Canberra’s iconic concrete bus stops could soon be getting a spot on the world stage.
Crews from the ABC, Screen Australia, ITV Studios and Screen Canberra are rolling the cameras around the city for Austin, a new eight-part comedy series for the ABC. And there’s a focus on including the suburbs.
Michael Theo from the ABC’s international hit series Love on the Spectrum is joined by two of the UK’s most loved comic performers, Ben Miller (also in Johnny English, Death in Paradise, Paddington 2, Bridgerton) and Sally Phillips (Veep, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Miranda).
Other actors include the Aussies Gia Carides (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Big Little Lies) and Roy Billing (Jack Irish, Underbelly).
Filming kicks off tomorrow (15 November) and is expected to run on a tight schedule for 28 days.
Screen Canberra CEO Holly Trueman couldn’t name locations except to say, “People in north Canberra would have seen them on Wednesday when they started principal photography”.
“There will be some places which will be dressed as London but are filmed here, but there will be places people will recognise as Canberra.”
Over eight episodes, Austin covers the story of much-loved children’s author Julian Hartswood (Ben Miller), who appears to end his career and that of his illustrator wife Ingrid (Sally Phillips) after inadvertently causing a storm on social media. Austin (Michal Theo), the neurodivergent son Julian never knew existed, then turns up out of the blue, and the family wrestles with finding their feet again.
The project is supported with funding from the ACT Government and Screen Canberra’s ‘CBR Screen Attraction Fund’, although Region was told by Screen Canberra the exact amount was “commercial-in-confidence”.
Assistant Minister for Economic Development Tara Cheyne said it was a great opportunity to “showcase our beautiful city to the world”.
“I’m so thrilled we have been able to secure Canberra as a location for Austin,” she said.
“I am sure it will highlight to others in the TV and film industry that Canberra is a great production destination with interesting locations and a great local creative industry to tap into.”
So far, Canberra has served as the stage for Hollywood’s Blacklight (with Liam Neeson), Singaporean drama series Shero, and Netflix’s Kangaroo Valley.
Holly says Austin director and co-creator Darren Ashton “grew up a bit” in Goulburn and advocated for Canberra as a place where the story “could definitely be told”.
“It highlights our diverse filming locations, not just our major institutions like Parliament House,” she says.
“Austin will bring the city’s suburbs and culture to life.”
Viewers might also recognise friends and family members. Earlier this year, Perform Australia put a call out for extras for a mysterious comedy show being filmed in Canberra. Applicants had to be over 18 with “natural looks”.
“Applicants with acting experience will be highly regarded – however, if you don’t have any experience, please also apply,” the notice on Perform Australia’s website read.
“We are looking for a range of faces and body types to be a part of the show.”
Perform Australia has since confirmed the project was Austin.
“A record number of Canberra locals are involved behind and in front of the camera,” Holly adds.
“The experience, networking and professional development gained will help further their careers and build on Canberra’s growing reputation as a creative hub.”
Holly has requested locals “be respectful” if you come across filming in public locations, but you’re welcome to “look and see how movies are made”.
Austin will air on ABC TV and ABC iview in 2024.
Holly is expecting great things.
“The script and the storyline – it’s going to be something Canberrans can be really proud of and everyone can enjoy,” she says.
“I’m hoping we’ll have a few bus stops on the screen, too, because what’s more iconic than the Canberra bus stops? Nothing!”