A Queenstowner is in charge of a multi-million dollar TV series on Australia’s vast coastline.
Phil Smith – who co-owns production company Great Southern Television – is executive producer of Coast Australia.
The eight-part series on the people and history of the coastline has been commissioned by satellite broadcaster Foxtel for The History Channel.
Smith says he’d been seeking to produce something more high-end than the documentaries like Rescue 1 he was putting out – “where you race around filming people who’ve been seriously injured in accidents and then edit stories about them”.
“I realised that New Zealand TV had pretty much saturated series on our coastline, then I thought the Australian coast is unbelievable and beautiful and stunning.”
Australian broadcasters had felt their coast was all about concrete and sand so hadn’t touched it, Smith says.
Smith felt that to tell the story he need to link up with what he calls “the grandfather of all coastline shows” – the BBC’s Coast, which has run on British TV for a decade.
“The BBC decided they would make their format available to be remade for the first time anywhere in the world, but with a very strict mandate to ensure that the quality is as high as the BBC demands.”
Smith was allowed to find his own hosting team but says he couldn’t go past Coast’s Scottish presenter, historian Neil Oliver – “this wonderful, intelligent, mysterious guy who gets on well with people and tells great, almost mythical stories”.
Oliver was flown down in January to front the first four programmes, coming with his family from an “utterly freezing” Manchester to a baking 46 degree Sydney, Smith says.
Smith, his wife Leanne Malcolm and their son Joel joined the Oliver family for this part of the shoot and will rejoin Oliver when he returns this month to host the other four programmes.
Meantime, Smith’s continued commuting regularly to Coast Australia’s production office in Sydney.
Without revealing the production cost, Smith says it’s his company’s second dearest shoot behind the $7 million TV drama series The Cult.
Smith’s delighted with the quality of the series which will air late this year: “They’re fantastic characters we meet and the stories are fantastic.
“We’ve found enough material to do four series – in our heart of hearts, we’d love it to run forever, like any producer.”