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Features  13 May 2024

Spooky Files is promising to spook and delight kids around the world in Season 2, as well as provide vital training opportunities for screen practitioners both on screen and behind the camera. Executive Producers Andrea Denholm and Tony Ayres tell us why backing Australian children’s television is vital for the health and prosperity of Victoria’s overall screen economy. 

Spooky Files started as a conversation between co-creators Matt Zeremes and Guy Edmonds and Executive Producers Andrea Denholm and Tony Ayres about the fears and phobias that plague us as children.  

“It made us realise what a universal theme this is,” Andrea said, “and what an opportunity this was to explore childhood fears in a way that was really entertaining, and ultimately helped kids understand that imagination is something to be celebrated even if it’s sometimes a little scary, and childhood fears are things we all have and can talk about and even learn to live with.”

For Tony, the opportunity to work with his long-time friends, Matt and Guy, for the first time was a compelling one. “I was a huge fan of the show Hardball, which won an international Emmy, and [Spooky Files] felt like the perfect way for us to join forces,” Tony explained. “The thing about Matt and Guy is that they are sort of big kids…Andrea has brought a kind of rigor and discipline to the show to harness the beautiful chaos that Matt and Guy bring. They are like the character, Chaos, in all the best possible ways; they’re funny, they're charming, they're the beating heart of the show.” 

Guy Edmonds (John) and Matt Zeremes (Jon) on the set of Spooky Files S1. Photo by Narelle Portanier

Making kids TV is delightful, Andrea says, but it’s also incredibly hard work. There are challenges around scheduling child actors, and on Spooky Files, the cast and crew have the added challenge of working with puppets and VFX creatures. 
 Director Matt Zeremes with Chaos and Sludge. Photo by Narelle Portanier

Driving the team at Tony Ayres Productions (TAP) is the desire to make quality Australian content for kids. “I always think of kids’ TV as a mirror and a window. It is important for children to see their own diverse experiences reflected on screen, and having a window into the lives of other children fosters empathy and understanding,” Andrea explains. “So, we've got to continue to fight for the rights of kids to have excellent age-appropriate content that's highly entertaining, while also modelling important social values.”

 Executive Producer Andrea Denholm approached a Spooky behind the scenes

Financing and producing content in the modern world is hard, irrespective of the genre, they explain. Unlike adult drama where audiences are likely to watch a series once and move on, kids’ content is often viewed again and again and also provides great opportunities for intergenerational co-viewing. “This show really delivers to its audience,” Tony says. “For children, a television show can have a profound effect in terms of modelling ways to behave, modelling what the world is, and tackling your own fears and anxieties.”

“It's so important that we continue to provide really good quality, excellent shows that can stay in the hearts and memories of this generation of young children,” Andrea emphasises.

Mila Hourmouzis (Backpack Jess) and Thomas Saddler (Bert) in Season 2 of Spooky Files. Photo by Narelle Portanier

It’s also important not to think of children’s content as a diminished category, both Executive Producers stress. All of the same skills and storytelling judgements are applied, Tony says. “The things that entertain and delight you as a viewer are the same in a children's story, there are just different parameters or guardrails, which are often determined by the broadcaster. But [as producers] we're still looking for the hilarious moments, or the moving moments, or the emotional truth of the story.”
 Producer Paul Watters on set with Creators Guy Edmonds and Matt Zeremes

On the surface, kids’ projects might appear like they’re easier to make because they’re often fun and light-hearted. However, Spooky Files, Andrea clarifies, is actually a really sophisticated show. “It has a sophisticated overarching idea, and the series arcs are complex. Every episode has a new Spooky [character] at the centre, so each one is like its own little film.” 

In the show’s second season – greenlit by BBC, ABC and NBCUniversal soon after delivery of season one – Spooky Files’ success is a product of a great team. “A good collaboration is always about what the different partners bring,” Tony says. “There’s not much point in collaboration if everyone can do the same thing.” The collaboration between creators Matt and Guy, producer Paul Watters, and TAP, supported by Matchbox and NBCU, has provided the imagination, the creative force and the production infrastructure and knowledge required to deliver the series to a global audience.
 Alberta Brudan (Xena) and Thomas Saddler (behind clapper) on set. Photo by Narelle Portanier

“The other thing that we've discovered across the two series is just what fantastic directors Matt and Guy are,” Tony added. “We knew they were great creators and beautiful writers, but seeing their work as directors they're both so assured and so capable.”

Children’s television is also known as a great training ground for emerging practitioners. Victorian director Leticia Cáceres was supported by VicScreen as a Director’s Attachment with Tony and Andrea on their 2021 production Fires, before joining the crew at Spooky Files to direct two episodes of season one and then coming on to season two as set up director on three episodes.  
  Lennox Lee (Derek) with Director Leticia Cáceres on set. Photo by credit Narelle Portanier

“It can never be underestimated how valuable kids TV is for training opportunities,” Andrea continued. “In a world where returning series are rare, and there has been more appetite for very high budget limited series, commissioners can be reluctant to take risks on less experienced talent. The chance to develop on and off-screen talent and provide training opportunities is one of the reasons we really value doing [children’s TV].”

Filming in Victoria was an added bonus for the Victorian-based producers. There was a bit of jockeying over who would have to fly (Matt, Guy and Paul are NSW-based) but ultimately VicScreen’s support of the project made filming in Melbourne the most competitive choice. 

“The support from VicScreen is actually the crucial factor,” Tony explained. “It's such an argument for strong state funding bodies, in terms of the relatively small government investment that is required to bring in a major economic benefit for the state. I think that should never be forgotten.” Lennox Lee (Derek), Audrey Salinas (Billie), Thomas Saddler (Bert), Alberta Brudan (Xena) and Mila Hourmouzis (Backpack Jess) on the set Spooky Files Season 2. Photo by Narelle Portanier

Victorian Minister for Creative Industries, Colin Brooks said he was proud to support the return of this much-loved and distinctive series, which is creating 280 jobs for Victorians and injecting over $9 million into the local economy. “High quality Australian children’s drama is so important to our culture and Spooky Files is one of those uniquely Australian shows that stays with you for life.”

The Member for Eltham, Vicki Ward, on set with the Spooky character, Chaos (Josh Damman), and Lennox Lee who plays Derek. Photo by Narelle Portanier

The Member for Eltham, Vicki Ward, who also visited the set of Spooky Files was thrilled the show had filmed in her electorate. “The world is discovering the amazing sites and locations that are right here in Eltham like the amazing Montsalvat, which has been a wonderful location for so many films and TV series. When Spooky Files season two hits the screens, audiences worldwide will know just how incredible our area is.” 

Season 2 of Spooky Files promises to deliver more mystery, adventure and an epic story arc, its producers say. With the school year coming to an end, the older characters are graduating from Primary School and Bert and Billie are welcoming a new family member. There are a bunch of fabulous new Spookies and we get a glimpse into the fear dimension where all Spookies exist. We also meet the biggest, baddest Spooky yet! “It’s a little bit more Marvel” Tony says laughing. 

Keep your eyes peeled for the new season of Spooky Files later this year on ABC and BBC.