Heartbreak High fans are familiar with series creator Ben Gannon's work on the long running television drama and the home-grown film ‘The Heartbreak Kid', of which the show spun off. But, unusually, Ben also works in a third medium: theatre, and is looking at bringing his latest project, the critically acclaimed musical “The Boy From Oz” across the pond to London, from a highly successful run in New York.
Ben moved to the big apple in order to put the show together for a Broadway run. “It's really hard to do a show in New York . It wasn't something I could arrange over the phone, it meant being there and plugging into the whole community. I made a decision that I would move out of Australia in order to do this.”
But Ben's personal philosophy means that we won't be seeing another Heartbreak High or Head Start just yet, whilst he continues to prepare a possible London run of the musical. “I'm very hands on in what I do. I'm not really interested in having ten projects with ten different teams happening at once, and me not knowing what's going on. I'm not an empire builder in that way. I prefer to focus on one thing and get involved in it myself, that's why I haven't kept up the TV production in Australia because I've been in New York.”
After graduating the production course at NIDA in 1970, Ben began work as stage manager on shows such as the original Rocky Horror and Jesus Christ Superstar in London . He then went on to produce films including Gallipoli and several television miniseries before work began in the nineties on The Heartbreak Kid.
Did you always want to work within television, and how do you find working across three such different areas?
I always knew I wanted to work in the entertainment industry, and originally worked in the theatre. I'd done films and a couple of miniseries, but when we made The Heartbreak Kid I hadn't thought about doing series television yet.
When the movie became successful, and Alex [Dimitriades] was becoming something of a teen idol, a friend of mine suggested it might be a really good world to set a series in. Around that time I also did a documentary about Peter Allen, an Australian who later became the subject of The Boy From Oz with Hugh Jackman.
I love being able to cross over from one medium to another. I look for things that appeal to me personally, and find that I'm much more successful when I do something that I would actually want to watch, rather than saying just I'm going to make all this stuff because there's a demand for it.
One of the things I really enjoyed every week on Heartbreak was to go to the editing room and see the latest episode, because I genuinely liked the show. It was always a pleasure. Every so often, there might be an episode that wasn't as good as it could've been, but considering how many we made, I can definitely say I was a fan of the show.
I liked the characters and the people who starred in it, and as a result I put a huge amount into the show. You only do that when you really love something.
How easy was it to translate the film into a series?
The Heartbreak Kid was presenting a world that we didn't think was widely known outside of Australia ; a multi-racial, urban, more ‘gritty' high school. Up until Heartbreak, we didn't feel that had ever been properly represented on film or television. So that was the world of the movie, and within that was this romance between a schoolboy and his teacher.
Obviously we couldn't string the romance out into a series, but we felt that if we took the setting of the multi racial high school with the sort of blue collar part of town, we could deal with a picture of Australia that was interesting and different from Neighbours and Home and Away, which was what people were used to seeing.