The story behind the hit web series

BY JULIE KALCEFF

Writer, director and producer Julie Kalceff reflects on creating the award-winning web series Starting From Now with a skeleton crew and a shoestring budget. 

Starting from... Scratch

Moments before we were due to hold auditions for Starting From Now, my then business partner told me she was flying to London to follow a woman she’d met.

Head and shoulders black and white photo of filmmaker Julie Kalceff looking directly at camera.

Julie Kalceff, 2015. Photographer: Ella Mackenzie Taylor. NFSA title: 1483734.

Not only would she be unable to help me produce the series, she could no longer help finance it.

I smiled and wished her well and even congratulated her on finding love. On the inside, however, I was wondering how the hell I was supposed to make and fund this series on my own.

My first thought was that I couldn’t, that Starting From Now would not be starting from now and it was over before it even began. That was my first thought.

My next thought and the ones that followed were a combination of disappointment, frustration and, finally, determination. It had taken so much to get to this point. After 10 years post-film school struggling to find my place in the industry, the last thing I wanted to do was give up.

You see, the decision to make Starting From Now was the result of more than 10 years of knockbacks, dead ends, rejection, struggle, doubt and exhaustion. Something told me that if I gave up now, it would be too difficult to start over again. So we held auditions, finalised our cast and launched into pre-production.

A Skeleton Crew and a Shoestring Budget

Starting From Now was always only meant to be one season. It was to be a 6 x 7-minute low-budget online series, launched on YouTube, to prove there was an audience for shows that didn’t centre around straight, white, cisgendered men.

We shot that first season in 11 days with five different cinematographers, seven different sound recordists and a skeleton crew. It cost $6,000 (and around $40,000 in favours). Knowing our limitations was imperative. We were never going to make a super-slick series with high production values, but what we could do was play to our strengths. I knew if we got the scripts right and cast the best actors we could, we were giving ourselves the best chance possible of reaching an audience.

Because, yes, this was about proving there’s demand for diverse content, but it was also about creating a series with 4 lesbian protagonists who weren’t traumatised by their sexuality or killed off as a plot device. It was about making that content freely available to audiences around the world.  

Gathering Speed

One season became two and then three, four and five. To go into the detail of how those seasons came to be is a much longer story.

Needless to say, there were a number of times when I wondered if I’d made the right choice to go ahead with auditions the day my business partner quit the project. But looking back now the dust has settled, I certainly don’t regret that decision. There are things I could have done differently along the way, and some of those choices I do regret, but as the series gained momentum and the treadmill we were on seemed to gather speed, my main goal was to not make the same mistake twice.  

It takes a village to make any form of screen content and Starting From Now was no exception.

The series wouldn’t exist without the hard work, dedication and generosity of a number of incredibly talented people. There are too many to name here but special mention must go to our cast, who became the heart and soul of the series: Bianca Bradey, Sarah de Possesse, Rosie Lourde, Lauren Orrell, Julia Billington, Kylie Watson, Clementine Mills, Harvey Zielinski and Linda Grasso.

I’d also like to make special mention of Sally Caplan at Screen Australia. Sally reached out to me and Rosie Lourde (Rosie joined me in producing the series for Seasons 3, 4, and 5 and Lauren Orrell and I produced Season 2) at a time when it appeared from the outside that the Screen Australia Multiplatform Fund (as it was then known) was predominantly supporting male-driven comedy.

Sally invited us in to talk about the success we’d had with Starting From Now and our plans for the future of the series. That led to us applying for Screen Australia and Screen NSW funding for the final 2 seasons. It was a game changer, not just for the show, but for the people who worked on it and, on a personal level, for me and for my career.

First Day

Most recently, I've written, directed and co-produced the children's television series First Day. This ground-breaking story of a 12 year-old transgender girl starting high school was the first Australian series to star a transgender actor in the lead role.

It has sold to multiple territories worldwide including the UK (CBBC) and the US (Hulu). First Day won the prestigious Rose d'Or Award for Best Children and Youth Series in 2020; Best Live-Action Series at the Kidscreen Awards, 2021; First Prize in the Live Action Television Category at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival; and the ATOM Award for Best Children’s Television Program.

First Day was nominated for 2020 AACTA Awards for Best Children’s Program and Best Screenplay in Television. The series is nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Kids and Family Programming, 2021.

Starting From Now is produced by Common Language Films. Seasons 1, 2 and 3 were released in 2014, with Seasons 4 and 5 released in 2016. It was also sold for broadcast to SBS Australia. Worldwide viewership online: 170 million views.

Watch Starting From Now on YouTubeFirst Day is currently available to stream on ABC iView.