Amazon MGM Studio’s Sarah Christie Updates On ‘The Office Australia,’ ‘Deadloch’ & Jacob Elordi In ‘The Narrow Road To The Deep North’

Amazon MGM Studio’s Sarah Christie Updates On ‘The Office Australia,’ ‘Deadloch’ & Jacob Elordi In ‘The Narrow Road To The Deep North’

EXCLUSIVE: Many people decided the office was no longer for them after the Covid-19 pandemic, but not so Felicity Ward, or her new alter-ego, Hannah Howard. Comedian and actress Ward is starring in The Office Australia, one of the most hotly anticipated series outside of the U.S., marking the first time a woman has played the iconic (mis)manager role that Ricky Gervais first made famous on the BBC.

Sarah Christie, Senior Development Executive at Amazon MGM Studios in Australia, which is working on The Office for the Prime Video streaming service, is aware of the weight of expectation and the need to try something new. “It is huge, iconic IP,” she told Deadline. With NBC’s Michael Scott joining Gervais’ David Brent in the annals of TV comedy history, and other incarnations in countries as wide apart as Germany and Chile, the challenge is sizeable.

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“We want to honor the legacy but also provide something Australian to give it that local flavor,” said Christie. “There are 14 versions of The Office out there and we’re the first where the boss is a woman… And she is just as flawed, worthy and in love with herself as the other ones.”

The series, which Amazon is making with BBC Studios Australia and New Zealand and Bunya Entertainment, has wrapped shooting, with a 2025 launch date announcement expected to come later this year. “Felicity Ward is just phenomenal, and we can’t wait for people to meet her Hannah,” said the Sydney-based Christie. “She’s brought her all to this role.”

Details of the plot are being kept under wraps, but the impact of the pandemic plays into the scripts. “We have the wealth of the original series from Ricky Gervais that everyone loves and reveres around the world, and that’s a great starting block to build on,” said Christie.

“The office itself has changed a lot in the past five years and that was our starting off point — is it a place people want to be anymore? Hannah wants to prove to her staff that it is. Head office wants to send everyone home to save money but she says, ‘Absolutely not’ and wants everyone in full time. She loves her staff and wants to keep them together.”

Christie added the series will have “characters front and center you will recognize and some we have created.” The ensemble cast includes Edith Poor, Steen Raskopoulos, Shari Sebbens, Josh Thomson, Jonny Brugh, Pallavi Sharda and Susan Ling Young.

Prime Video’s Australian ambitions

The Office Australia is just one numerous original series and films coming out of the Amazon Australia production operation. Earlier this week, we revealed Prime Video had ordered a second season of comedy crime drama Deadloch, which stars Madeleine Sami and Kate Box as a pair of mismatched detectives. The second run will move the action to Australia’s Northern Territory, where two famous local icons are discovered dead in a remote town, flinging open a new “sweatier, stickier” investigation. Also reprising their season 1 roles are Nina Oyama and Alicia Gardiner.

The series, from the Australian writing duo known as ‘The Kates’ (Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan), was initially pitched to Amazon as “funny Broadchurch,” and season one took on tropes from Scandi noirs, akin to the Olivia Colman and David Tennant ITV drama. Season two of Deadloch will “tonally take cues from Australian classics such as Crocodile Dundee — with a gothic twist,” said Christie.

“The Kates know what they want to say, but can also deliver a hugely entertaining ride while cutting to the core of themes such as race, gender and power,” she added. “That speaks to them coming out of comedy writing and sketch shows initially, taking on a much bigger world and balancing that with a gripping mystery. It’s a very delicate balance tonally and it’s something on season 1 we spoke about from script stage to final delivery.”

Season 2 is expected to launch next year, with Guesswork Television and OK Great Productions making the show, with the support of Screen Queensland and Screen Territory.

Christie said the show is an example of how local Australian stories can cut through internationally. “Our shows are seen in 240 territories around the world, which is such a great opportunity for local creatives,” she added. “We really do think that to be successful globally, we have to be speaking locally first.

“We have to speak directly to Australians, and Deadloch is such a prime example of that working — we had to create a dictionary of local Australian slang for our post teams. There are quite a lot of ‘c-bombs’ in there, and Australian towns that we known Australians want to see. But great stories do travel.”

There has been much debate over recent years about whether Australia is being used by global streamers mainly as a production hub rather than a creative hub (only this week Screen Producers Australia criticized the government for delaying setting a levy of streamers while simultaneously increasing the Location Offset, which is largely designed to attract overseas productions).

The fact Deadloch represents Prime Video’s thirtieth commission in five years — an average of about six productions a year — suggests Amazon is, at least for the moment, committed to the country. Orders have included Sarah Lambert miniseries The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, the Caitlin Stasey-starring comedy series Class of 07 and the Nathan Ramos-Park and Shuang Hu romcom Five Blind Dates.

“We don’t work to [quotas], and we’re really driven by the material,” said Christie. “We are quite curated and we want to put the full force of the studio behind everything we do. Creative partnerships are really key to our success. We’re lucky to have such a wealth of talent in Australia and are lucky to be working with the best producers, writers and directors. We think about it holistically – quality over quantity. The dream when we look at the service aggregately is that we’ve made something for everyone in Australia.”

Christie certainly knows the local industry’s tastes. Besides working across all creative aspects of development, production and post-production at Amazon, she was a co-producer on Stan and Sundance Now’s Black Snow and worked across projects such as SBS’s New Gold Mountain, Unjoo Moon’s I Am Woman, Foxtel’s Fighting Season, Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade (produced with Blumhouse), ABC and Sunance show Cleverman and Neil Armfield’s Holding the Man. She also served as development producer on James Vaughan’s debut feature film, Friends and Strangers, having begun her career an entertainment lawyer at Media Arts Lawyers.

Another upcoming series is Top End Bub, a TV spin-off of 2019 romcom Top End Wedding, which has just wrapped shooting in Darwin and Adelaide. Miranda Tapsell, who is also the co-writer, reprises her film role along with on-screen husband Gwilym Lee. After the marriage in the film, Lauren (Tapsell), a dynamic Indigenous lawyer, and her baker husband Ned (Lee), have abandoned city life for the Top End (the local name for Australia’s Northern Territories) to raise Lauren’s recently-orphaned eight-year-old niece.

“This is a quintessentially Australian story, with so much warmth, heart and humor,” said Christie, who previously worked at the show’s producer, Goalpost Pictures, where she was an exec on Top End Wedding. “Pretty much all the cast came back for the TV version, and it was great to get the band back together. It is looking beautiful — the rushes really show off the Top End and there is really lots of warmth.”

The other buzzy title on the slate is The Narrow Road to the Deep North, the Sony-produced war series starring Euphoria‘s Jacob Elordi. Set against the shadows of World War II, the drama tells the epic story of Lieutenant-Colonel Dorrigo Evans (Elordi) and how his all-too-brief love affair with Amy Mulvaney (Odessa Young) shaped his life. The story is told over multiple time periods, providing a love story to sustain audiences through the darkest of times, an intimate character study illustrating the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity, and an investigation into a marriage and an unforgettable love affair.

“It has just wrapped production,” revealed Christie. “There is talent across the board, and Jacob Elordi is just brilliant in it. It is a meaty role and an epic story. Again, it’s a very authored approach to television.”

As for whether Prime Video Australia is interested in co-productions, Christie pointed out that Narrow Road and Top End Bub would be sold internationally, with Amazon holding Aussie rights, while Deadloch rolls out in all territories. “We’ll do the model that fits best,” she added.

Wonder if Hannah Howard will take the same approach in her chaotic office?