24 Hours With… TV director Sally Aitken

24 Hours With… spotlights the working day of some of the most interesting people in Mumbrella’s world. Today we speak with Sally Aitken, television director for ABC series Streets of Your Town, hosted by Tim 'Rosso' Ross.

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5:00am Shit. I’ve slept in. Then remember I’m in Perth but on Sydney time. Pl-en-ty of time. Four hours before we roll camera on the first day of our 25-day shoot – which is for a show called The Streets of Your Town – a prime time series for the ABC on Australian homes. Or, as I like to think of it, a free sticky-beak into some of the best backyards in the country.

8:10am Shit. Half running down the hotel corridor while trying to put on one shoe and jam water bottle and shooting notes into my backpack. How is it possible to be late to meet the crew when I was up so early? I blame the baby. (I’m pregnant with my third child).

8:30am A convoy of crew cars take us to our location: a riverside mansion in Dalkeith, a suburb replete with small dogs, big hair and plenty of plastic…as in the surgery, house finials and the credit card variety. We’re here to film a house that epitomizes suburban transition. The Goldberg home has 1960s modernist bones with a makeover of Dallas-worthy proportions. It’ll show up at the start of episode two (Tuesday November 15, ABC, 8:30pm).sally-aitken-instagram-soyt-goldberg-1987-front-gates

There are plenty of excellent retro cars in this series that give us fun visual time-pieces as chapter starters. So this morning we’ve busted out a jet ski for the ironic sequence that’ll open the ´80s-tacular section of the episode. I’m seeing backlit donuts, rooster tails and slow mo droplets in the morning light in my mind’s eye.

The host, Tim ‘Rosso’ Ross isn’t seeing anything. He wants to can the sequence as he isn’t keen on riding the ski. Not because he can’t ride ‘em but because he thinks the idea is naff. Ah… Enter the art of compromise, a mainstay of documentary filming.tim ross on the set of streets of your town

10:00am Having explained that our young production coordinator, Sophie pulled all sorts of last minute favours – sourcing the ski through friends of friends at the 11th hour, blah blah blah.

Rosso is won over. We agree if the sequence doesn’t work we’ll review it in the edit. He gets it. He even gets into the kids’-sized wetsuit (okay, so the co-ordinator didn’t get everything right) and astride his aquatic horse he looks like a champ.

Go Pros attached (for the spray) and a long lens (for the vista) we roll. The thing about crews is that often you’re working with new people – our cameraman Rod, who has shot Grand Designs is a new collaborator. He seems to know one end of his lens from the other and the shots are looking great. So far so good.

11:00am The series producer, Dan, a wiry British ex-pat arrives with coffee – the morning gets better already. How’s the sound? I ask. Crickets. Not literally, but as in the filmic variety when the comedy protagonists suddenly realise they’re in trouble. We are minus a sound recordist.

Apparently, there are places in Australian cities where the phone reception doesn’t work. And we’re standing in one of them. After retrieving our lost member we schlep the gear to the house (I’m told to put everything down right now!)

Noon: we meet our host. Ronnie. She’s the grown-up daughter of the property developer whose home we’ve dubbed ‘the shagadelic pad’ due to its party history of high rollers playing fast and loose in the Hawke-as-PM years.

Ronnie seems to have a propensity for rubbing her hands across her stomach while chatting on camera. It’s a slim stomach but it’s a bizarre affectation. I’m not sure if it’s a yum yum or a discomfort. Either way, we’ll use cutaways. The view of the Swan River is amazing.

1:00pm Eating sandwiches on the go. No-one ever said, ‘hey! documentary filming… it’s so glamorous”. Also no-one ever expected Ronnie’s father’s elderly architect friend, Dennis to show up ready for his close-up. No, we are never going to use this interview and yes we need the strawberry filter*.

Goodwill drives almost everything in documentary filming; this lovely gent is important to the owners, ergo he’s now important to us. Dan makes loud exclamations of delight, while sending flurried looks via eyebrow that communicates our schedule just got burned.sally-aitken-instagram-soyt-goldberg-1987-shag-pile

Okay, the next bits are super boring. Let’s just cut to the gold.

4:00pm (aka way later than we should have been), we finally descend downstairs to the basement – this is a poolroom that The Castle’s Darryl Kerrigan would lose his mind in. It’s television gold…painted completely black.

This party basement is replete with wall-to-wall, puke-coloured shag pile, together with a still functioning personal games console and the not-so-functioning crystals and neon lights wall art.

The piece de résistance? A party room en suite lined in gold and bronze colour palette with a state-of-the-last-century-art in sauna and solarium fixtures. It’s straight out of the pages of Dynasty.

Rod tells me he can’t possibly film anything due to the light. Or rather lack of it. I beseech. Dan brings more coffee. The baby is going to explode. We roll.

5:00pm After an hour of breathing in the accumulated god-knows-what-made-it-into-that-carpet-during-the-America’s-Cup-party-days (Alan Bond and Michael Edgley were Ronnie’s dad Yosse Goldberg’s booze buddies) we’ve probably got the shots. Except that we haven’t.

The solarium awaits. Rosso is afraid of cancer. A healthy fear, but get in there. He is a champ again, sporting sunglasses and a slapstick moment for the fans. We restrict the solarium light to one take. It all works. We even had sound.

Gags about the dated decor aside, the point here is actually an interesting one – these rooms don’t generally survive the eras because they’re made for fashion rather than adaptable design.streets-of-your-town-title-screen

We switch cameras onto the Movi rig, a camera on a 3-point gimble, that creates dynamic swooping shots around this den.

Rod indicates there’s more than an hour of cutaway shots yet to achieve – these will populate the edited film with a real sense of the space. And then the producer enters to remind us we have 30 minutes before the owner needs us to leave. Shit. Enter the art of compromise. Again.

5.45pm Ronnie is a champ. Rod is a champ. Everyone compromises. Except the sun. Fucking winter hours end our shoot.

I take a few Instagram shots of the house (included here) before the light completely dies…it looks great, when you can’t see it’s falling down.

P.S.: Rosso hated the jet ski. I blame the baby.

Episode two of Streets of Your Town airs on ABC on Tuesday November 15 at 8:30pm

*filmic slang for rolling but not rolling.

Sally Aitken is an Emmy-nominated director and writer. Her work includes Getting Frank Gehry (BBC/ABC) the Prix Europa-winning Some of My Best Friends Are… (C4) The Great Australian Race Riot (SBS), The Blonde Mystique (Sundance) and the multiple Emmy nominated Colonial House (PBS/C4). She holds an MA in Documentary (with distinction) from Goldsmiths College, London


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