna Clarke
July 11, 2003
The Courier Mail

the Big Udder

Fat Cow Motel's country setting wouldn't have been complete without its own 'big thing'.

An udder mystery

Tune in, log on and try to solve the weekly puzzle on the ABC's new interactive series, Fat Cow Motel. Judy Adamson reports.

As you travel north, Big Things start to happen in the name of tourism. So it's no wonder the makers of the ABC's interactive whodunit series Fat Cow Motel decided their fictitious Queensland town wouldn't be complete without the Big Udder.

"We thought it was appropriate Fat Cow had its own monument, like every small town, so of course we had no option but to build the Big Udder," says Nathan Mayfield, who created the series—and the udder—with his business partner Tracey Robertson.

"We came into this little town called Harrisville, 70 kilometres west of Brisbane, and said, 'We're going to do this series about a dying country town and we want to do it here—is that all right with you?' And we literally took over the place for three months."

Fat Cow is also the home of a weekly mystery, with the first centred on iconic rock legend Rory Toogood, who—like Elvis—died in 1977, leaving behind legions of distraught fans. Much to everyone's surprise he reappears, and dies again, in the Fat Cow Motel, but not before making a farewell video for his fans. Toogooders from around the globe descend on the town—and the Fat Cow Motel in particular—providing welcome revenue for its owner, Cassie (SeaChange's Kate Atkinson). But then suspicious journalist Jack Green (Brendan Cowell) starts to sniff around and the plot, as they say, thickens.

Creating an interactive TV whodunit isn't an entirely new concept. The forgettable Cluedo asked its Australian studio audience to solve a weekly murder and in 1985 we watched Murder in Space, a one-off television mystery that challenged viewers to figure out which member of a Russian-American space station team had bumped off a fellow astronaut.

The difference with Fat Cow is that it's ongoing and each of the 13 half-hour episodes is self-contained and pre-shot.

The solution to one puzzle is shown the following week, just before you're presented with the next one, so people only interested in watching their TVs will still find out what's going on.

Those, however, who want to have a crack at solving the mystery can get involved via email, the web and SMS. They register on the Fat Cow website then get the goss on the locals at linked sites: the Fat Cow Chamber of Commerce, which introduces community members, and the local newspaper, the Fat Cow Bugle.

"This means you can be more involved with the characters—to be wanky, the 'experience'—instead of trying to squash all this stuff into half an hour of television," Mayfield says. "You might see two characters on the TV show who don't talk to each other, then find out online they're having a torrid affair. You may meet a character online four weeks before you see them on the television show."

Armchair sleuths have got seven days between each show to solve the mystery with the aid of more than 250 clues. They score points for their successes and get extra information in emails, voicemails and SMS messages from enigmatic Swedish twins Ian and Martin (former Popstars wannabes Henrik and Johan Gongsater). Audience members who register to have the show's SMS delivered to their mobile phone will also get messages TV viewers don't see.

Mayfield says the response to the show from the SMS-ing twentysomething crowd has already been "amazing … like, scary—almost that we haven't done enough. The potential is huge to really get people involved."

And just in case the first week or two of the show makes you think it's all light mystery fluff, Mayfield promises that murder will committed, and more than once, during the series. There's also a "big mystery" organised for the final week, with viewers to choose one of two possible endings to the series.

Fat Cow Motel screens on the ABC on Thursday (today) at 9.30pm.

By Judy Adamson
July 10 2003
Sydney Morning Herald

Country quirks get you involved

INTERACTIVITY is a word that has particular currency these days, but while the technology may have changed, it's long been an entertainment holy grail for those for whom sight and sound is not enough.

To be really entertaining, the theory goes, you have to feel, smell or, best of all, directly involve yourself in what's happening on the screen.

The bow-down-and-worship maven of audience interactivity is probably 1950s B-grade schlockmaster William Castle, a man who liked publicity and understood that interactive gimmicks got headlines. For the 1958 film Macabre, he handed out insurance policies for audience members who might die of fright, while for House on Haunted Hill, the same year, we had "Emergo", which involved having a plastic skeleton emerge from the screen at a particular point in the film. But Castle was just warming up: for The Tingler the following year, he had some seats in the cinema wired with buzzers to give audiences a "shock" during the frightening scenes. As icing on the cake, he also paid ring-ins to scream – the only way to kill the Tingler was to scream, you see.

Since then audience interactivity has moved to television and centred more on on having the audience vote on the outcome or attempt to solve the show's mystery.

Let the Blood Run Free (1990) was an example of the former; the daytime soap spoof starring Jean Kittson allowed the audience to vote on which of the two outcomes they'd like to see. Cluedo (1992), based on the the board game, took the latter path, as host Ian MacFadyen and the studio audience could quiz Professor Plum and the rest about their role in the large number of murders that occurred at Brindabella.

Fat Cow Motel goes for a combination of both. There's a mystery to solve in every episode, plus at the end of the penultimate episode audiences can vote for one of two alternative endings for the final episode.

But first, we should probably deal with the issue of plot. Once interactivity comes into play, considerations of having a half-decent story get ignored, if not willfully stomped on. Witness the witless TwentyfourSeven on SBS last year, which allowed viewers to vote on how they wanted the story to progress. To incorporate this, the show had a three-day turnaround – from script to air – and it showed.

What's interesting about Fat Cow Motel, however, is that if you didn't know about the interactive aspects, you wouldn't guess they were there. OK, the story is not terribly deep, but it does work as a stand-alone.

It deals with the small Queensland town of Fat Cow, whose motel claims that 1970s rock god Rory Toogood has recently expired in room 13. This would be noteworthy enough, but Toogood was supposed to have died in 1977 (a year with quite a few not really dead rock stars, if the rumours are to be believed).

City journalist Jack Green (Brendan Cowell, formerly Todd the handsome handyman on SBS comedy Life Support) starts poking around Fat Cow and also takes a shining to the Fat Cow Motel proprietor Cassie (Kate Atkinson, SeaChange's Karen Miller).

The show is quirky, which is a way of saying that it's not quite laugh-out-loud funny but it's funny enough to not be taken seriously as a drama. I was curious to see what happens next episode by the end of tonight's opener and enjoyed what I saw, so you'd have to judge it as a success.

As to the interactivity, the very cute website www.fatcowmotel.com.au which is totally in-character, has a few clues for would-be sleuths, and you can sign up to receive more via email and SMS – what are supposed to be communications between the townsfolk. Austar subscribers can also access info via the ABC's interactive features.

But even if you're not interested in participation, you can just sit back and be thankful that at least they haven't electrified your couch.

By Kerrie Murphy
July 10, 2003
The Australian

Going all the whey

VIEWERS often connect with their favourite TV characters. A new show about to air on Channel 2 takes the concept a lot farther.

Fat Cow Motel is an eclectic mix of TV comedy, SMS text messaging, e-mail and Internet surfing.

Ostensibly an off-beat love story set in the non-existent country town of Fat Cow, it is also a ground-breaking multimedia vehicle that allows viewers to be as passive or as involved in the story as they wish.

On one level the show is a stand-alone 13-part TV series in which the antics of the town's somewhat eccentric folk end in a cliffhanger mystery resolved the following week.

Those who can't wait seven days and want to know more can go online and register at the Fat Cow website.

Doing so opens the door to receiving clues to that week's mystery, delivered via e-mail, SMS, voice-mail or all three—clues that are denied to the TV viewing public.

By piecing together the titbits of information and messages from the towns "residents", participants earn points that put them in the running for prizes or unlocking yet more secret information.

The whole thing is designed to play like a game, show co-creator Nathan Mayfield, of Brisbane-based multimedia company Hoodlum, says.

Mayfield says Fat Cow Motel is designed to be a multi-layered experience in which there are many levels of involvement.

"You can just watch it, or go online and access more than 3500 pages available over the 13 weeks of the show."

Mayfield says he is loath to describe it as an "interactive drama" because of audience expectations that they can change its outcome.

The only concession to this rule is in the last episode, when viewers will be able to vote on multiple endings.

A key factor in making Fat Cow Motel work is maintaining the illusion that the town and its residents are real, Mayfield says.

So three related websites—the town's local paper, motel and chamber of commerce—contain no information such as production notes for the show.

Online visitors to the newspaper can research clues that may help them solve that week's mystery, or delve into the rich "history" of Fat Cow.

E-mails or voicemail messages may come in the form of clues or simply "intercepted" messages from one of the town's off-the wall residents.

Austar, which invested cash in the project, took "a huge leap of faith", Mayfield says.

"We basically said, 'If you give us money, we will give you something that will help manage your audiences across these different platforms (TV, phone, e-mail, Net)."

Mayfield says rather than a simple "how to", the program had to be done in an entertaining way.

"We had a lot of autonomy in the creation of the show. There are a lot of risks that go with that as well."

Though he doesn't say programs such as Fat Cow Motel are the way of the future, he does see it as testing new ground.

"It's a matter of looking at what the audience responds to. I certainly think they are ready to be involved."

Fat Cow Motel premieres tomorrow at 9.30pm on Channel 2.

By Greg Thom
July 09, 2003
The Herald Sun

Milking Fat Cow for all it's worth

Just like the quirky interactive drama Fat Cow Motel, the doe-eyed bovine languishing in the meadows of the small television town of Fat Cow isn't all she seems to be.

With her big, brown eyes and soft, dewy nose, Dolly is the face of the struggling country town - the sleepy setting for what may be the world's first multiplatform drama.

"This placid cow that languishes in the back of the shots was actually a devil," laughs Kate Atkinson, who plays the lead role of Fat Cow Motel proprietor Cassie Taylor.

"She was the biggest pain in the arse to work with. She was so temperamental, such a prima donna. Honestly, we had to have animal wranglers everywhere."

A telling moment? A clue perhaps? With Fat Cow Motel you just don't know. Peeling back the layers of the rural whodunit series reveals more twists than a chunky Twistie.

Created by Nathan Mayfield and Tracey Robertson, of Brisbane production company Hoodlum Entertainment, each episode of the 13-part drama ends on a cliffhanger mystery that the audience can solve. Answers are revealed the following week.

Although each episode contains enough clues to allow viewers to solve the mysteries simply by paying attention, extra hints are available on the show's website (fatcowmotel.com.au), by email and through mobile phone text messaging.

Viewers also can get involved in the characters' lives by intercepting their email and voicemail and sneaking peeks at the guest-book entries.

Hoodlum's novel approach to interactive television makes Fat Cow Motel's premiere on the ABC and regional pay carrier Austar a unique event.

"This is the first program of its kind for free-to-air television, and to be at the forefront of interactive programming in terms of a full-blown multiplatform event is very exciting," says ABC network programmer Sue Lester.

The series, starring Atkinson (SeaChange) and Brendan Cowell (Life Support), weaves lateral-thinking mysteries with a love story and tongue-in-cheek parody.

With the Big Udder as its main claim to fame, the former bustling dairy community of Fat Cow is in dire straits until legendary 1970s rock star Rory Toogood is found dead in room 13 of the Fat Cow Motel. The problem is that Toogood has already - and very publicly - died in Iowa in 1976.

But a fat and hirsute corpse is found with a videotaped "confession" from Toogood that he faked his earlier death, and a DNA test on a pubic hair from his underpants supports the claim. How can it be?

Joining hundreds of fans flocking to Fat Cow is nosey journalist Jack Green (Cowell), who says he can prove it wasn't Toogood who died in that room.

Dolly the cow and Norm, a screeching cockatoo caged in the motel foyer, form the basis of another of the mysteries in the series. To reveal more would spoil the plot.

Mayfield says Fat Cow Motel's design is deliberately versatile. Its multiplatform elements enhance the narrative and audience involvement, but the series also stands alone as an off-beat boy-meets-girl love story.

Those without access to other platforms are guaranteed just as rich an experience.

"We've made it that people can solve the mysteries just by watching television," he says. "It has to have a tongue-in-cheek element and we haven't taken ourselves too seriously. It's certainly not CSI."

Each week's mystery contributes to the final conundrum in the 13th episode. It is here that the audience decides whether Jack and Cassie stay together or go their separate ways.

But Mayfield has ruled out a second series.

"We always felt strongly about giving an audience a beginning and an end and setting up Fat Cow so that within the first few episodes you know what's going to happen.

"You've met the boy and the girl and it's more about coming on the journey. We made it for 13 episodes and a Fat Cow 2 would have to be a whole new range of ideas," he says.

Mayfield and Robertson have dabbled with new-media platforms for four years.

Their first venture, a short magazine-style program for the Seven Network, worked with the concept of attaching a television show to a live website.

"It was all about young people and technology. You could go to the website, check it out and get new information that was different to what you see on the television, so we were looking at how to differentiate the experience," Mayfield says. "But because we'd trained in film and television, we always knew it was never going to be about the toys, it was going to be about the technology."

It was the seed that planted the idea for an interactive drama.

"But we don't call it that because of this connotation that it is where you can alter the outcome of a series," he says.

Instead, it creates different levels of involvement for the audience without compelling an average viewer to do extra work.

Atkinson, who jokes that she has only just learnt how to use email, admits the interactive component of the show didn't appeal to her.

"When I was given the script and the possibility of an audition, it was actually the interactive multiplatform level that least appealed to me because I thought that that was a gimmick that would be driving the show," she says.

"It has such a strong script and I would hope people get involved with the characters as they would any other series rather than making a judgement that it is a multiplatform show, because if they're not interested in that it really doesn't matter."

Fat Cow Motel premieres on Thursday at 9.30pm on the ABC.

By Elisabeth Tarica
July 03, 2003
The Age

In With the Fat Cow

Fat Cow Motel is a new TV series being filmed in and around Brisbane. It also claims to be Australia's first multi-platform drama event. This means the audience will have access to the series via AUSTAR's pay-TV network, mobile phones, e-mail, physical mail and dedicated websites.

The 13-part mystery series, created by Hoodlum Entertainment, a Brisbane production company based in West End, is a love story set in a small mythical town.

The two lead roles are played by Brendan Cowell (The Monkey's Mask, Home and Away) as Jack Green and Kate Atkinson (SeaChange) as Cassie Taylor.

Johan and Henrik Gongaster, the identical Swedish twins in the second series of Channel 7's Popstars program are also regular characters in the interactive series.

Charlie Koranias, 11, an experienced young Brisbane actor, plays Ronnie.

"Ronnie's a tomboy", Charlie says.

"She doesn't have a mum, and her dad owns a store in the main street of Fat Cow."

According to Charlie, Fat Cow is a small town somewhere in Australia being shot in Harrisville, a small town 30km west of Ipswich. It's doubling as a mythical hamlet of Fat Cow.

"Ronnie lives at the Fat Cow Motel that Cassie owns", explains Charlie.

"She's (Ronnie) a pretty cool person, she wears clothes like a bikie. I got to wear my Docs (Doc Martin shoes) from Love Weights (a film recently shot in Brisbane for SBS).

"I try to get Jack out of the city. I tell him that everyone hates him. I'm not very nice to him because I think he did something bad…and made my dad go out of business. And tourists leave because of him.

"But I can't tell you any more. It's a mystery."

Fat Cow is expected to go to air later this year.

March 17, 2002
The Sunday Mail

Nathan Mayfield and Tracey Robertson

Nathan Mayfield and Tracey Robertson at last month's Milia market in Cannes

Local producers check into brave new motel

Fat Cow Motel is a 13-part Twin Peaks style mystery/thriller which producers Tracey Robertson and Nathan Mayfield are currently developing in conjunction with the PFTC and Austar Entertainment.

Described by the producers as "an enhanced programming experience"Fat Cow Motel is a unique cross-platform drama series which will be delivered to its audience not only through Austar's cable TV network but also through mobile phones, email and a dedicated web site.

Tracey says the unique element of Fat Cow Motel is that audience ’s will be able to watch the show on TV, interact with it on the Internet and receive additional episodic plot insights via email and SMS messaging.

"For example, audiences will be able to help solve the mystery of the Fat Cow Motel by getting mobile phone messages from selected characters, by receiving emails or by viewing additional footage via the show's web site, " she says.

"By providing supplementary or bonus information through these new media platforms we're driving the audience back to watching the drama. So really what we're doing with the show is using a range of media platforms to enhance the experience of the audience by allowing viewers to become participants rather than spectators. "

In addition to pushing the entertainment envelope, cross- media projects are redefining the nature of project financing as they enable producers to access alternative sources of revenue that exist outside the traditional broadcaster/distributor financing model.

Cross media projects provide opportunities for producers to deal directly with advertisers. Traditionally, advertisers go through the broadcaster and producers really don't get much of an opportunity in terms of advertising revenue and sponsorship. But the multiple platforms associated with cross- media entertainment offer producers a whole new range of partnership possibilities and provides them with their own advertising facilities, such as a web site, which gives producers the capacity to work closely with broadcasters to seek out advertising and sponsorship dollars for themselves.

"You still need to use traditional means of sourcing revenue, "says Tracey, "because it's not like we're taking a great big sidestep and raising money in a completely new and different way. But incorporating multiple platforms into a project certainly increases your options as a producer and increases your ability to get that project made. "

Tracey and Nathan created Fat Cow Motel following three years of developing interactive television content including the award-winning Override , a four-part magazine- style series of microdocs with Internet tie-ins that screened on Channel Seven.

The pair has also recently returned from the MILIA interactive content market in Cannes where they spent fours days pitching the concept of Fat Cow Motel to overseas broadcasters and distributors.

Nathan says he and Tracey have positioned themselves as leaders in the field of multi-platform drama because of their production experience and project philosophy.

"Value-adding should always be the motivating factor when it comes to multi-platforming. There are people who are creating multi- platform projects just because the technology exists and these projects are wrong and they're using the platforms as a gimmick, "he says.

"We're doing it and we'll only ever do it with our projects if it adds value to the content and the audience's experience of the program. Technology is only technology –it's only the tools. You have to build the show first and then see how you can attach the platforms and product sponsors to it. "

Nathan and Tracey are currently putting together the series bible for Fat Cow Motel which includes the development of the show's cross-platform tie-ins. If the series goes into production, Nathan says an exciting range of opportunities will open up for local writers and directors.

"The way the free-to-air playing field exists at the moment, there's only room for a limited number of producers who inevitably use writers and directors that they're familiar and comfortable with, " he says.

"The great thing about multi-platforming and cross-media entertainment is that it's enabling new players like us to enter the market. New players tend to be more willing to take risks on new people because the financial considerations of a project like Fat Cow Motel are nowhere near those that affect projects undertaken by the major free-to-air networks.

"As producers, Fat Cow Motel represents an opportunity for us make something that's original and innovative and to take ourselves and our company to the next level. But it also represents an opportunity for us to offer a new generation of Queensland writers and directors a chance to get experience and prove themselves in the world of series TV. "

PFTC CEO, Robin James says Fat Cow Motel is the Commission's first foray into the area of multi- platforming. "The PFTC doesn't provide funding for multi-media projects. The reason we're getting involved in a project like Fat Cow Motel is because it provides an opportunity for emerging producers to develop a major drama series for a cable television network which will provide a significant number of production opportunities for local writers and directors, "he says.

"Our interest is primarily in the more conventional ediums of cable TV, free-to-air TV and cinema because these are currently the dominant platforms for the delivery of drama, documentary and animation. However because of the way the industry's evolving, projects will invariably have to have cross-platform elements to them. Therefore local filmmakers will need to understand the issue of media convergence and multi- platforming and how their projects can benefit from the phenomenon. "

Edition No. 11
April–May 2001