In the week since the TV drama The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart was released, Prime Video reported the Amazon Original series became the most successful Australian Original worldwide with the biggest opening weekend viewership globally for any Australian launch.
For special insights into the making of the series, Mediaweek’s podcast TV Gold recently spoke to two of the series’ key creatives – Sarah Christie, senior scripted development executive at Amazon Studios, and Jodi Matterson, series executive producer and managing director Australia for production company Made Up Stories.
Below are some of the highlights from the special TV Gold Lost Flowers episode.
How the producers found the Holly Ringland novel
Jodi: Made Up Stories is very well known for literary adaptations. We’re in a very, very privileged position that because people have seen what we’ve done with previous adaptations, we get sent a lot of books.
A lot of what we do is just constantly fielding new books, often before they publish, coming into us to consider turning them into television shows or movies.
Holly Ringland’s The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart hit my desk in 2017, we were sent it by the author’s agent. It was one of those books that myself, and my then creative exec Lucinda Reynolds, started reading together. It was one of those books that on the first page I was so engaged and so hooked. The writing was so beautiful, it was such a stunning opening about this little nine-year-old girl who dreamt of setting her father on fire.
I looked at Lucinda and said I am in, I love this book already. I read the book in one night. I called the rest of the team in LA and said I have found the most extraordinary Australian book, everybody must read it immediately.
When a book comes into Made Up Stories, one or a couple of us read it. Then we share it with the wider team to get everybody’s take on it. But from the very, very beginning, I was so hooked, I was like, I have to turn this into a show.
What excited me about it so much is it just had the potential to be such a beautiful, sweeping epic, that spanned decades across Australia. It was a beautiful story that had such an important message in it, and it was just full of hope.
Turning the book into TV
Jodi: We’ve covered the whole breadth of the book. In the seven episodes there are departures from the book. There are a few key departures that I don’t really want to talk about. For those people who have read the book, I don’t want to spoil it when they see the show. There is some pretty big stuff – we’ve made a few big swings. What was really important to us is that the series absolutely had the DNA of the characters that Holly has created. There are three very distinct worlds in this novel. There’s this beautiful flower farm called Thornfield. There’s a beautiful town called Wyuna. And then there’s the Red Centre, the desert.
Choosing to work with Amazon Studios
Sarah: We’ve had such a fantastic partnership with Made Up Stories and Fifth Season as well, who produced the series.
As Jodi explained, we also receive so many materials every day. We’re reading scripts, novels, meeting with producers and creators. When we’re looking at new pitches, we ask ourselves a number of questions about the uniqueness of a concept and why we think something is going to resonate not just with our customers locally, but also all around the world.
When The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart came across the desk at Amazon, it really hit all of those markers. It’s a story unlike any other that we have seen on Australian screens in terms of its scale. It is incredibly powerful emotionally.
Where The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart was filmed
Jodi: So the crater does not exist– it is all visual effects CGI. We filmed the basis of it in various landscapes in the Northern Territory. In the book Holly created this magical place where it’s a crater with these Sturt’s Desert Peas, a very unique flower that only grows in certain parts of the Northern Territory. One of the first things I did when I spoke to Holly was to ask where is this place? It doesn’t actually exist. It was something that we had to create.
For Wyuna and the flower farm, we were in over 20 different locations. The actual house is in Scone [north of Sydney]. The flower farm part of that property is in Bargo, south of Sydney. The cane fields scenes were shot much further north near Grafton and Yamba.
Casting The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart
Jodi: When we look at optioning a book it’s really important for us at Made Up Stories that there are really strong female roles. This show was a gift because it allowed us to have so many different amazing actresses take on these roles. We’ve got the most extraordinary young actress who’s nine years old, playing the young Alice, and then we meet her again, in her 20s. That was an amazing opportunity to cast an older version of the character.
The character that we started with was June who is the anchor and the central person for the story. We didn’t have this cast when we took this project to Amazon.
When we approached Amazon with our dream cast, Sigourney Weaver was right there at the top of the list. We were so thrilled that Amazon got incredibly excited about the idea of Sigourney and completely supported us. It’s such a strong special role for Sigourney and it’s an extraordinary role for a 72-year-old woman to take on. When we sent the project over to Sigourney she immediately got excited and engaged and really wanted to do it. From there we cast around Sigourney as the anchor, and it’s done step by step with Amazon. There were many calls and meetings in conjunction with our casting director, Jane Norris. It’s a very collaborative process.
How important is the global audience for Prime Video?
Sarah: Lost Flowers was always going to be released globally in 240 countries and territories for over 200 million Prime Video subscribers worldwide. We work very closely with our casting team at Amazon Studios. We are incredibly focused on telling compelling Australian stories. We know [a series] has to work locally first, but it has to have a global resonance and reach as well.
With Sigourney Weaver attached to the project behind the scenes and on camera is really meaningful when we’re speaking to audiences around the globe. We also knew that Asher Keddie, Leah Purcell, Alycia Debnam-Carey, and Frankie Adams are incredible Australian and New Zealand talent that were going to really resonate locally.
Transferring complex storytelling to the screen
Jodi: The biggest challenge creatively was to tell seven hours of very complex storytelling. The director Glendyn Ivin and our two editors, Deb Peart and Dany Cooper, two of the most fantastic Australian editors that we have working today, literally spent six months in a locked room figuring out how to structure this story. We restructured the pilot episode maybe 20 times before we got it to a point where we were like, okay, this is it, this is the dynamic start to our story that does exactly what we needed to do. We spent such a long time crafting this show on every level.
We had an incredible production designer Melinda Doring, who worked side by side with Chris Reynolds, who was an incredible location manager just travelling the country trying to find this world and create the world of The Lost Flowers. It was very long and painstaking, and a very complicated production.
Not a series aimed only at women
Jodi: I don’t think the book, and certainly not our series, was saying all men are bad. It was really important for us to have good men. Alexander England’s character, John, really does typify someone who is such a decent, good human being. We know the series is going to really appeal to women. But it is targeted at a male audience as well. We don’t feel like it’s a story or a show just for women. The feedback that we’ve gotten from men who have seen it is they’re loving it and are as passionate about it as the women who are seeing it.
Lost Flowers as part of the Prime Video offering
Sarah: When we’re looking at curating a slate, we’re really looking for stories that are going to speak to all Australians across the board. We’re looking to engage with audiences across our scripted series, our movies unscripted you know. Alongside incredible scripted projects Class of 07, Deadloch and Lost Flowers we’ve also released The Test season two this year which speaks to cricket fans, and we’ve got some incredible documentaries coming out. Later this year as well. We also had The Defenders which was recently released and received the Sydney Film Festival audience prize. We also have a documentary coming out about The Wiggles. We really are looking to create a service that speaks to all Australians.
Listen to the TV Gold podcast every week with Andrew Mercado and James Manning. Discover the world’s best drama series reviewed every episode. There are also bonus episodes every month with special guests.