100 million Netflix streams and a Venice Film Festival debut: meet the next generation of ACT filmmakers

Stranger Things, Tiger King, and Bridgerton are familiar giants of the small screen 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 Canberra suburban pool of emerging talent.

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

Two women smiling and looking over them.
Gazy (right) with Echoes star Michelle Monaghan.(Supplied: Vanessa Gazy)

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

They then hired executive producer Brian Yorkey, who previously executive produced 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 can’t believe.

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

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

Echoes isn’t Gazy’s first foray into the streaming world: her sci-fi drama Eden was picked up by Australian streamer Stan, a series that has an all-female newsroom.

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

“You’re giving up your baby,” he said.

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

“Ultimately, I was proud of myself for entering that world, [and] is the number one worldwide show on Netflix.

“I’ve definitely reached a certain level where a part of me can breathe a deep sigh of relief and say, hopefully, I’m not going to back down now.”

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

Bye, Venice

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

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

Young says he drew from his documentary work and his teenage years for the film.

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

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

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

“As a 16-year-old woman, the fantasy is that if you find someone who loves 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 early in his career.

She is mentored by Oscar-winning filmmaker Jane Campion, who is also an executive producer on Love Forever.

‘I just yelled at the director’

In choosing his new project, Young kept things local.

Hannah McKenzie, who plays the lead in Love Forever, found out about the opportunity through her drama teacher when she was still at school in Canberra.

A young girl with a towel on her head.
Hannah McKenzie became the lead in Love Forever after she was discovered in her Canberra High School drama class. (Supplied: Earle Dresner)

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

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

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

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

However, it seems the heartbreak worked and McKenzie landed the lead role of Young.

From drama class to Venice, McKenzie and Young now find themselves at one of the oldest and most prestigious film festivals in the world.

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

screen attractions

While these overseas successes signify the talent ACT has to offer, Screen Canberra, who helped both Young and Gazy get started, wants to see more big-budget movies and TV series made at ACT.

The CBR Screen Attraction Fund is currently open on a Screen Canberra offering to attract productions to the local area.

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

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

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

She said that the ACT provided an ideal location for the productions due to its design, access and pace.

“It is our access that makes Canberra ideal for filming and we are so [geographically] high we have no contamination and[we] having that crisp light – cinematographers love it.”

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

The beauty of Canberra as a film location has not gone unnoticed by filmmakers.

As Gazy plans his next project, he has his eye on his hometown.

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

“I will be planning my next production in [the] Canberra region.

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