Tripping Over: articles


Not tripping, but falling on their feet: clockwise from top left, Leon Ockenden (Callum), Kathryn Drysdale (as Lizzie), Alexandra Moen (Tamsin), Daniel McPherson (Ned), Abe Forsythe (Nic).

Mission almost impossible

First, Andrew Knight had to persuade Ten to greenlight his Aussie drama. Then, he had to get it made in two countries in record time. He speaks to Melinda Houston.

Australian drama isn't dead. It's just been resting. And waiting, it seems, for Andrew "SeaChange" Knight to pick up his pen again. Tripping Over, premiering on Channel Ten this Wednesday at 8.30pm, is the great new hope of Aussie television and the result not just of Knight's genius, but the creative, logistic and financial input of a whole mob of people (plus a certain leap of faith on the part of Ten and its head of drama, Sue Masters).

"I didn't think it stood a chance of ever getting made," Knight says with his trademark optimism.

The series, a co-production with Britain's Channel Five, was certainly a herculean labour.

"There is so much documentation, they're almost impossible to make," Knight says. "Everything's trade-weighted. It's contingent on the level of investment you have and, then, when we shot in Thailand, it's a no-man's land, so no one was prepared to pay for it. It was enormous."

The drama - a series of interwoven tales about a group of backpackers. in their 20s, and their former-hippie parents, in their 40s - was shot in half a dozen cities across three continents involving, as Knight says, a ridiculous number of beancounters and stakeholders, not to mention cast and crew.

"But it was terribly exciting: it was a genuinely big production," he says. "Not big in fees or anything, but big in terms of, like, 140 people on set. Fortunately, it doesn't feel like that when you look at it. We didn't want it to look blockbusterish. What we wanted was something that was genuinely different."

Tripping Over is different in a number of ways. For a start, most co-productions are firmly based in one country, with nominal input from another. Here, the load is shared, in everything from the cast, writers and directors to the producers and financiers. There are only six one-hour episodes, a form common enough in Britain, but almost unseen here. It's cross-generational, and, for a project of this scope and complexity, it was made remarkably quickly.

Three years ago, Knight and his co-writer and business partner, Andrea Denholm, went away for the weekend with Knight's mate, Mike Bullen (the British expat who wrote Cold Feet, among other things) to talk over an idea they had: something about travel and the difference between backpacking in 2006 compared with 1976. They thought they might be on to something so Knight took the idea to Masters.

"And she said, 'That's a terrific idea, let's do it'. The horrible thing about Sue," Knight says, "is she either likes an idea or she hates it and if she likes it, that's it. You have to go off and make the darn thing. So I gave her the most half-arsed pitch in history and she said, 'Go do it'."

"What attracted me to the project was the ideas, and the creative team," Masters says. "I also felt that, for Ten, the notion of 40-pluses as well as the younger ones was a particularly good fit.

Ten is a great place to try new ideas, but it's particularly challenging because the 16-39 audience is the most sophisticated and the most television-promiscuous and has a life on so many platforms in terms of where they go for their entertainment. So the challenges of producing dramas that have a young appeal and will also reach out to an older audience is not a stroll in the park."

Master is hoping, though, that Tripping Over will do just that.

"I'm very happy with it," she says firmly. "Very, very happy with it. That combination of Andrew's writing and Mike Bullen's observational humour is very much there. And it really packs a punch dramatically."

But, naturally, she's a little nervous, too. Australian drama has had a pretty abysmal reception in recent years. And Tripping Over gently pushes the envelope in a variety of different directions.

"It's a bit of a different form for Australia," Masters says. "I'm feeling that when I'm watching it. It's not your traditional cul de sac drama; it's not cops-and-docs.

"This is very much character-based. It's about relationships, not life and death and those high drama stakes that come from a GP or a Country Practice or a Blue Heelers. And, when I'm watching it and when I was reading it, I was aware it's a slightly different form, so that always makes you a little anxious that an audience is going to embrace it"

So far, just about everyone involved has embraced it heartily.

"Things happened spectacularly quickly," Knight says. "It just had a kind of momentum. We went to England and we'd had some interest from various networks there.

"Usually, you just go from one office to the next office and people are excited, but you end up with a very long shelf-life.

"They have a hell of a lot of their own product, for a start, but I've also had actual conversations with people over there who say, 'We're very excited about this but we're still replaying Quincy MD'."

However, not only did Channel Five (a bit of a new kid on the British TV block) appear "very excited" about it; they actually wanted to make it, and to screen it, immediately.

"Suddenly, we got an email saying, yes, we love this. Let's do it. And, all of a sudden, it became completely possible. Both ends got it, and the really great thing was both ends wanted to actually screen it as soon as it was made," Knight says.

Then can't help adding, "Of course, things can still fall over after the most promising start."

He grins. "I think it's important to look on the gloomy side."

The Melinda Houston
October 22, 2006
The Age