The idea of 20 episodes of live action drama is almost unheard of these days.
But Nickelodeon’s second season of Rock Island Mysteries is just that. With Season One also tallying 20 episodes, it’s a bumper output for the Queensland-made series.
Jonah Klein, Fremantle Producer and Script Development exec agrees, saying, “There aren’t many shows being produced at that number of episodes outside of Home & Away or something like that. What it did for our cast & crew is not only give them longer term employment, but also for those who are stepping up into new levels of roles, the opportunity to really hone their craft and gain that experience.
“We had attachments through Screen Queensland, a couple of whom we were able to keep onto production after their attachment wrapped, because of the volume that we were producing. Those kinds of things are hugely beneficial and helpful when we’re making that number of episodes.”
The series aimed at 8 – 12 year olds follows the adventures of Taylor and her friends as they explore the secrets of the beautiful and mysterious Rock Island. Season One centred around Taylor’s quest for her absent uncle, whom most thought was long gone -until he resurfaced at season’s end.
In Season Two the teens receive a message from Uncle Charlie warning them that Rock Island will vanish unless they find an energy source.
“We come back into Season Two a few months later. Taylor and her friends have acquired a bunch of archival information and have been trawling through it, trying to solve more mysteries and figure out where Charlie is. She’s more determined than ever now that she’s actually seen him at the end of Season One,” Klein explains.
“We tried to ground all of the mysteries in some kind of scientific reality or possibility. We’re not looking at making a magical fantastical show. It’s more of a mysterious, adventurous show in which things are occurring that are very unusual, because Rock Island isn’t necessarily what it seems.”
“The locations were something that Nickelodeon were really keen to show off”
The series by creators Matthew Cooke, Michael Ford, Vincent Lund was pitched to Nickelodeon International, who co-commissioned the series with Network 10. Queensland’s Gold Coast was chosen as the perfect place to shoot a tropical comedy mystery.
“We shot primarily at Pinnacle Studios in Helensvale, where we had some amazing sets built. But we also shot a number of beach locations from Burleigh Heads, Main Beach, Miami Beach to established sites like SeaWorld. We went up to the Hinze Dam, Mt. Tamborine, a variety of parks and even a prawn farm in Woongoolba,” he continues.
“HOTA plays a big part in the show as our Poseidon Institute, which is the marine biology centre where a lot of the activity occurs.
“We had an extraordinary locations manager who was able to find these places that really served the scripts beautifully.
“The locations were something that Nickelodeon were really keen to show off to their international broadcasters ….it just sets the show apart, I think, from a lot of other shows they’ve been making.”
Klein is also enthused about his young cast working alongside older, more established performers.
“Alexa Curtis, who plays Taylor Young has been in the business for a long time. She was the winner of The Voice: Kids when she was 9 years old, so she’s an incredible singer actor. She’s a Gold Coast local who is really the strength and core of the group. It’s her determination that keeps the whole thing moving.
“Then we have Noah Akhigbee from Sydney who plays Nori. It’s Noah’s first TV gig and in Season Two he’s really grown. His character was always a bit more skeptical and trying to keep things a bit more grounded. But he now recognises that something is going on because he’s seen Uncle Charlie as well.”
Ryan Yeates plays Ellis Grouch.
“Once we learned how Ryan was naturally comedic and also a state champion in Irish dancing, we felt we had to include those things more!
Inessa Tan from Melbourne plays Meesha Rai, “a hyper competitive, sporty very patriotic Rock Islander, who wants to break through all the boulders in the walls and be the winner of everything.” Lastly, Izellah Connelly is Lila Gray, a vivacious influencer.
“In Season Two, we elevate her and give her some new responsibilities and skills that show off her joie de vivre and also her comedy.
“It’s long days on location on a long running series. The five of them really carry it”
“The very seasoned Queensland crew members were incredibly impressed with their professionalism, their diligence and their focus,” says Klein. “I was at a talent agent for many years before joining Fremantle and I just watched them and encouraged them …. It’s hard work. It’s long days on location on a long-running series. The five of them really carry it.”
Adult cast members include Kimberley Joseph, Craig Horner, Monette Lee, Annabelle Stephenson, Lucas Linehan, Alison McKenzie and Zachary Cumberbatch.
“It’s kind of an endless summer paradise on Rock Island”
Season Two will have its world premiere on Nickelodeon channel, formerly 10 Shake, next Monday ahead of a global rollout later.
For Klein, the mix of comedy and adventure with an Australian backdrop on Free to Air is a win for the child audience and production sector.
“We tried to strike a balance between the camaraderie and friendship of our lead five cast. It’s really all about is them being bound together in the quest for solving all of the mysteries. But at the same time being a Nickelodeon show, comedy is a key component, and each of our characters has their own comedic voice. We try to fill it up with gags as well as keeping them on an adventure,” he added.
“It’s kind of an endless summer paradise on Rock Island, solving things, helping each other and having a good time.”
Rock Island Mysteries 5:05pm weekdays from Monday September 25 on Nickelodeon.