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Escapade Media

Programming Profile

Going on an Escapade


Natalie Lawley, MD at Escapade Media, discusses how the pandemic has impacted the Sydney-based distributor and reveals the company’s new slate of factual titles, which are being showcased as part of C21’s Content Australia On Demand.


Established in 2013, as a distribution and development company to help producers develop and finance their projects, Escapade Media has been on the hunt for unique projects to represent internationally ever since.


Based in Sydney but with its own consultants and agents spread around the world to put their local knowledge of markets such as the UK, US, Asia, Eastern Europe, Italy, Spain and Portugal, Lat Am and Nordics to good use, Escapade’s library spans premium drama, children’s and factual programming.


Natalie Lawley, one of the co-founders of the company and its MD, says the common thread linking the different kinds of content in Escapade’s library is that “little something” that makes it distinctive.


Natalie Lawley, co-founder and MD

Take the hour-long doc Devolution: A Devo Theory, which as well as tracing the formation of the cult US art-rock band behind 1980s hit Whip It also incorporates discussions of politics and the climate crisis, matters that are timely and relevant today.


From Aussie production companies Side B Films and Dead Heart Films, the show follows the launch of Beautiful World 2, described as the band’s music video “memorial” to 40 years of human decay.


Through their music, Devo – described by Escapade as one of history’s most misunderstood bands – expressed concerns that the world was dominated by greed and consumerism and that the planet would ultimately be destroyed by mankind.


Devolution: A Devo Theory
Devolution: A Devo Theory

“It’s not just a music documentary, so it appeals to different platforms,” says Lawley, who has sold the film to public service broadcasters in Europe as well as pay TV platforms.


Another example is Killer Soundtrack (13×47′), a factual series from Dom Giorgi’s DG Films that examines songs inspired by infamous crimes or in other ways had a lasting impact on the music industry.


The series uses witness accounts, expert analysis and exclusive interviews with artists including Soulfly, Devo, Gary Holt, Michel Rubini and Phil Spector’s The Wrecking Crew to shed new light on 18 crimes and their associated music.


Among the subjects are cult leader and mass murderer Charles Manson’s song Cease to Exist; the murder/suicide of the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious and his lover Nancy Spungen; Devo co-founder Gerald Casale’s recollections of the attack by the Ohio National Guard on his fellow students at Kent State University; and mobster Al Capone, who supposedly wrote original music while incarcerated in Alcatraz.


The current popularity of the true crime genre makes the prospective buyers across the US, UK, Asia and Australia for Killer Soundtrack unsurprising, especially given its added points of interest to music fans.


Killer Soundtrack
Killer Soundtrack

Lawley did not seek a deal with a commissioning broadcaster for the series in order to give Escapade plenty of flexibility, leaving the door open for a global deal with a streamer or the chance to shop it in individual territories.


“The impact of a global deal can be really advantageous for some projects, but for others it’s not the right strategy. Even though a territory-by-territory strategy takes longer, in the end it may afford that project more revenue and more eyeballs,” says Lawley, who takes a project-by-project approach to deal-making.


Another distinctive title, in terms of both content and format, is shortform series-turned-special Cloudy River (6×8’/1×47′), which follows a pansexual artist and her musician lover whose open relationship is put to the test when they move in together. The show asks the tricky question of whether you can truly be there for each other in an open relationship, whilst pursuing the individual freedoms the relationship is founded on.


Backed by production investment from Screen Australia in association with Queer Screen and Belinda Dean’s Aussie prodco Unko, the show was co-written and co-directed by Sophie Hardcastle and Charlie Ford, and stars Rowan Davie, Rebecca Robertson and Indigo Sparke.


Cloudy River
Cloudy River

Exploring the joy and pain of a couple’s boundary-pushing relationship, it reflects conversations being had all around the world at the moment and originally launched on SBS On Demand down under last year. Escapade has since reformatted it to bring all the episodes together into one 47-minute film so it can fit into a linear schedule.


“There’s a need for diverse content right now and to have diversity genuinely reflected on screen,” says Lawley, adding the project reflects Escapade’s interest in working with new talent. “We look at projects from anywhere and we want to try to support up and coming creatives.”


Prior to the pandemic, Escapade made full use of the host of markets and events around the world to source new content. Feature doc Big vs Small (1×52’/1×76′) came out of these efforts, after Escapade director Anthony Mrsnik met filmmaker Minna Dufton at Sunny Side of the Doc in La Rochelle, France in 2019.

When Dufton started her documentary about elite big-wave champion surfer, the so-called ‘Tiny Fighter’ Joana Andrade, who rides the powerhouse waves at Nazaré, Portugal, she had no idea Andrade harboured a deep secret.


By way of explaining the safety equipment big-wave surfers use, Andrade shared her deep fear of drowning – something many big wave surfers share whilst they pursue waves that can be as tall as 30 metres.


Big vs Small
Big vs Small

Andrade explores this phenomenon together with Finnish world champion free diver Johanna Nordblad to create a modern-day fairytale about the power and strength on top of the water and facing the demons under it. Dufton’s Helsinki-based Raggari Films produced and directed the film, supported by the Finnish Embassy in Lisbon and the city of Heinola in Finland.


“It’s incredibly inspiring and after the events of 2020, it’s what people are looking for,” says Lawley.


For those desperate to vicariously explore other cultures, following the confinement of multiple lockdowns, educational adventure series Crash Test World (6×30’) takes viewers around the world to discover what it’s like to live in another culture.


Aimed at kids and families, it sees host Kari Byron (MythBusters) dive, sometimes literally, into a place to see how history, location and the people who live there all come together to create a unique local culture.


From Berlin to New York City to a Maasai village in Kenya, Byron “crash tests” each place, checking out the art, music, sports and favourite activities to see what makes that place tick. It is executive produced by Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) and airs on Discovery-owned Science in the US.


For her part, Lawley is resigned to the fact she is highly unlikely to be travelling to any markets, conferences or events outside of Australia in 2021. “Zoom is fine, but I really miss in-person meetings. They’re so essential. You miss meeting up with the clients you’ve worked with for 15 years,” says Lawley, adding that despite this lack of travelling, Escapade has been busier than ever during the pandemic.


“People have been proactive in coming to us and we’ve been bombarded by projects from across the world – both ones that are finished and those in development. In the past three months, I’ve taken on five completed projects and in the last nine months we’ve taken on six projects in advanced development.”