Into the brightly coloured world of Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles

The OG Wiggles

Sally Aitken: “You can’t script that kind of commitment, you can’t predict that kind of passion.”

On Thursday night at SXSW Sydney, Emmy-nominated director Sally Aitken joined The Wiggles – including the OGs Anthony Field, Greg Page, Murray Cook, and Jeff Fatt – on the black carpet for the World Premiere screening of Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles.

The documentary tells the story of four friends who recorded a one-off album of children’s music in the early ‘90s, setting off a chain of events that would see them become the most successful children’s act of all time. All the wiggly action is available to watch when Hot Potato: The Story of The Wiggles launches October 24 on Prime Video globally.

Ahead of the premiere, Mediaweek sat down with director, Sally Aitken, and Prime Video’s head of content ANZ, Alexandra Gilbert.

the wiggles Sally Aitken and Ally Gilbert

Alexandra Gilbert and Sally Aitken

Reflecting on how the Hot Potato documentary came to be, Aitken and Gilbert said that it was an easy decision to pick the project up – so easy, in fact, that they wondered why it hadn’t been done sooner.

Aitken: It all came about because a friend of mine in New Zealand had a young filmmaker approach her with the possibility of the story. She reached out to me, and I was really surprised that they’ve never really done a long-form before – there’s such an amazing, improbable story that leapt off the page. We went through the process of engaging with The Wiggles to see if that would be something of interest to them, and I think they’re at a stage where they’re really ready for that legacy story

“We were very interested in the origin of the group, but also their longevity and how they’ve endured. The film is an homage to this relationship between The Wiggles and their fans. Many of their original fans are now adults and they have their own children, it’s like the passing on of something precious.”

Gilbert: “When Sally and I sat down in Los Angeles about a year ago and we first spoke about this, the first thing that struck was that it was at a time when we felt like audiences were really craving this nostalgic, feel-good story. But also, The Wiggles had reemerged into the cultural zeitgeist – not long before that, they’d won the Triple J Hottest 100 and they were doing these OG concerts.

“The other thing, on the unscripted side in particular, is exclusivity. These guys have been around for three decades and we’ve seen bits and pieces along the way, but this comprehensive story and exploration of what The Wiggles are and how they came to be is really special. The feature delivers tears, and shock, and and triumph – it’s a beautiful piece, and we’re so excited.”

Director Sally Aitken & The OG Wiggles

Director Sally Aitken and The OG Wiggles

The overarching story of The Wiggles is well-known enough that most people would feel they’ve got a baseline level of understanding, so you may not expect there to be too many surprises to be unearthed along the way. The pair said that the most surprising thing they discovered while telling the story was just how genuine the group are in their love for what they do. 

Aitken: “The thing that shouldn’t be surprising, but perhaps is, is how committed they are to music and to children. It is the DNA of what they do, and I really, really wanted to respect and honour that.

“If you’ve played Hot Potato millions of times, you would think that maybe you would be tired of playing Hot Potato again, and they weren’t. You can’t script that kind of commitment, you can’t predict that kind of passion. You can be cynical about those things, but actually, what you find is how authentically held that musicality and that passion is.

Gilbert: “What I really loved was the intelligence and intentionality around how they connect with children. Little tidbits like the fact that children love telling you what to do, so there are songs where they give instructions, and they yell at Jeff to wake up –  hearing the group themselves explain highlights the fact that their origin is childhood educators. They’re coming from this place of real passion and respect for their children audience.”

When asked whether there were any significant challenges that arose when it came to putting the documentary together, Aitken laughs “Why don’t you try looking through 30 plus years of archives!”

Aitken: “I did joke with someone that you have to be careful what you wish for, because there’s not just the production archive, there’s everything that anyone has ever filmed or written about The Wiggles.

“Then there are personal archives. Jeff Fatt, the original purple Wiggle, has taken a photograph every day since the early 90s – so we had access to all of Jeff’s amazing photo albums, which have never really been seen before. On top of all of that, we did a call out for fans to dust off the old VHS out of the corner cupboard. We were overwhelmed by these beautiful videos and the stories that accompanied them. 

“With that enormous bed, and then all the interviews, and the concerts, and all the music, we had to bring it down to a feature documentary.”

The OG Wiggles visit NASA

The OG Wiggles visit NASA

There’s a major buzz around Hot Potato, and it would be impossible to deny the role that the power of nostalgia has in that. Harnessing that power is something that the pair say has worked in their favour. 

Aitken: “I think there’s something to the idea that we live in a really fast world, and our kids grow up really quickly. Childhood is this very precious time, and it goes fast, so there is something about tapping into that moment, when the world is new and exciting. 

“It’s a precious time, and I think people are looking to recapture that in a world which is vast, and a world that is beset with so many challenges.”

Gilbert: “With music, it’s really interesting because it’s such a strong emotional access point – you don’t remember that you know the words to Hot Potato, and then suddenly you do, and there’s this influx of memories of what it felt like to be that child.

“The other part of this is that everything that’s old is new again. There’s something cool about the early 90s and these daggy guys, that’s a little bit fashionable right now.”

Despite being an Australian band, Hot Potato: The Story of the Wiggles is a story that Amazon is taking globally. Gilbert said that the expectations are high for the documentary in overseas markets, driven by the success that The Wiggles have seen all over the globe.

Gilbert: “They do have global cultural resonance, and we’re excited to be launching in 240 countries and territories – including the US and the UK and Canada, where they are well established and have had very successful tours. But there are so many elements to this story that are geographically boundless. It’s not only this nostalgia and familiarity with the group, but it’s a business story. It’s a story of humans who have been enmeshed with each other in this common mission to bring music to children for three decades. 

“In every country where The Wiggles have entered and brought their music, they’ve been hugely successful relatively quickly. So there’s a lot of confidence behind the brand in that sense as well.”

Top Image: The OG Wiggles

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