Fireflies: articles

Out of the big smoke

FIREFLIES is the latest in a long line of TV dramas to look at Australia’s “everyday heroes”—in this case, Rural Fire Service volunteers.

The series explores the lives of rural firies in Lost River, population 487. There is Backa, the RFS captain, a decent bloke who is having trouble at home. Lill, the station’s latest recruit, is new to town. And Fifi, the youngest member of the team, is having a baby with Backa’s brother Joey.

Fireflies is the centrepiece of Aunty’s 2004 line-up, and the cast is still putting in 16-hour days in 40°C heat to get the first series in the can. While the conditions may have tested a lesser luvvy, Jeremy Sims (Backa) isn’t complaining.

“I think it comes with the territory when you’re one of the leads in a TV drama,” Sims says.

“We do long, hard days, but I know I’d much rather be doing this than working on the back of a garbage truck.”

The NIDA graduate got his first break on Chances—a shortlived series that raised eyebrows with its risque storylines and gratuitous nude scenes. Since then Sims has carved out a career in the theatre and film, and says he waited for the right project before returning to the small screen.

“There isn’t a lot of quality Australian drama around at the moment, so it’s a great opportunity,” he says. “I’ve been offered Police Rescue-type shows before, and they haven’t appealed to me, but this one is 80 per cent drama and 20 per cent action.

“It really revolves around people in a small country town, and I think it’s dealing with what it means to be Australian at the moment.”

Sims is readying himself for the broadcast and what it entails.

“I’ll tell you when the show goes to air, and people are calling me Backa in the street,” he says with a laugh.

Sims says the cast and crew make the job “relatively painless”, and he is working alongside Libby Tanner, a friend from way back. The two-time Logie winner plays Lost River’s newest resident, Lill, and Tanner says she was ready for a change of scenery after five years on All Saints.

“It’s refreshing, and because we’re filming six months on, six months off, there is time to have a life, whereas with All Saints, it just went on and on and on—it was never-ending.”

The show is similar to series like The Flying Doctors and Police Rescue, but Tanner says Fireflies offers a “different take”.

“The hospitals, police beat, the courtroom—that’s where the drama is, but I don’t think this one has been done before,” she says.

“We’re not focusing on a new fire every week, it’s more about people and the community.

“When I first heard about this project, I thought, ‘oh no—not another quirky Australian drama’, but this is something more.

“These characters aren’t stereotypes and this isn’t formula TV—not everything is spelt out for the audience—they have to work a little bit.”

Sims says the script was instrumental in attracting a top-notch cast and crew.

“I think the writing is the reason that most of us are doing it—we have the best people in the country working on this show,” he says.

Sims is chuffed to be working at the ABC, which he describes as “a national icon”. “There is a different culture here, and with Fireflies I think we’re enjoying the best of both worlds,” he says.

“It’s a co-production with Southern Star, which has had some big commercial successes, and the ABC which is very much concerned with the show being an artistic success.”

Fireflies presented Tanner with an opportunity to work at the national broadcaster after years on commercial TV.

“Just like anything else you’ve got to get it in the can by the end of the day, but there is a lot of passion here and a desire to make a really good product,” she says.

Both actors spent a few weeks learning the ropes with officers from the NSW Fire Brigade and Rural Fire Service, and Sims says he has learnt to give a pretty good impression of an experienced firie. “I’ve been told by the RFS guys that I sound just like a bossy RFS captain so I must be doing something right,” he says.

“The firies are always with us when we do the big burns, but the fires are real, and the look of fear on my face is real too.”

Tanner says she was willing to learn, but cheerfully admits she wouldn’t be any good in an emergency.

“It’s similar to All Saints—I knew how to take your pulse and that’s about it—after five years I still had no idea what I was doing.” she says.

“But we spent some time with the firies learning how to roll out hoses and all that kind of thing, and they love the idea that we’re shooting a show about them and telling their stories.”

Sims says the RFS officers who work on the show have watched the pilot, acting as armchair critics.

“There are thousands of people connected to the RFS, and I think they will all be tuning in, even if it’s just to point out everything we’re doing wrong,” he says.

Although the show is set in a small rural community, the Canberra and Sydney fires showed that it can hit anywhere, anytime.

“It is a very smart show,” Sims says. “I was driving back from Broken Hill after Christmas and I could see the smoke from the fires in the north.

“It just struck me that I was going back to shoot the very same thing—there is a definite sense of synchronicity.”

 Fireflies, ABC, February 8, 8.30pm and following Saturdays 7.30pm

By Louise Crossen
Janaury 22, 2004
The Courier Mail