Trying to win them back to TV: getting Filthy Rich

Zanoski says the genesis of the show came from writers Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan kicking around with TVNZ the question of how to attract viewers back to drama.

You can see why dwindling audiences for free-to-air television might provoke these kind of discussions. In 2015, TVNZ’s on-demand content was streamed 5.7 million times per month, up 27 percent, while free-to-air was watched 3.8 million times. Online revenues increased 19 percent, yet total advertising revenue dropped by $6 million. Clearly, the audience/revenue numbers have a leak somewhere. Plugging that leak has to be a top priority, at least until they can sail the TVNZ ship into some safer waters.

The Filthy Rich logic is that multi-night cooking shows, renovation shows and the like, rate strongly – reality shows where larger-than-life characters grapple with the drama of collapsing soufflés, impossible partners, and sudden elimination. From that observation, one possible solution to the drama question would be to employ elements of that melodrama and mix it with a classic soap ploy, cliffhangers. Accordingly, TV2 ended up looking for something that would be able to play multi-nights and would have the impetus to go on and on. It was a competitive pitch for the style and the slot, with Filthy Rich a winner.

“The first thing that came out was that this was the biggest bulk of money that’s been given to any one drama,” says Zanoski, “and meanwhile we are trying to secure resources on a tight budget, less per episode, then any other show that’s been done for a long time. We had a lot of people saying it was impossible, and we won’t be able to do it.”

Dave Cameron shooting Filthy RichPhoto: Filthy Productions

Dave Cameron shooting Filthy Rich
Photo: Filthy Productions

But the soap-ish approach to shooting saved money.

“We did multi-camera shooting, we wrote with fewer, longer scenes, and optimised the money all the way through. We were lean.”

Spend to save
But the trick is to know when to cut and when to spend, like for example allotting a longer preproduction period for key creatives.

“Like a soap, it was almost creating a stable of house directors, we had only three of them over the 20 episodes, and we bought all three in at the very beginning for the set up, so they were ready to jump in and start shooting and their prep time was used most effectively,” says Zanoski.

Another soap-ish element was to start with a good proportion of location shooting, gradually reducing until content would be 85-90 percent studio. Since this is a show about the super rich, this raised the question of how to make and light convincing sets on a limited budget.

He says shows that inspired him the most – in conversation with Director of Photography Dave Cameron – were Empire, Revenge and Game of Thrones.

“It’s very lofty to talk about those very expensive shows but, what I looked at was the way that they were dealing with their sets, and one thing you very seldom saw was exteriors.”