The city behind Secret City: Under the Eagle

Behind the scenes of Secret City: Under The Eagle. Photo by Tony Mott. Behind the scenes of Secret City: Under The Eagle. Photo by Tony Mott.

Secret City: Under The Eagle premieres on 4 March at 8.30pm on Foxtel’s FOX SHOWCASE, bringing the drama-filled political espionage thriller back to Australian screens.

The series puts the ACT in the spotlight featuring picturesque locations and unique architecture familiar to any Canberra resident.

Pictured: Actors Anna Torv and Marcus Graham. Photo by Tony Mott.

Pictured: Actor Anna Torv and Marcus Graham. Photo by Tony Mott.

The story picks up a few years after season one, when Harriet Dunkley, played by Anna Torv, has been released from prison and a whole new set of circumstance begin to unfurl.

The six-part series was shot over seven weeks on location in the ACT in March 2018, with additional filming taking place across the country.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, so you can only imagine the number of people it takes to develop, film, produce and distribute a high quality drama series like Secret City: Under the Eagle.

Meet some of the Canberrans involved in front of the camera and behind the scenes, who helped bring this epic drama to the screen.

Producing The Secret

Raised in Canberra, Stephen Corvini is the series producer from Matchbox Pictures and paints a vivid picture of what life is like behind the scenes on a big production like Secret City: Under The Eagle.

Pictured: Stephen Corvini, Matchbox Pictures.

Pictured: Stephen Corvini, Matchbox Pictures.

“As a producer I deal with the limits associated with the production on any given day. An actor might be ill, a camera goes down or a location falls over, then you have to very quickly scramble,” Mr Corvini said.

“Time is of the essence. To give you an idea, if we lose a day (of filming) it can cost anywhere between $40,000 to $50,000. And some locations you can only get once or twice, such as Parliament House; they are very time dependent."

As a creative producer, Corvini deals with all facets of production and development from finance to casting and ensuring consistency in the story across filming locations.

“From season one we had a proof of concept that we were doing something of real quality, that kind of spoke to the Australia of today,” he said.

“Canberra has a combination of the urban and rural which are cheek by jowl, which is really interesting."

"It's a city that's in concert with nature."

Corvini’s role isn’t finished when the camera stops shooting, the various stages of editing, sound engineering and composition development are included in his overseeing role up until the final product is delivered to the network.

“It’s a high end, premium Australian drama. It’s not a simple show to make,” said Corvini.

“We are very proud of the ensemble we have put together, which is one of the biggest and most ambitious of a show that has been made in Australia.

Faces Of The Secret City

Actor Daniella Cormack, known for her roles in Australian dramas Wentworth and Rake, joins the cast this season as the rowdy, agitating Karen Koutoufides.

Pictured: Danielle McCormack, Actor.

Pictured: Danielle Cormack, Actor.

“I play an independent MP, Karen Koutoufides, who is from Adelaide. She is a working mother with a newborn, so we see her very actively involved in having to breastfeed and come to work, while dealing with being away from her kids,” Ms Cormack said.

“She’s a firecracker."

Cormack outlined the 12-14 hour days put in on set by both the actors and crew, saying it was worth it to create the high quality drama.

“This is sophisticated storytelling. It’s an espionage thriller. This is a genre that possibly hasn’t been explored that much down here,” she said.

“Being able to film in the place that we are setting the show, actually in Parliament House, was really exciting.

“To be able to walk the corridors of parliament, to be able to be onsite and to go through the process of security, I didn’t have to do much research because it was all around me.”

Local actor Laura Gordon grew up in on the north side of Canberra and went to Narrabundah College before heading off to study acting at Melbourne University.

Pictured: Laura Gordon, Actor.

Pictured: Laura Gordon, Actor.

“It felt like a lovely homecoming to film here, it was weird because I am used to coming home and downing tools,” Ms Gordon said.

When discussing her role in the new series, Gordon was hesitant to reveal too many details.

“Almost everything my character does is a spoiler,” said Ms Gordon. “You first see my character at the very beginning of the show and she is escaping from some van in the middle of nowhere and people in Canberra and in the military are very keen to chase her down.

“Everybody else was filming in Parliament House and I felt like I was doing this little Jason Bourne film out in Captains Flat.”

Reflecting on Canberra as a destination to film, Gordon notes the special character the city itself brings to the screen.

“Visually, Canberra is such a distinctive city and looks like nowhere else in Australia,” said Ms Gordon.

“It’s iconic, so it’s great to see it on screen because shows and films have only recently started filming here, so it is still exciting to watch.”

Getting Technical

Pictured: Cast and crew behind the scenes. Photo by Tony Mott.

Pictured: Cast and crew behind the scenes. Photo by Tony Mott.

Currently filming Peter Rabbit 2, Digital Imaging Technician Michael Easter – another Canberra local – explained the technical aspects of ensuring quality checking and control on the Secret City set.

“I pretty much watch every frame back, looking to ensure that there are no concerns with the footage,” said Mr Easter.

From backing up footage, ensuring data integrity, shot matching and basic colour grading, Mr Easter’s role is fundamental to maintaining consistency in the production.

Canberra’s natural light is one of the key elements which gives the production its high-end polished aesthetic.

“When Secret City season one came out and you saw this very cool, very glossy, very slick looking city on the big screen it kind of took a few people by surprise,” he said.

“Their impression of Canberra was perhaps a very short visit to Parliament House when they were 15 and all of a sudden they see this very modern, very sophisticated city on the screen which took a few people by surprise.”

With bigger productions like Secret City and The Code being filmed on location in Canberra, there is a real growth in the industry with most tertiary institutions offering a media and production course.

“There is a voracious need for Australian content and I think that any story that can be told in Canberra is great."

Growing The Screen Industry In Canberra

Chief Executive Officer of Screen Canberra Monica Penders is passionate about creating the right conditions for productions and the film industry to thrive in Canberra.

Pictured: Monica Penders, Screen Canberra.

Pictured: Monica Penders, Screen Canberra.

“Our focus is on supporting and growing the ACT screen industry and that’s across all screens - small screens, large screens, any screens. That’s games, TV, feature films, online and all the new platforms,” Ms Penders said.

Screen Canberra makes investments through the ACT Government into the industry both financially and by providing opportunities for education and formal training, as well as assisting productions to get up and running the ACT.

These agreements include provisions to hire locals as attachments to grow and develop local knowledge to further the industry.

“There were paid attachments on Secret City for locals to get that all important professional credit that they need, so that next time they can go on as a paid contractor,” said Ms Penders.

“It is a way of building up our capacity, because we don’t have a lot of crew and we need more to support upcoming productions.”

Penders’ says that ease of access is on of Canberra’s greatest competitive advantages when being considered as a location for filming.

“We are an undiscovered gem; you can be in Parliament House and then ten minutes later at the airport and then in another ten minutes in a sheep paddock,” said Ms Penders.

“We’ve got some unusual locations that people don’t expect to find here, not only the national institutions."

“We’re under filmed, from a drama point of view. Our goal is to be like Washington."

The Economic Of The Secret City

Attracting large film projects like Secret City to Canberra has an economic impact on the city as it creates develops the local screen industry and creates opportunities for tourism when Canberra is shown on screen internationally.

Chimwemwe Mpaso is a fund manager in the ACT Government’s Economic Development Directorate which oversaw the government’s investment made in season one and two.

Pictured: Chimwemwe Mpaso, ACT Government.

Pictured: Chimwemwe Mpaso, ACT Government.

“We look at screen production as a commercial enterprise; it not only creates opportunities for jobs and products for export, it enriches the tourism narrative for Canberra,” said Mr Mpaso.

“The government incentivises producers to undertake their work here, as otherwise they will take their work elsewhere which doesn’t support the growth of the industry.

“The investment fund also encourages the funded productions to have strong Canberra elements that may include the story line, facilities, services and attachments to help improve the skills of local screen practitioners when operating here.

“Our end game is to have a developed a screen industry that can service not only domestic productions but also outside productions coming in to Canberra almost fully, so that they do not need to bring external capabilities with them.”

Making Canberra Connections

Access Canberra is the one-stop-shop for Canberrans to transact with the ACT Government and combines regulatory functions for businesses and industry, which encompasses coordinating filming initiatives in the ACT.

Pictured: Nathan Buckley, Access Canberra.

Pictured: Nathan Buckley, Access Canberra.

Nathan Buckley from Access Canberra’s Event and Business Coordination team, says the team plays an integral role in connecting production teams with the government and its regulators to ensure a streamlined process when filming.

“We provide a coordination role to productions by assigning a person to guide them through the regulatory framework and to help them to understand what they may or may not need to get the production up and running,” Mr Buckley said.

“This includes anything from land use approvals to traffic management, making sure that the production is safe and that there are contingency plans in place.

“Together with Screen Canberra and the National Capital Authority, we continue to streamline filming processes in the ACT and cut red tape to make it quicker and easier to film.”

“The benefit of coming through our team, is that we consult regularly with the gamete of government stakeholders and regulators across Canberra from policing to emergency services, Transport Canberra, Roads ACT and anyone else who might be interested.

“This ensures that the production is not surprised by any last minute surprises or clashes, which may impact on the final product.

“From all of this work we are building a data set about filming in the region by gathering information about what is happening and where, how many people are involved and how long the filming process is taking.

“In partnership with Screen Canberra we will use this information to make more data-driven decisions and share these insights with education institutions to build and grow the local industry.

“We don’t want to put the kibosh on creative activities, we try to work with producers to make things happen by drawing on our local knowledge."

Pictured: Jacki Weaver with Director of Photography Mark Wareham and Director Tony Krawitz . Photo by Tony Mott.

Pictured: Jacki Weaver with Director of Photography Mark Wareham and Director Tony Krawitz. Photo by Tony Mott.

Production photography provided generously by Tony Mott on behalf of Foxtel/Matchbox Pictures.

Secret City: Under The Eagle is now streaming on Foxtel.

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