When the producers of Wooden Horse asked writer/star/producer Matt Okine what he would be interested in creating, he came up with a broad proposition.
Producer Richard Finlayson recalls, “He told us a story about when he toured with Denise Scott in Hong Kong. One evening they were having a drink and both had a dream to remake Mother and son Together.
“We said, ‘It’s going to be difficult, because as far as we know, many people have tried to do this before and the Creator always says no.'”
With Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald, Mother son it is, after all, often referred to as Australia’s best sitcom.
But Wooden Horse saw the ambition and met the revered creator, Geoffrey Atherden.
“The first time we met Geoffrey, we had an amazing lunch. He was charming and adorable. At the end of that lunch, he said no. But we persisted and got Matt into the discussion over a drink. Geoffrey and Matt connected right away and by the end of that meeting, we left Geoffrey with a page that Matt had written…a beautiful, contemporary, different, take on an Australian classic. Geoffrey called us and said he’d love to do it.
“Since then we have involved him every step of the way. He’s been a wonderful collaborator.”
Wooden Horse was founded in 2019 by both Finlayson, a former director of television at ABC, and producer Jude Troy, formerly of eOne and Hopscotch Films. In just over three years they produced British stole stuff for ABC, The other boy AND Revealed: The Boss for Stan and the recent release The clearing for Disney+.
Comedy of 8 episodes Mother son will screen on ABC in August with Atherden serving as a consultant as part of an “open house” invitation to the Writer’s Room.
“He was as involved in the room as he wanted, which was actually rare,” continues Finlayson. “But he came for a number of days. He’s definitely been reading the scripts all along. He gave us laser-focused notes, big rules that he had for the show. You know, from the beginning, we never laugh at Maggie, we just laugh with Maggie. This sort of thing. She had a very good sense of the fundamental dynamics that underlie that relationship. We honored them to the hilt and confronted him to make sure we were doing it.
The series also features Angela Nica Sullen as Sister Robbie, Andrea Demetriades, Catherine Văn-Davies with special appearances by Jean Kittson, Virginia Gay, Tiriel Mora, Jenna Owen, Veronica Milsom, Andrew McFarlane, Krew Boylan, Justin Amankwah and Zara Tate .
“We asked Geoffrey to comeo, but he decided against it,” says Jude Troy.
“It’s a very grounded comedy, that core relationship is crucial to it – Maggie, Arthur, Robbie are so essential, but we go beyond the kitchen. It’s a great showcase of western and southwestern Sydney.”
“It really is a wonderful evolution of the original sitcom. Not only have the characters, I guess, been reinvented for a contemporary Australia, but the form of the show has also been reinvented. There’s a little arc to the series that makes it really fun to watch. But you can also enjoy each episode individually,” adds Finlayson.
Wooden Horse is staffed by just 7 staff, based in Redfern, with a creative hub from Melbourne to Brisbane.
“It’s a very curated list. We are not a large company,” explains Troy. “We wanted to create something really special (with Wooden Horse). That fire in the belly and that joy in the heart depend a lot on what we do.
“Undoubtedly, I would say The clearing it’s a highlight of my career, not just a Wooden Horse highlight. It’s been a fantastic journey.”
After securing the rights to JP Pomare’s thriller In the clearing the race to attach key creatives had begun.
“We flew to Melbourne on basically the last plane before the first lockdown and met with JP and then Matt Cameron and Elise McCredie. Elise’s agent said, ‘Look, she’s pretty busy. I’m not sure you’ll take it. ‘ It was a Friday, and on Sunday both Matt and Elise had called and said, ‘We love it, here we go!’”
Jeffrey Walker and Gracie Otto were both attached as directors followed by a strong cast including Teresa Palmer, Miranda Otto and Guy Pearce.
“Everyone who came on that project had a clear idea of what it could be. There were no gray areas and we brought it to market, globally. We had such great interest. I mean it was competitive and it was exciting. But Disney+ was going to get it and that was an absolute.
While Wooden Horse hasn’t seen Disney+’s viewing numbers, they’re confident the show has resonated with audiences.
“They give us great feedback. They would have told us if she wasn’t doing well,” says Finlayson. “They couldn’t be happier. I think one of the hallmarks for them, obviously, aside from the performance here in Australia, which has been fantastic… is how it’s been picked up and embraced by other Disney territories around the world. When[Disney executive]Kylie Watson-Wheeler first showed the series to the team at Hulu, they loved it from the start, and she was heavily promoted on that platform. It has been in the Top 10 on Hulu. It was a real success in the United States and also in other territories of the world”.
“We have optioned JP Pomare’s next book and are working on early development on this one. I don’t want to tell you the creative team yet, but we’re very excited,” Troy confirms.
“It’s completely different, wonderful protagonists. We don’t tend to announce developments, but this is the journey we are on. And we absolutely intend to partner with Disney again and we certainly already have another project we are working on with Elise. There is certainly a great synergy with the team.”
A second season of British stole stuff with Marc Fennell is also in the works for ABC.
“We have optioned a book titled The House of Kwa which is Mimi Kwa’s memoir, a large and sprawling history of the multigenerational Chinese diaspora. It was in a writers room,” says Finlayson.
“It’s an Australian-Chinese writers’ room.
“The cloak which is Stan’s documentary, it’s always been developed as a drama, so that’s something we’re working on as well.
The immediate future is, of course, the launch of Mother son in August. No pressure.
“I think Matt is on tenterhooks,” Troy admits, “because this is IP that everyone is going to be like, ‘Well, let’s see what they made of it.’ But it’s a great world to live in. I really can’t wait for you to see it.
The Clearing is now playing on Disney+
Mother and Son, will premiere Wednesday, August 23 at 8:30 pm on ABC