Newcastle producer Olivia Olley returns to her storytelling roots

GOOD EYE: "Film is all about collaboration ... you cannot be a single operator as a filmmaker," Olley says. Photo: Gavin Banks
GOOD EYE: "Film is all about collaboration ... you cannot be a single operator as a filmmaker," Olley says. Photo: Gavin Banks

This year Newcastle producer Olivia Olley will welcome a return to her storytelling roots as she partakes in the Screen Producer Australia’s Ones To Watch career accelerator program. 

Olley is one of 20 emerging producers from across Australia who will participate in the nationally recognised program that will see her develop a concept to be pitched in an exclusive ‘First Look’ session with SBS.  

Having begun her career in the theatre, Olley recalls finding her first job in the industry after a spontaneous visit to the Opera House stage door. She had moved to Sydney with the intention of immersing herself in theatre production.

“My first day in Sydney I went looking for the Sydney Theatre Company but I couldn’t find it,” she says.

“It was the middle of summer, really hot, and I was 20 and lost.  So I went to the Opera House because I knew where it was,” Olley laughs.

This gutsy move landed her a paid position with the production crew at the Opera House. Two years later she moved to London and took up a job as a runner in a post production house.

“I was the person who got everyone lunch and coffee,” Olley says.

The experience was ultimately invaluable as Olley found herself working among respected producers and directors who were creating television shows such as Spooks and Life on Mars.  

It was during this time she was able to properly observe the industry and begin to see how she might fit into it.

“There was so much encouragement. In fact they encouraged me so much that I actually quit so that I could go and make my own films,” Olley says.

In 2007 she returned to Australia and enrolled into film school at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

She started a screenwriting degree to hone her storytelling skills before graduating with honours in documentary production.

DYNAMIC DUO: Olley with partner Gavin Banks on location.

DYNAMIC DUO: Olley with partner Gavin Banks on location.

Her breakthrough short Hooked, a stomach-turning documentary about the underground body suspension scene, screened at multiple festivals including the St Kilda Film Festival where it was a finalist for Best Short Documentary in 2010.

It was during the final year of her degree, Olley met partner Gavin Banks in Melbourne. Banks enticed her up the coast to Newcastle with the promise of work, and together they built their business Good Eye Deer into a national production company for TV commercials and corporate films.

After successfully focusing on the commercial side of their business, Olley returned her attention to storytelling and entertainment by launching the Newcastle Writers Room with Gavin in 2015.  An initiative that invited Novocastrian writers to pitch their ideas for a TV series, it also provided opportunity to strengthen relationships within the local film industry.

“We wanted to know who the other creatives in the screen production space were,” Olley says.  

“Film is all about collaboration and connection. You cannot be a single operator as a filmmaker.”

Film is all about collaboration and connection. You cannot be a single operator as a filmmaker.

Olivia Olley

As part of the Ones to Watch program Olley has been paired with a senior industry mentor.

She’ll be guided by producer and Director of Drama at FremantleMedia Jo Porter, who has recently finished working on the Australian feature Picnic at Hanging Rock.  

“I think that they paired me with her with me because I was very clear that I want to produce high concept drama,” Olley says.

Later in the year Olley will have the opportunity to pitch the concept she develops during the program to SBS.

Her ultimate goal is to produce a television series in Newcastle. Olley says Newcastle’s diverse offering of landscapes makes it an ideal place to develop a film and TV industry.

“You can get gritty backstreet grunge as well as high-end beauty,” she says.

“The fact that there is only a 20-minute drive between these locations is a producers dream.

“I also think some of the best television is set in that otherworldly space, and Newcastle can provide that.” 

Olley is also conscious of what a television series could do for the local industry.

“I want to produce TV in Newcastle because it would allow talent to stay in Newcastle. It blows my mind how many industry leaders are already living here.  All we need is a show so that we can all work together.”

“A show creates an industry.”