A QUT Creative Industries alumnus has secured a partnership with a Brisbane studio to animate her novel and timely pilot for a subversive animated comedy series featuring feminist mermaids and exhausted sirens as they take down the patriarchy by luring men to their ends.
Like so many others, 2020 didn’t turn out as planned for Jessie Hughes but the creative technologist and screenwriter didn’t waste any time finding a new calling.
The 27-year-old was named a John Monash Scholar for 2020 and was set to take on a Master of Design Engineering at Harvard University in the United States. The global pandemic put an end to that dream but opened up a new and more creative direction for her; one in which she hopes to blaze a trail for female animators.
“COVID-19 threw my international plans out the window but ended up serendipitously redirecting me on an entirely new path, one far more comical, creative, and closer to home,” Ms Hughes said.
“I ended up moving back home to the Sunshine Coast during the peak of the pandemic and would spend day after day at the beach. Who knew that all that coast time was subconsciously building to a TV series about sirens!”
Ms Hughes, whose previous titles have exhibited at esteemed film festivals including Sundance, Cannes and SXSW, was supported by Arts Queensland and Sunshine Coast Council to fund the concept development of her TV series under the Regional Arts Development Fund.
Her original Head Above Water pilot received immediate industry interest and she has now closed a partnership deal with Brisbane-based motion studio Breeder to bring her underwater vision to life.
“We’re so excited to work with Jessie on this unique series. It’s provocative, imaginative and just a flat-out original piece of IP,” said Ben Johnston, Group CEO of Breeder. “We’ve fallen in love with the vision and can’t wait to bring it to screen.”
Ms Hughes describes the series as a darkly comic, unfiltered adult animated series that follows feminist mermaids and angry sirens as they lure men to their deaths to ‘devour the patriarchy’.
“Head Above Water is set it in the modern-day against an underwater metropolis centred around the Department of Justice. Sirens, much like police officers, go about their days devouring society’s bad apples; misogynists, mansplainers, etc.
“The show is a subversive, indecorous and contemporary episodic adult animated series, using dark comedy to explore feminist commentary under the guise of chaotically entertaining humour.”
Hughes says Head Above Water is influenced by other animated productions including South Park, BoJack Horseman, and Archer, along with the contemporary feminism of television shows like Broad City and Fleabag.
“Imagine a bikie gang of angry mermaids with leather jackets and mullets. They are all very cool and fierce. It’s fast-paced, sarcastic, sexual, cynical, provocative and relevant,” she said.
Earlier this year Hughes was awarded a funded place on Screen Queensland’s Sketch to Screen initiative, a collaboration with Screen Queensland and Aardman Academy, the animation studio behind Wallace and Gromit.
“A 2019 study by the University of Southern California found that only 17% of “created by” or “developed by” credits were attributed to women in animated television so I am hoping backing Head Above Water could be a market opportunity for producers and funding bodies eager to bridge the gender divide in animated television,” Ms Hughes said.
“The show is written and created by a woman and has a female lead protagonist. In 100 animated TV series analysed within the USC study, only 25% of the writers were women, while only 39 percent of the top 100 animated series included lead or co-lead characters who were female.”
Hughes transferred her John Monash Scholarship to study a Masters in Screenwriting & Filmmaking at the London Film Academy, juggling time zones to complete virtually. Her animated pilot is hoped to be completed by the end of the year, ready for international markets.
For more information on Head Above Water, visit headabovewater.online
The Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) is a partnership between the Queensland Government and Sunshine Coast Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland.
Photography by Sunshine Coast photographer Warwick Gow: https://www.warwickgow.com
Amanda Weaver, QUT Media, 07 3138 3151, firstname.lastname@example.org
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