On set with Belinda Dean

On set with Belinda Dean

unko is an audience-focused creative studio producing original series, films and branded entertainment.

I met producer Belinda Dean on Day 2 of a 3-day shoot for the short film Joy Boy – one of six produced as part of the 2017 Generator Emerging Filmmakers Fund (GEFF).

Producer: Belinda Dean

Joy Boy is based on the true story of Jonny Hawkins, the film’s lead actor and co-writer. Directed and co-written by Stef Smith, Joy Boy revisits pivotal moments in the life of Jonny, a young man caught between his conservative family, an evangelical church and his emergent sexuality.

The film was made with the assistance of Create NSW in association with SBS, and premiered to Australian audiences on SBS On Demand early February 2018.

Writer/Actor: Jonny Hawkins, Filming Joy Boy

Film production is a complicated business, what’s been the attraction for you?

It’s a fabulous business to be in. I love the process of creative collaboration. You’re constantly challenged and solving new problems. And every production is different, so you’re always working with different people to make things work.

Producing combines my logic and creative sides, two skills needed to work with people to make visions come alive. I think anyone in the industry will tell you the process of making a film is a bit like being in the military, it’s quite structured and there’s lots of people involved doing different jobs. But what’s exciting is that at the end you have something magical.

Done right, there should be a lot of pride in what you create. I love that feeling of starting with nothing and walking away with something really fabulous that can be enjoyed by many.

Tell me about unko and how it came together.

unko formed around a specific project several years ago. It then lay dormant while I was working for other companies. There came a point when I decided I wanted to ‘run my own show’ – so I left and, not long after, launched unko properly.

How long have you been running unko now?

I’ve been officially working with unko since March 2017, producing three fabulous projects since then and developing a slate of projects I’m really proud of.

Sounds like a big move.

It’s a really good time in the industry for me to have done this. Even though it was incredibly daunting! It’s true what they say; running a new business you have to do everything, there are never enough hours in a day.

Actor: Eden Falk (L)
Actor: Andrew McFarlane,
Filming Joy Boy

How do you find your clients, or do they find you?

It’s a mix of traditional marketing ‘go-sees’, visiting agencies who will hopefully send through work and meeting with clients to show them what unko can do. Other times, I’ve just received a call from someone who’s said: “we have this thing we think you can do, are you interested?”

I also have some narrative projects that we’re developing with certain brands in mind.

What type of production work interests you most?

Premium quality television. Right now, I think there’s so much exciting work happening in premium TV content, and across digital platforms.

Historically in Australia, television was made by a limited few, and for Australian audiences. Technology has changed all that and people are thinking more globally when they’re conceiving ideas. When HBO and Netflix went looking for creators of premium content, everyone went nuts writing crazy ideas you’d never normally see on broadcast TV.

There are also many premium short-form series. Right now, I’m focused on compelling short-form work, but the end goal is longer series and feature films.

Actor: Alison Bell (L)
Writer/Director: Stef Smith,
Filming Joy Boy

Are there any particular stories you’d like to produce, audiences you’re trying to reach?

We’ve been concentrating on stories that appeal to the youth market, by that I mean 35 and younger. It’s what most people define as the millennial audience, but as millennials are well into their 30s now, it doesn’t really cover all of our primary demographic.

Essentially, we’re targeting young people consuming media across a range of platforms and multiple devices.

And the content?

The content can range from comedy – I have a real passion for comedy – to social commentary; anything that enriches the audience and the makers. Joy Boy is one of those films.

What part of producing do you find most rewarding?

So many things! The relationships I’ve formed over the years mean the world to me. As well as creating enriching content. I like the challenge. There’s always a Sliding Doors element at play. When you change one thing in the mix, the result is different.

Gwyneth Paltrow

Your job as a producer is trying to help define that result, working with the director to realise their vision as pure as it can be. That’s really fascinating. It’s often about finding the right people to deliver the best result. I love that.

What’s been your most difficult experience as a producer?

(Laughs) that one’s easy. Two days before a shoot on Sydney Harbour involving a stunt boat and fight onboard, we had to make a weather call. The camera boat – a Rivercat – had been double booked on our alternate day. We had people going everywhere to find another suitable boat. In the end, we hired another boat for the people who’d booked the Rivercat.

Are there any stand-out productions you’d like to mention?

Joy Boy, of course!

“Richie’s BBQ”

I produced the Doritos Crash The Super Bowl TVC Finger Cleaner which received a huge amount of world wide attention and the MLA spot Richie’s BBQ, featuring Richie Benaud who passed away not long after. The ad became a cheeky reminder of the cricket legend on his passing. That was special.

And our doco The Funny Ones. It’s heartwarming. I’m proud of it because I came up with the idea in response to the brief: “What would you say to your 12 yr old self?” I was all – “Girls can be funny!” It resonated with the ABC when they heard the pitch.

unko: “The Funny Ones”

How do you see the Australian film and television industry developing in the near future?

On Demand and time-shifted viewing has changed everything. There was a time when TV was TV and film was film. Now everyone is doing both, and making top quality television.

It also used to be that making a short film was one of the best ways to enter the industry. Now a web series or TV pilot is okay. I think globally, everything is opening up.

We’re now seeing local producers really ‘up the stakes’ on local productions to compete on a global scale for international audiences.

Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Still running unko! But I would love a presence in L.A. Working with Hollywood has always been a bit of a dream. Maybe an unko office in Hollywood?
What are you working on at the moment?

I’m busy entering Joy Boy into a number of festivals.

We have several online series in development, along with a couple of branded projects. It’s been such a whirlwind 12 months full of fabulous productions. Now I’m back in development it feels like two different worlds.

In the meantime, if someone wants us to produce an ad, we’ll do that!

Where to from here?

I want to grow unko to where I have a team around me, including a business partner to work with. There’s never enough time to do it all yourself, the list is always a mile long, and I have such big ambitions for the company.

Filming Joy Boy images © Geoffrey Jaeger, 2017.