Film alumni create must-see TV in lockdown

A still from the ABC TV series Retrograde, created by Griffith Film School alumni Meg O'Connell and Jackson Scott Lapsley

A pair of Griffith Film School alumni have created a unique Zoom comedy series for ABC TV that follows a group of friends during COVID-19 lockdown.

Meg O’Connell and Jackson Lapsley Scott are the creative team behind Retrograde, a cutting-edge series that was pitched, created and broadcast during the peak of the pandemic.

Working from home, the cast logged in together and recorded each episode live. A control room collected the feeds, where the producers and director provided feedback via a remote link.

Retrograde producer Jackson Lapsley Scott said the show was inspired by an online social gathering of creatives from Brisbane during COVID-19.

“Retrograde is a wild show,” he said.

“Very early COVID-in-Aus era Meg and our friend (and fellow Retrograde producer) Dan Lake launched an ‘online bar’ – basically a video chat webpage people could drop by to hang out during the pandemic.

“At some point someone said ’they should make a show out of this’ and to most people’s surprise, we did.”

Meg said the project had helped keep the Brisbane-based cast and crew employed at a time when the industry came to a standstill.

Griffith Film School alumnus Meg O’Connell

“I’m very grateful to be working when so many artists in this country are out of work and unable to make things,” Meg told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“The show is an archive for how strange 2020 has been.

“It’s exciting to have created something out of a period when I could have done very little.”

The Griffith Film School alumni previously produced the award-winning series ‘Content’ – a show designed to be watched on mobile phone screens.

Griffith Film School alumnus Jackson Lapsley-Scott

Jackson said the pair enjoy finding new ways to tell stories on screen.

“The best part of making both of these shows was working with people who were genuinely excited about finding new ways to make art,” he said.

“Retrograde is one response to a unique situation – a relatively simple one, but I hope it has offered artists and audiences a glimpse at new ways things can be made and experienced.”

The series was developed, produced and filmed using the same online collaborative tools that many people have flocked to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s nothing new to say that film is a collaborative medium, but the restrictions of making this show have revealed how multi-faceted and multi-form these channels of communication are,” Jackson said.

“We used text threads, WhatsApp groups, Facebook Messenger, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams Discord threads… whatever was available.”

Jackson said his studies at Griffith Film School had helped him build a professional network of collaborators.

“Film schools are about making lots of work and finding people who you want to do that with in the future,” he said.

“At Griffith I met most of the people I now work with.”

His advice for current film students is simple.

“Follow your nose to what’s good and give that as much time and energy as you can,” he said.

“Think seriously about what you care about in the world and find ways to bring that into your film-making life.”

Griffith Film School lecturer Sue Swinburne

Griffith Film School lecturer Sue Swinburne was part of the original online gathering that inspired the series. She said it showed that new technology could be used in service of great storytelling.

“Retrograde is a response to the strange and surreal times we’re living through, and how we maintain a sense of connection,” she said.

“Usually film and television projects have a long gestation, but this was done incredibly quickly, and it really captured the moment.

“It’s a great example to our students of how to use the technology and the tools available to share your stories.”

All six episodes of Retrograde are available on ABC iView.