On an average day, you’ll find Vanessa Gazy stooped over a desk in her little studio overlooking Elizabeth Bay in Sydney, fingers clacking over a keyboard and cursor racing across the screen as ideas become words.
“I get up and write for as long as I have stamina, which varies depending on the day,” she says.
Vanessa’s job is initially one she shrugged off as up there with being an astronaut. She’s a screenwriter, currently riding on the success of Echoes, a psychological thriller series that made it into the top 10 list on Netflix for a solid two weeks.
Within days of hitting the enormous streaming platform on 19 August 2022, the seven-part series had raked in more than one million minutes of viewing time. Vanessa stopped counting once it passed one billion.
“There’s so much that comes out on Netflix every year and some things just disappear into the streaming blackhole so it was amazing how well it did,” she says.
Her path to success began here in Canberra. Vanessa grew up in the suburb of Fisher before her family moved to Pearce when she was 12.
“It was an idyllic childhood in many ways,” she says.
“Canberra is unique, being so close to nature, and I definitely fell in love with the landscape.”
She knew her calling as a writer from a young age, but the idea of working in film never crossed her mind. As she moved through school, she reasoned the only way to make money in this field was to become a journalist. She moved to Sydney to study for a Bachelor of Arts (media communication) at the University of Sydney.
“But I quickly realised I definitely wasn’t cut out for the newsroom,” she says.
“The only parts I liked were the bits where you got to write a semi-creative feature article.”
At a loss, she went out on a limb and moved to France. It was there that her vague intentions all started coming together. She ended up interning at a small production office in Paris.
“That’s where I realised I should be writing screenplays and that maybe it wasn’t so far out of reach,” she says.
Short practice films in Paris morphed into more experience writing scripts and setting up film sets in London. In 2014, Vanessa returned to Australia and completed her Masters in Writing/Directing at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, winning the school’s prestigious Kenneth B. Myer Award for Exceptional Talent upon graduating.
The same year, she created her first production short film, Foal, shot in the “completely beautiful country” of Namadgi National Park.
“The landscape of your childhood just gets under your skin and you find yourself creatively drawn back there over and over again.”
Highway followed in 2016, then Shiloh in 2018, before it really blew up with Eden, which launched on the streaming platform STAN in 2021. The eight-part drama series follows the disappearance of a young woman “which triggers a devastating chain of events which lays bare the dark, hidden heart of paradise”.
At the same time, she was on-set with Eden in the NSW Northern Rivers region, she was also writing the screenplay for her next big hit, Echoes.
“It was a pretty crazy time and a huge learning curve,” she says.
Her screenplay was pitched to Netflix by Australian producer Imogen Banks as part of Imogen’s Screen Australia initiative to recognise uncredited female writers. Netflix was so impressed they bought the rights and the rest was history.
Vanessa describes it as a “dark, female-driven psychological thriller about identical twin sisters, one of whom goes missing from the small town they grew up in”.
“The other twin, then living in Los Angeles, returns to the small town to investigate, but by the end of the first episode you realise there’s a lot more going on between these sisters.”
The remaining six episodes reveal how both have “swapping lives”.
“I’ve always been fascinated by identical twins,” Vanessa explains.
“They’re an amazing way of interrogating identity and how things that happen to us in our lives form our personalities and change us.”
To give an idea of style, her favourite films and shows include Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks, Severance and Better Call Saul.
“We’re all complex and there is pure good and pure evil but I think what’s especially interesting as a writer is finding the complicated spaces in between,” she says.
The version of Echoes on Netflix today has taken on a life of its own compared to Vanessa’s original script, but she still describes it as an “incredible experience”.
“For me, the real joy is in sitting down to write the final draft. That’s when I feel the magic of writing – painting the world and developing rich characters.”
It’s a feeling that’s only rivalled by watching it all come to life on the set.
“It’s amazing that what started as a glimmering possibly has become a fully fledged career.”
Echoes is available on Netflix.