Since Drew Proffitt and Ellie Beaumont created House Husbands for Nine in 2012, television has evolved considerably.
Even in their commission for new comedy-drama After the Verdict, Nine wanted more content per hour.
“There’s one less commercial break than there used to be when we plotted House Husbands. There used to be five, now there’s four,” Proffitt tells TV Tonight.
“Commercial breaks can be useful in plotting, because it does it’s a way of making sure the drama is building. As long as you are not manufacturing false beats, which isn’t great. Luckily, we didn’t need to do that.”
Proffitt and Beaumont met when Beaumont pitched her telemovie Go Big at 10 Drama. Proffitt later invited her to work on Lockie Leonard, with House Husbands a later success from 2012 – 2017. They subsequently founded Subtext Pictures with Dead Lucky, starring Rachel Griffiths, their first project for SBS in 2017.
“We decided to take the risk and do it. That was a bit scary, but it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve obviously had a lot of support. We work with Rebecca Greensill who’s a director and writer. She was Associate Producer on After the Verdict and (producer) Greg Sitch has been incredibly generous. You need to find people who understand not just how to put a deal together but are in the creative side as well.”
After The Verdict is a 6 part drama that came to Proffitt in a light bulb moment one day in Sydney.
“We wanted to do a show about amateur sleuths, essentially. That’s where the seed of that show came from. We were on the phone talking about the glue that brings these characters together. I was walking past the Supreme Court at Darlinghurst and then I thought, ‘Jury Duty!’ We both loved the idea and it never left us. In a very serendipitous turn of events we ended up filming the court scenes in that same courthouse,” he recalls.
“We really wanted to tell a crime story from an everyday person’s perspective”
“We really wanted to tell a crime story from an everyday person’s perspective rather than from the cops or the lawyers.
“The part that interested us the most was after you’ve made this huge decision. What would happen if you had niggling doubts? How would it affect other decisions you made in your personal life, once you’ve come through the other side?”
“There’s potentially a killer out there and you’re out in the real world with them”
It also opened up the possibility of jeopardy for the principal characters.
“Inherently, you’ve got this danger, because there’s potentially a killer out there and you’re out in the real world with them,” says Beaumont.
“There’s comedic possibilities when you’ve got four people who are entirely unqualified to solve the crime. They’re not cops, they’re not lawyers. They’re a butcher, a town planner, a real estate agent, and a teacher, running around trying to catch a killer. The confluence of drama and comedy is the thing that we’re most interested in.”
Described as “a murder mystery with a comedic tone” the show was inspired by others in the genre, Only Murders in the Building, Search Party and Dead to Me.
Maggie, a ‘Polish lesbian butcher’, was written with Magda Szubanski in mind. Fortunately she liked the material they presented to her.
“We’ve been massive fans of Magda. She hasn’t been offered that many serious drama roles over her career. That really surprises me because I think that she definitely has that depth and intelligence that goes along with her obvious comic talents,” says Proffitt.
“We really wanted her so we sent her the script and luckily, she said yes.”
“This woman, is very smart, very warm and there’s an obsessiveness about her”
The cast also features Lincoln Lewis, Sullivan Stapleton and Michelle Lim Davidson, whom Beaumont spotted in The Newsreader, as Clara.
“We saw her in a particular scene with Stephen Peacocke and I remember ringing Drew and saying, ‘Have a look at this scene. This woman, is very smart, very warm and there’s an obsessiveness about her, which Clara has.’
“She then did her audition and just blew us away. She’s incredibly clever, funny, her timing and rhythm were perfect. But she’s also she’s really empathetic, that’s really important for Clara. She listens and she has this fearlessness. She’s just willing to go there. She’s an actor who doesn’t hold back.
“Lincoln is someone who has levels of complexity. Even though he appears at the beginning as a sleek and superficial real estate agent who has everything together, as the series unfolds we realise that there’s actually quite a lot of pain there. Lincoln also has great physical comedy. He and Magda’s physicality together made us laugh, even at 2am in Lane Cove National Park when everybody just wanted to go home.”
“They’re kind of the Karen & Jack of the series”
“They’re kind of the Karen & Jack (from Will & Grace) of the series. They have their own little show going on and this really lovely friendship which develops across the whole six episodes,” Proffitt adds.
Filming from November – February also meant Sullivan Stapleton was home from his US commitments and available to play school teacher, Daniel.
“That was a stroke of good luck for us. COVID did keep him in Melbourne. The character of Daniel is a man of mystery, so we really needed someone that has that presence that Sullivan has,” he continues.
“He also brings the action from all his time on those shows. He knows his way around a stunt and knows how to move on camera.”
Beaumont also praises Virginia Gay who plays Maggie’s partner, Trish.
“There’s not a lot of rehearsal time. They had not a lot of time together. But those two sold the depth of that relationship really fast. While we’re interested in comedy, we’re also interested in truth. I think both those women just sold the warmth and trust and respect and love of that relationship really fast. And that’s a tribute to both of them,” Beaumont insists.
“We’re trying to say things about the elusiveness of truth”
“Even though it’s a comedy, we’re trying to say things about the elusiveness of truth. But ultimately, we’re really hoping people stay to the end because it’s a celebration of friendship and connection. It is about these unlikely 4 people who wouldn’t have met except for jury duty and the chemistry between them. I’m hoping that after COVID people really respond and celebrate the joy of that connection.”
As they grow the slate for Subtext Pictures, Proffitt & Beaumont are also optimistic about opportunities from the crowded Streaming market, whilst remaining pragmatic about the challenges for a small, independent player.
“While directors have done quite well overseas, and actors have done very well, and there’s a few writers that have broken in, the pathways are quite challenging for producer / writers,” Beaumont explains. “We’re still trying to crack that and make that marketplace a little broader for us, because the the marketplace here is very small. Which is why we’re incredibly grateful to Nine, Screen Australia and Screen NSW because it’s really tough to get a show up in this country.”
After the Verdict continues 8:35pm Wednesday on Nine.