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Mercado on Neighbours: How the super soap discovered and developed talent

After 37 years of production, Neighbours has ended, leaving a major void in the TV business. It was possible to start watching Neighbours as a young child and eventually work on it as executive producer Jason Herbison did after writing in with some plot ideas while still a high school student.

When he graduated from high school, producers hired him since his neighbours liked his ideas so much. Jason Herbison’s journey motivated him to continue exploring for new talent once he was named the show’s executive producer in 2013; he particularly focused on female filmmakers.

“We saw that there was an imbalance, without taking anything away from the experienced male directors who kept Neighbours running for as long as they did,” Herbison said to Mediaweek. More female directors needed to be trained, and I’m delighted we had the opportunity to accomplish that.

Some people have to transition from acting to directing. Prior to beginning her studies as a director, Kate Kendall spent four years portraying Lauren Carpenter. During Covid, she also stepped in as a producer to help monitor the new shooting guidelines. Her dream job, however, has turned out to be directing.

The desire to direct came naturally to me, but because of the history of the Nunawading studio where we shot, Kendall told Mediaweek, “I acquired a great curiosity about how everything blended together.”

“Tony Osicka and Jovita O’Shaughnessy, two of the directors I liked, took me under their wing. They would occasionally hand me a scene to direct while I was performing. Later, I began going to locations and seeing things from a director’s point of view.

“After my character took a break, I just maintained visiting the location daily while appearing busy and carrying a manila folder. They eventually assigned me to direct an episode and then an entire block. The neighbours were a terrific venue for me to ask dumb questions since they always provided me with honest responses and encouragement.

“My advise to anyone who wants to direct is to be prepared to be afraid, to be prepared to fail, and to get up when you fall over,” Kendall concluded. When everyone is looking to you for the solution, fear can feel like an impossible burden.

“Jovita O’Shaughnessy also gave me the best advise, telling me to pretend I was a director because I’m an actor. Continue to pretend when you are uncertain. I will always be grateful to her for saying something that spoke to me so deeply.

Faith Feng Fang Juan, also referred to as Grace Feng in the business, immigrated to Australia from China to attend RMIT to study cinema and television. Feng received a director’s position on Neighbours after creating the online series Girl Interpreted, which was motivated by her experience working as a professional Chinese translator.

I was aware of Neighbours’ status as a cultural icon and pop-culture phenomenon, so Feng said it was an honour to be welcomed into the family. “I really enjoyed how everyone went above and beyond to make me feel at home and supported.

“I found it genuinely amazing how quickly they were able to work. Everyone is so skilled at what they do, but the fact that they can continue to do it over and over again amazes me because the job is so physically taxing.

“I once went through a round with director Chris Adshead in which I trailed him everywhere. We’d finish up early and Chris would announce that he was going to play tennis, so I had to crank up my own walking pace to keep up. I was baffled as to how he had the energy.

“I also collaborated with Scott Major [another actor who worked behind the scenes], and one of the things I learned from him was to always have a good outlook because it rubs off on everyone else as well. Additionally, Scott and Chris taught me how to manage challenging circumstances in which you may need to take a break and reset. It was really eye-opening to be so prepared but still have the opportunity to let go.

When Sadie from Neighbours was cast as the bad girl, Emerald Chan, a model who had signed with an agency, found it encouraging to see so many other women in the industry.

It was incredibly empowering to have a small lady gang there, Chan told Mediaweek. On my first day, I was nervous, but we took acting courses with Eve Morey—the Gold Logie-nominated actress who portrayed Sonya—and it was amazing. They increased our self-confidence, which undoubtedly benefited me.

“Since I had no intention of becoming an actress, it has been wonderful to realise that perhaps I could pursue directing or some other career. It demonstrates how varied the sector can be, and I will always be grateful to Neighbours for making me truly consider my future.

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