Screenwriter Samantha Strauss writes about her 14-year journey with Dance Academy.
By Samantha Strauss
I first started writing Dance Academy in 2003 when I was casting a children’s series and, in the arrogance of youth and complete lack of any experience, presumed I could do it better.
Unfortunately, I also had no idea how to write a television series, nor any concept of how they were made. I just started writing. Episodes. Five-page character descriptions. A one hundred page bible that I’m fairly certain no one ever read. And then H20: Just Add Water happened. I was the casting associate and Joanna Werner was the associate producer and one night (around 2am) we got talking and I asked what show she’d make if she could make any show in the world. Joanna responded, saying it would be a series about a girl from the country who moves to the city when she gets into a ballet school. I assumed she was teasing me, but she wasn’t. The exact show that I was writing was the show Joanna was trying to get off the ground. We were creative soulmates and instant partners.
And almost more importantly than wanting to make the same show, we loved the same shows, films and books – from Looking for Alibrandi, to Felicity, My So Called Life, the Nadia telemovie! This became increasingly vital as we figured out how to work together. We knew we could fight like sisters and go round-for-round on story points but, in the end, we also knew we ultimately wanted to make the same show.
As a writer, the best part about working with Joanna is I can trust she will bleed to make it happen. Let’s shoot at the Opera House on a kids TV budget? Done! We have to move heaven and earth to get that elusive third series? Done! Let’s not make a telemovie, let’s make a movie movie and let’s please film it in New York? Done. Done.
Dance Academy is all about having the audacity to back yourself and chase your dreams and behind-the-scenes we’ve done quite a lot of that as well. At every stage we’ve been supported by Screen Australia, the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, ZDF and ZDF Enterprises, Screen NSW and Film Victoria.
Jeffrey Walker, our extraordinary director who also set up the series, recently introduced the film to an audience saying he was proud to be part of this female powerhouse, telling this story about a young, determined female protagonist. I am too. Skin-pinchingly proud on every level. Proud of the actors we first met yet eight years ago (who we still call “the kids”), proud of the fact we could lure back national treasures like Martin McGrath to shoot the film and Geoff Lamb to edit it. I’m still stunned we could work with creatives at the very top of their game like Chris Kennedy (our production designer), Tess Schofield (our costume designer) and David Hirschfelder (our composer).
Mostly, I’m proud of the impact the series has made on its audience and the potential for the film to do the same.
Dance Academy has been made with a whole lot of love. It will be released by Studio Canal on 6 April.