The first idea I had that became Front Up was vague and
unformed: I would roam the streets and strike up conversations
with strangers, hoping to elicit stories or anecdotes that would
be amusing or entertaining, offering perhaps a glimpse into the
ordinary soul, the everyday life of suburban Australians in all
their diversity. In my profound ignorance of television, I
imagined this would be enough to make a half hour program.
I subsequently discussed this idea with Margaret Pomeranz, a
fellow film journalist and critic who was also Executive Producer
of the Movie Show at SBS. A producer in a network! I felt safe
talking to her about it, having a shared interest in film. If it
wasn’t going to go anywhere, we would just carry on seeing
films and nothing would be lost.
After several meetings with Margaret and with Geoff Cawthorn,
an admired documentary maker an editor Margaret knew (and who
had worked on the first few Movie Shows), we discovered that my
idea was just too simple to put into traditional tv language, and
we just had to go out and shoot a cheap pilot. We did that, after
Andy Lloyd James, then head of TV at SBS, had made enthusiastic
noises. Andy and the executive, then headed by managing director
Malcolm Long, looked at the pilot and the proposed cost (very little) and said we could make 10 episodes. It was 1993. That first series was shot by Geoff (on a Video 8), but Greg Kay has been the Front Up cameraman for all subsequent series, developing the unique, off the shoulder style. (Most cameramen go pale at the thought of shouldering a Betacam for up to seven hours a day!)
Everybody asks me: "How do you get people
to open up about their private lives?"
The following year they asked us for 13, then for 19, then for
26, and in 1997, another 26. In the nine series we shot for SBS, we have travelled all over Australia, from Darwin and Humptydoo in the Northern Territory to Hobart and Huon in Tasmania, and even shot one entire episode on the Ghan between Adelaide and Alice Springs.
Everybody asks me "how do you get people to open up about
their private lives?" All I can say is that there were
always three golden rules (never written or even articulated, but
1. Never judge people
2. Never make fun of people or manipulate them, never make a
3. Always make them the centre of attention
But the most important element has always been the willingness
of people that I meet to talk, to be willing to share some of
their life experiences. We are all the same but different –
and we all have a life full of good, bad, love, loss, pain, joy
and many other things. Even those who we least suspect.
The most important thing Front Up has taught me about people