Millions of Netflix streams and a Venice Film Festival premiere – meet the next generation of ACT filmmakers

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Stranger Things, Tiger King, and Bridgerton are all well-known small-screen giants and cultural touchpoints found on Netflix.

But the streaming giant’s latest global hit comes from the mind of one of Canberra’s residents – the psychological thriller Echoes, written by Vanessa Gazy.

Gazy hails not from the Hollywood Hills or the Brooklyn lofts that some content creators call home, but from the emerging talent pool of suburban Canberra.

Starting life with a script originally named Id, Gazy wrote the first draft of what would become Echoes in 2015.

Gazy (right) with Echoes star Michelle Monaghan.(Provided by: Vanessa Gazy)

After receiving mentorship and funding from Screen Canberra and the wider Australian film community, Netflix picked up the script for production in 2019.

They then brought in executive producer Brian Yorkey, who was previously an EP of another Netflix hit, 13 Reasons Why.

Since its premiere less than a month ago, it has quickly become one of the most-watched shows on the platform, a fact that Gazy herself still finds hard to believe.

“I think we now have up to 100 million watch hours, globally on Netflix, which is insane,” Gazy said.

“It had really grown from my little project that I had worked very hard on to a big American show.”

Echoes isn’t Gazy’s first foray into the world of streaming – his drama Eden was picked up by Australian streamer Stan, a series that has an all-female writing room.

However, Gazy says working with Netflix presented a new challenge.

“You give up on your baby,” she said.

“So it was interesting and exciting and painful at times, I mean, these writers’ rooms are pretty brutal.

“I was finally proud of myself for stepping into this world, [and] it’s the world’s number one show on Netflix.

“I’ve definitely reached a certain level where a part of me can just breathe a deep sigh of relief and say hopefully I won’t back down now.”

An actor dressed in a police uniform stands next to a director.
Gazy and Schits Creek and Echoes star Karen Robinson on set. (Provided by: Vanessa Gazy)

Ciao, Venice

Clare Young, another Canberrane, is also on her way to international success and recognition, albeit in a more traditional way.

Far from the obsession with hours of viewing that dominates the world of streaming services, Young is currently presenting his short film Love Forever at the Venice Film Festival.

Young says she drew inspiration from her documentary work and her teenage years for the film.

“It’s inspired by an experience that happened when I was growing up in Canberra, looking for something beyond myself,” she said.

A smiling woman walking down a street in Venice.
Clare Young presents her film Love Forever at the Venice Film Festival. (Provided: Cassia Jurcevic)

Love Forever tells the story of a girl from the capital who navigates the thrill and pain of first love.

“As a 16-year-old woman, the fantasy is that if you find someone who will love you completely, you will be transformed and of course, [that’s] an illusion, so I wanted to break that illusion.”

Young, like Gazy, also received funding from Screen Canberra earlier in his career.

She’s mentored by Oscar-winning filmmaker Jane Campion, who also happens to be an executive producer on Love Forever.

“I just yelled at the director”

When casting for her new project, Young kept things local.

Hannah McKenzie, who plays the lead role in Love Forever, discovered the opportunity through her acting teacher when she was still at school in Canberra.

A young girl with a towel on her head.
Hannah McKenzie became the lead role in Love Forever after she was discovered in her high school acting class in Canberra. (Provided: Earle Dresner)

“I was in grade 11 at Dickson College in my drama class and the teacher walked in [and] said ‘we have these two filmmakers casting for their short,'” McKenzie said.

“We did improv, which was so much fun and [I] did a scene with Clare where she was my mother.

“We had this massive fight, and at the end I was screaming at Clare.

“I was like, oh no, I just yelled at the director.”

However, it seems the angst worked, and McKenzie got Young’s front man job.

From acting classes in Venice, McKenzie and Young have now found themselves at one of the oldest and most prestigious film festivals in the world.

“To be here among so many other passionate filmmakers from around the world is an absolute honor and very inspiring,” said Young.

On-screen attractions

While these overseas successes are testament to the talent the ACT has to offer, Screen Canberra – which helped Young and Gazy get started – wants to see more big-budget films and TV series made in the ACT.

The CBR Screen Attraction Fund is currently open as part of a bid by Screen Canberra to attract productions to the area.

To be eligible for funding, projects must involve local teams.

Last year, the production of Liam Neeson’s film Blacklight took over certain Canberra streets for action sequences.

It’s the kind of thing Screen Canberra CEO Monica Penders wants to see more of.

She said the ACT provided an ideal venue for productions due to its layout, access and pace.

“It’s our access that makes Canberra the perfect place to shoot and we’re so [geographically] high we have no pollution and[we] having that crisp light – cinematographers love it.”

cast and crew crowd around cars on a film set
Production for Liam Neeson’s film Blacklight took to the streets of Canberra in January last year.(Facebook)

Canberra’s beauty as a filming location has not gone unnoticed by filmmakers.

As Gazy plans her next project, her eyes are on her hometown.

“It’s so easy to shoot in Canberra, it’s not only beautiful, but you have this incredible freedom to choose the locations.

“I will plan my next production in [the] Canberra area.”

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