Making Nine’s Amazing Grace: Producer/director Shawn Seet behind the scenes

Kate Jenkinson, Sigrid Thornton and Alex Dimitriades star in Amazing Grace from Playmaker Media

Nine’s new Australian drama Amazing Grace launches this week. The series is the last from Playmaker Media under the guidance of co-founders David Maher and David Taylor, and it could also be one of the last series commissioned by Nine not done in partnership with its streaming service Stan.

See also: Hugh Marks on how Nine and Stan could commission Australian drama in the future.

Kate Jenkinson, Sigrid Thornton and Alex Dimitriades star in Amazing Grace with the series exploring life behind the doors of St Brigid’s birthing centre.

Steering the new series for Playmaker and Nine’s executive producer Andy Ryan is co-executive producer and director Shawn Seet. Seet is no stranger to primetime TV and working with Nine.

“I have had a long involvement with Playmaker on series like The Code and Love Child,” Seet told Mediaweek. “I was the setup director for Love Child and worked on the first and second series. It almost felt like getting the old team back together for this series also on Nine.”

Although Amazing Grace is the final production from David Taylor and David Maher at Playmaker, Seet said he will continue the collaboration, working with the producers on future projects. “We have had a very successful collaboration and I can’t see that finishing now.”

After the co-founders of Playmaker announced their departure in 2020, the production company’s parent Sony Pictures Television announced that Jo Porter would move across from Fremantle to be the new Playmaker managing director.

Seet said the production team on Amazing Grace made this Playmaker series feel different to the others. “We didn’t want to feel like we were repeating ourselves. But there is a certain warmth about Amazing Grace that is similar to the other shows and we wanted to keep that consistency. The series has a real heart, an emotional core to the piece, very much like Love Child had.”

Seet said the target audience is similar to Love Child. “This new series is something that would appeal to men too. Particularly men who have been involved with their partners giving birth. One of the things we strived for on Amazing Grace was a real-world veracity. We didn’t want to sanitise the birthday experiencing. We were careful not to make it look like a Hollywood birthing experience.”

Working alongside Seet on Amazing Grace and Love Child were production designer Tim Ferrier, the director of photography Bruce Young, costume designer Xanthe Heubel. The two series didn’t share any writers, with the exception of Sarah Smith, the series producer, who had also worked on Love Child.

Seet was involved in all the Amazing Grace casting and helped choose the Sydney Harbour location.

Working on this series was wonderful for being able to work in Watsons Bay every day. It really set the tone for everyone to work in such a beautiful area. It was also a joy for everyone to go to work after eight months of Covid! When you work in a place with so much natural beauty it imbues the work. It puts you in a good mood from when you arrive on set and I think it comes across in the series.”

The Playmaker SFX team did a great job adding a multi-story hospital beside the birthing centre which is an unused conference centre in bushland near South Head.

As to how the production sector has adapted to working Covid-safe, Seet said he feels much more confident about the future after making Amazing Grace. “Before we started I was quite nervous about how all the protocols were going to work and whether it might be prohibitively slow. In fact we managed quite well. We had a Covid officer on set to make sure we were physically distanced. Everyone was committed to making it a very safe workplace so we could keep working.”

As Australia navigates its way out of Covid, there seems to be much TV being commissioned. “The second half of this year is looking very busy for TV production,” agreed Seet. “Everyone I am talking to is speaking about productions starting then and there is also the Marvel movie in Sydney which is providing lots of industry jobs.”

Juggling your schedule can be hard for production talent in demand. “In the past I have said ‘no’ to something big and come to regret it. But if I have already committed to a series, I feel obliged to do it and not change projects later on. But that’s part of the life of a freelancer. I have been fortunate to work on great recent projects like Amazing Grace, Hungry Ghosts and The Code.”

This new Playmaker drama is Seet’s first job after Hungry Ghosts wrapped. “I took three months off after that series for SBS and then Covid hit.” He was not at liberty to talk about what was next. All Seet could say was, “I will have a short break now and then get back into it.”

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