Or: How to turn an infamous Sydney meme into animated gold!
As a lifelong Melbournian, it’s easy for me to miss some of the subtle differences between my beloved hometown and its neighbour to the north. While holidays have given me first-hand experience with the sights of Sydney, everyday life there varies more than non-Aussies may realize.
For instance, I’ve rarely seen ibises except when at the zoo. In the words of Sydneysider Nikos Andronicos however, the birds are universally “maligned, ridiculed and hated” in his hometown to the point where they’ve reached online notoriety. Dozens of memes cast ibises as pests that steal food from picnics and forage through trash, with the occasional winking acknowledgment that this behaviour stems from the destruction of their natural habitat.
This idea of forced adaptation is what first inspired Nikos to explore ibises as underdogs, with the birds’ surge in online popularity easily persuading his longtime collaborator and friend Dave Carter that the timing was right. The show they created, Bin Chickens, would go on to become a member of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)’s Fresh Blood finalists for 2017, and may finally be set to premiere before the end of the year.
In Nikos’ words, Bin Chickens, which takes its name from a common Australian term of quasi-endearment for ibises, stars 3 of the birds “trying to live life to the max in the middle of Sydney’s tourist hellhole, Darling Harbour”. The main characters, voiced by Aussie actors and comedians Sam Campbell, David Eastgate and Veronica Milsom, also serve as surrogates for commentary on Sydney’s rapid gentrification, which has seen the city “overbuilt by ugly buildings, while destroying all the good old stuff”, in addition to controversial and strict nightlife laws that made national news when first passed.
Despite Nikos and Dave both having extensive animation backgrounds, including the series Psychotown for Mike Judge and 2016’s acclaimed short Fish with Legs, this will be the pair’s first entirely Australian series, with production duties shared by Backseat Rebel and Fresh Blood co-founders Screen Australia. While this may seem surprising to foreigners, it represents a common experience for Aussie animators, many of whom will see their shows become international co-productions which lose their original identity, or simply aimed at kids in order to make them easier to market overseas. As a result, Australian adult animation can be much trickier to find, especially when the most high-profile example in recent memory is the Archer clone Pacific Heat.
The most obvious challenge is funding, which is where Fresh Blood comes in. Now in its second run, the initiative is designed to spotlight 20 new Aussie comedy series, which receive funding for 3 episodes to air on ABC’s iView streaming service. The 2017 finalists include 4 animated series, an impressive achievement given live-action submissions greatly outnumber them. Fresh Blood executive producer Nicholas Hayden agreed with my suggestion that this is probably once again a funding issue, given all shows share the same budget regardless of format. Despite this, the amount of animated Fresh Blood submissions and finalists increased in 2017, surely a good sign for the ABC, which Nicholas emphasizes is “very interested in animation”, as it’s home to “some of the best writing on TV currently”.
Although Nikos has worked with Screen Australia previously on Fish with Legs, the decision to submit Bin Chickens to Fresh Blood was largely motivated by his experiences as a director for several of its live-action finalists during the first run, and seeing how first-hand how it can spur “bigger and better things”. These previous experiences also meant that the budget wasn’t quite as challenging as it may be for first-timers, as the team seemed to anticipate that work would have to be divided amongst a smaller group than live-action projects. In fact, Nikos pointed out to me that the four-person team (himself, Dave, co-animator Jeremy Carlen and sound designer Greg Crittenden) was an asset to ensuring that the show’s vision didn’t become “lost in translation”. This is most obvious when discussing his work with Dave; the two often unintentionally became co-writers and directors due to their habit of “sticking [their] noses in each other’s business just to be annoying”.
Now that Bin Chickens has finished production and been delivered along with the other Fresh Blood finalists, the team is anxiously waiting to hear from ABC about a release date (as I said above, they’re supposedly aiming for Q4 of 2017, which could be any day now). In the meantime, Backseat Rebel will continue to produce animated content alongside their live-action work in whatever format they can, though Nikos professes a belief in long-form series as “the holy grail of adult animated comedy”.
Hopefully, audiences embrace this new batch of homemade animated series and see the gap in the industry that Aussie animators are trying to close. Despite the playful rivalry that my hometown shares with Bin Chickens’ setting, I can’t wait to see what the team have done to provide Sydneysiders with a representation of their lives onscreen.
I’ll be providing any updates about premiere schedules, as well as full reviews of Bin Chickens and the other animated Fresh Blood shows on Bubbleblabber in the future.
(Special thanks to Nicholas Hayden for his time, and to Nikos Andronicos for answering a million questions and providing the stills for this article.)