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Show of the week: Cleverman

The ongoing Syrian refugee crisis is a real-world issue reflected in new ABC and SundanceTV drama epic Cleverman. Executive producer Rosemary Blight from prodco Goalpost Pictures points out the similarity between the often-vicious country border control responses towards those fleeing persecution in the Middle East, to the show’s backdrop: a world in which near-human creates are distrusted – and increasingly hunted – by fearful humans.

“This is at a time where the world has changed, where creatures, which before lived in the world but didn’t reveal themselves, with very human traits, have started to emerge in the open,” she says.

“How does society deal with them? What happens if they pass off as us? Do they effect our children? Will they take our jobs? That’s quite topical at the moment,” she says of the themes Cleverman explores. “What do we do when people come into our country? Do we welcome them or build walls?”

The points raised are played out through two estranged indigenous brothers, who are brought together to fight for their survival. One brother is destined to inherit special powers currently controlled by an elder, ‘Cleverman’, while the other has rejected his past to become a bar owner and playboy.

Sydney-based Goalpost put the show together after one of its interns, Ryan Griffen, pitched the story to management over a dinner during the shooting another series, says Blight.

Sally Riley’s indigenous television arm of Australian pubcaster the ABC then came on-board, before Goalpost secured financing from Screen Australia and Screen NSW. Next, Blight went looking for a post-production specialist in LA, but ultimately found the partner much closer to home in the shape of Lord of the Rings VFX house Weta Workshop and production subsidiary Pukeko Pictures. Speaking to TBI from a Weta studio in New Zealand, Blight says: “I walk down corridors of Oscars. We’ve got the best in the world working on this TV series.”

After further funding came from the New Zealand Screen Production Grant, Germany’s Red Arrow International boarded the project as coproducer and distributor. Red Arrow was able to bring on the US partner, SundanceTV, whose sister channel AMC had a hit this year with a similarly dystopian near-future coproduction drama about outsiders, Humans.

Further to that complicated financial picture, getting permission to tell the stories, which are inspired by indigenous Australian fables, was no easy task. “We couldn’t break the protocol of the way the stories should be told, and had to get permission to use some stories from all over Australia. In one case Ryan had to go out to the middle of the Northern Territory to a crocodile-infested river to get permission to use a story that an elder told him.”

In focus

Format: 6x60mins sci-fi drama from ABC Television and Goalpost Pictures in Australia, SundanceTV, Red Arrow International, VFX giant Weta Workshop and subsidiary Pukeko Pictures. Red Arrow distributes

Plotline: Humans in a near-future dystopia become increasingly hostile to near-human creatures that have emerged