It’s certainly not easy to make a TV drama about family violence and expect people to watch it, as executive producer Imogen Banks explains.
“It’s hard to create a story that’s…I hate to say ‘funny’, because it feels irreverent…” he says.
“But obviously, if you’re doing television for an audience you have to consider what the experience is for them.”
She’s hoping for a new SBS drama safe house, played by Aisha Dee, she struck just the right balance to keep viewers hooked while tackling a confrontational and socially important topic.
Safe house is the first project from his recently founded Kindling Pictures, which has a business philosophy of “sparkling ideas and blazing careers.” When emerging writer Anna Barnes pitched her the concept, it turned out to be a perfect pitch project.
“Anna had just found her way, because she had worked in the industry she knows. I think what she wanted to do was really explode myths and talk about how we tell stories about them. It looked like a great angle to me,” she explains.
“I mean, you get projects in these areas, but it’s really hard to make a show with family violence at its core, that people want to watch.
“It has a thriller element”
“There’s a thriller element that’s an interesting component, … but again, we didn’t want to be hyperbolic about that either. You are talking about lives. But that somehow gets you through.
“The fact that the protagonist is an outsider who, for lack of a better word, is an analyst. He is there to create stories for the media and to look at topics with a slightly detached eye.
The series stars Aisha Dee (The bold type) as Phoebe, a 20-year-old professional who quits her job at a major law firm to work at a struggling family violence law center. As interconnected stories develop, relationships are tested and pressure mounts to save the centre.
“We have a lot of lived experience in the writers room, which has been great, just in terms of keeping us in touch with the intricacies of the stories and the reality of it all. A lot of that was also about the people who work in that industry, who show up day after day and deal with these long-term issues.
“Violence in the family is a problem that affects everyone”
The series was filmed in Melbourne and abides by legal language relevant to Victoria, which refers to family violence while other states opt for the term ‘domestic violence’.
“Violence in the family is a problem that affects everyone. It’s not just a binary, male/female thing. It is mostly though. So overwhelmingly we decided to focus on male/female gender violence, but we also wanted to be clear that it is present in all communities. Mostly men killing women,” Banks says.
The episodes also feature a B-plot, which in episode one features Janet Andrewartha (Neighborhood) as Diana, a country grandmother terrorized by her domineering husband. This is part of the show’s intent to debunk the myths that all victims and perpetrators are so visible to all of us.
“Many of these incidents are silent. Just interruptions in someone’s action,” she continues.
“Obviously every situation is complex and different, but there are similarities across the board. In a situation like the one we show with Diana, she has been eroded over the years and has lost her sense of self and agency.
“These are people we know and live with”
“What I want people to take away is the understanding, that there is no such thing as, you know, a perfect victim or a great monster. These are people we know and live with, who are in our lives and people we love, both victims and perpetrators.
“We must, as a culture, look at the reality of this. It’s such an epidemic, and we need to start allowing ourselves to recognize these people in our own lives, or in ourselves, and understand the complexity and subtlety of what these things mean. When we talk about abuse of systems, or coercive control, love bombing… when we talk about any of these things that undermine someone’s autonomy, we know what they are. We can recognize them when they happen to us or when we do them to other people.”
Safe house Also in the film are Mabel Li, Virginia Gay and Thomas Cocquerel.The Sterile, Pulse) directing his first major TV series, is the first series for cinematographer Kieran Fowler and editor Melanie Annan, and the first commission for SBS head scriptwriter Julie Eckersley.
For banks, whose credits include Tangle, Offspring, Puberty Blues, RFDSSafe Home stands as a strong affirmation that Kindling Pictures has arrived.
“It was a wonderfully focused creative team and a great experience.”
Double episode of Safe Home airs Thursdays at 8:30pm on SBS.