Canberra stars again as The Code returns for series two

Megan Doherty



It probably reflects the laidback nature of Canberrans that airport managing director Stephen Byron didn’t really blink an eyelid when the producers of the second series of The Code asked if they could do some filming at the airport.

“It was quite exciting to do and an opportunity to support the film industry in Canberra,” he said, matter-of-fact.
“You say to people in most parts of Australia, ‘Can we shoot in an airport?’ and they nearly keel over at how preposterous that idea is but in Canberra you can do it,” Birse said.

“In terms of the locations, it was very can do.”

The Code Season Two starts on ABC-TV at 8.30pm on Thursday, September 1, with Canberra again a star across the six episodes.

Birse said she had no concept that the ABC would commission a second series.
“I did not have a millimetre of thought that we would ever go again,” she said, with a laugh.

“Someone smarter than me said it and it definitely applied, with that kind of show you need to play every single card you’ve got in your hand, and we did.”Yet from those exhausted reserves comes another taut, sophisticated production, with Birse and her team finding more to inspire in the national capital.

“It was almost like we got the opportunity to do a great big reccy the first time, which made life a lot easier the second time,” she said.

The Code again looks at personal liberty versus national security in the digital age, with characters under stress from the powerplays of Canberra to literal jungle warfare.

The series this time jumps between the starkness of late-winter Canberra to the lushness of far north Queensland and Papua New Guinea.

“There was always a very clear sense of looking to showcase worlds that were quite strong in contrast,” Birse said.

“So in series one, we had that great big red desert story set against that very architecturally-stark vision of Canberra.

“And this time we were looking at that northern, tropical, green, organic, pulsating -with-life kind of world and again looking at a Canberra that was a big striking contrast.”

So were they looking for a bleak Canberra?

“Well, bleak in the most beautiful way,” Birse said. “I’m flabbergasted by how beautiful Canberra is. I think it’s got the most interesting architectural stories in Australia.”

The ACT Government contributed $200,000 in funding to the second series production.

ScreenACT director Monica Penders believes we are getting bang for our buck.

“Canberra, once again, looks fantastic and I believe this second series raises the bar – it is a high quality drama of cinematic standard,” Penders said.

“The Code 1 really set the standard – Canberra can and has been a fantastic location for filming drama.

“Ease of access, unfilmed locations as well the iconic landmarks and a beautiful high altitude light, make the ACT a location of choice.”

The Code’s producer Di Haddon said the financial support from the government was necessary to make the filming happen, with the shoot taking part over two weeks in August last year.

“The key for us, because we can’t do the whole shoot down there, just financially we can’t do that, you just have to make the most of the exteriors and the differences that are distinctly Canberra to tell the story,” Haddon said.

The Foxtel series Secret City was also filming around Canberra at the same time.

“Canberra was able to accommodate both,” Haddon said.

“We didn’t kind of run into each other and obviously our location managers were talking to each other just to make sure we weren’t getting in each other’s way.

“But for a city that’s not used to having film crews there, to coping with two at the same time, it was good.”

Both Haddon and Birse are loathe to take credit for trailblazing the way to Canberra for other film-makers but do believe, at least, they opened the way a little to film in the most important location of all, Parliament House.

“It’s a very bureaucratic, complex system to get through,” Birse said.

“I think we got the ‘yes’ the first time around because someone in that environment was actually championing the idea that it was the people’s house and it’s fantastic if we can make it part of our story-telling landscape.”

Season two of The Code filmed at some of Canberra’s most architecturally striking buildings such as One Canberra Avenue in Forrest, home to the Department of Finance and 18 Marcus Clarke Street in the city which houses the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

The producers went back again to the Nishi building in New Acton and the Shine Dome, both favourites from the first series.

But also getting a guernsey were more mundane locations including the Metro petrol station Fyshwick and the Gowrie Court public housing flats.

The ACT Motor Traders caryard in Fyshwick also accommodated the crew as they filmed a scene of a character buying a second-hand-car.

“They brought their own car in and we helped to sticker it up and basically looked after them for the afternoon,” yardman Shane Brereton said.

“It was a great day. We got to meet all the actors and the producers. They were a great bunch of people.

“We’re all waiting for it to come on.”

Haddon said locations were often chosen because of their proximity to each other so that the film crew did not have to dismantle and start again. So the exterior of a house in Reid was shot because it was around the corner from St Peter’s Memorial Lutheran Church, which provided some stunning scenes.

The National Film and Sound Archive and Civic Pub in Braddon were also filmed.

“There really are just some terrific locations and looks that you get down there,” Haddon said.

“We were filming towards the end of winter, verging on the beginning of spring. But we wanted that cooler, no-leaves-on-the-trees look. And it does look fabulous.”

Haddon said other film crews will no doubt follow in their footsteps.

“I’m all for more people going down there. I think it’s great. I do hope we kind of break out of doing the Sydney-Melbourne look,” she said.

“With The Kettering Incident filming in Tasmania, both us and Secret City shooting in Canberra, I think it just opens up a variety of locations. And when you get the support of the ACT Government enabling you to do that, because it is an ambitious project, it takes that support to make it happen.

“And it gives you that authenticity. I mean, if you’re telling a political thriller story, to not be able to shoot in the national capital would be such a detriment to your series.”

So will there be a third series? Even Birse doesn’t know.

“I never know,” she said. ” So much comes down to the ABC and whether people will respond to it again.”

Watch this space, Canberra.