Australian TV comes of age – Puberty Blues


This was taken the first day I met Debbie (Ashleigh Cummings) and Sue (Brenna Harding). Glendyn had also just introduced them to their first panelvan in the Souther star Car Park

*A WORD OF WARNING – There are many plot spoilers in this article about the TV series Puberty Blues as well as clips from the show that contain some slightly confronting material

LATE BREAKING NEWS>  Puberty Blues has just won the AACTA award for Best Television Drama.  This is Australian Televisions’ highest award and is just recognition for this outstanding drama series.

– Network Promo for Puberty Blues.

Puberty Blues is an iconic Australian book that based on a witheringly brutal and honest account of two best friends growing up in the misogynistic surf culture of Cronulla  (aka the shire) during the 1970’s.
A semi-autobiographical book by Kathy Lette and Gabriele Carey, it was made into a popular film directed by Bruce Baresford of the same title that was released in 1981.


Debbie (Ashleigh Cummings) and Sue (Brenna Harding) share a ciggie.

Puberty Blues is incredibly widely read and known, with most Australians being familiar with either the film, the book or both.  I remember reading the book in high school when it was a compulsory part of the literature curriculum and in time it’s become an important proto-feminist work.

Producers John Edwards and Imogen Banks were exploring classic fiction for TV series adaptation and it seemed like the perfect time to revisit Puberty Blues.

I’d not long finished the third series of Tangle when setup director Glendyn Ivin rang me to see if I’d be interested in coming aboard to shoot the series.


Uber Producer John Edwards

This was something that was somewhat personal for John Edwards.  Having grown up in the same era he felt it was really important that we shoot the entire series in Cronulla and not double any other locations or have any studio shooting.  In fact, as much as posisble we tried to use the locations that were described in the book.  That meant shooting on the beaches of Cronulla, from south Cronulla all the way up to Greenhills.

It’s funny how sometimes what seems like a limitation turns into a plus.  Location based shooting always seems to have the edge for me in terms of authenticity.  The fact we were shooting on the very same beaches that were being written about in this book infused the stories credibility even further.  There were no sets at all, but all real locations or in some cases locations created for us by production.


Darren Peters (Tyer Atkins) with a vintage board and wetsuit at Greenhills

The book was our starting point.  People are probably familiar with the film, but the book is a far darker and more honest read.  One of the first things I did after Glendyn invited me to join the production was to read the book again.  With the classification laws of 1981, there was a lot of ground the film couldn’t cover and we wanted to make sure we explored all of the more difficult material.

Even by today’s standards, the content certainly raises eyebrows, especially when you consider the authors were 19 when they were writing about their time as 13 year olds.  It has an incredible direct rawness and honesty.  The tone is also really interesting.  There’s no way that Puberty Blues could have been written by an “adult”.  It has a kind of beautiful naivety.


Puberty Blues is really about a friendship between two young girls.  The kind of friendship that means you share everything…The kind of friendship you really only ever have at that young age.  In the background of this intense friendship is the macho surf culture of 1970‘s Australia, filled with a very particular vernacular which is inhabiting a world of casual brutality and tribalistic youth gangs with specific rules and protocols for each tribe.

To me this world would be about the intense friendship and the wide eyed innocence of these girls desperate for acceptance colliding with the casual brutality of a world that values surfing above all else, including the girls themselves.

In talking about creating the look for Puberty Blues, we didn’t really want to make something that was nostalgic.  We actually wanted honesty, much like the book itself was.  We wanted to have it “feel” right.  The tone was the most important aspect for us, not for it to be some kind of rose coloured reminiscing of an earlier time.


The scripts, like the book were  unflinching and in a way, non-judgmental.  It would be the audience themselves that would project their judgement onto our girls, for better or worse.

We didn’t want to sugar coat anything, nor did we want any kind of heightened or romanticised version.  We just wanted to present the story as it was and not embellish it too much.  By keeping it raw, we also felt we were more truthful to the perspective of the girls as they were in those moments.  There would be no hard sell’s of chicko rolls and obvious music choices either.

Like the account of the girls themselves, we wanted raw, untouched.
We also decided early on not to use stock footage.  There have been a string of 70‘s period shows on air recently that made great use of stock footage,  especially from the era we were dealing in, but we really didn’t want to take people out of our world.

We wanted very much to be anchored in our own world and to not have Puberty Blues become just a nostalgia trip.  Of course the audience may have that kind of response anyway, but we wanted that to be in the background, not front and center.  Puberty Blues would still put story telling and drama out front and we had some really difficult material to deal with and we didn’t want to shy away or trivialise any of that either.


Glendyn Ivin – Setup Director

In talking about Puberty Blues with setup director Glendyn Ivin, we wanted to make it about the feel as much as the look of the show.  We concentrated really hard on setting tone.  After reading the book, you realise that it could have only be written by very young women.  We wanted to try and capture the same un-selfconcious, uncensored tone that felt like it was an honest outpouring.

Puberty Blues was to look raw, unpolished and untouched.  We kind of wanted the awkward mistakes and ungainly gestures that young adults have in spades, when they’re completely oblivious to their projected image.

Through both design elements and how they would be integrated into the shooting style itself.  We wanted to have the same kind of innocence come through the images themselves.

Glendyn and I started looking at a lot of visual reference material.  Joel Sternfeld was important starting point for us.  His colour work especially from the 1970’s in LA was a great starting point.  He had a great way of capturing the akward proto-adult postures of skater youth from LA.

It was also an era that was especially close to Glendyn Ivin’s heart too.  He has more visual reference material for this era than a state library !

We were also greatly influenced by an amazing but obscure and hard to find Swedish film called En kärlekshistoria.  Actually shot during the 1970’s it was exactly the kind of raw and unfinished naturalistic tone we wanted.

Before we go into the more techy stuff, here’s a short montage from behind the scenes on Puberty Blues, all shot using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera.

We explored the possibility of shooting on Super 16, as film origination might have been another subtle way to reference the period.  Unfortunately, the cost just ended up being far too expensive and it wasn’t economically viable.


Arri Alexa with the 150-600MK2 T6.7 Canon Zoom

Digital image making with cameras like the Alexa and EPIC have been great for us as cinematographers, but I do wish though there was a way to introduce imperfections or flaws.  Some way of creating randomised image imperfections on set.  Film has them by accident.  I can cross process film, so that it actually goes through the wrong chemistry,  I can even deliberately underexpose or overexpose the film and it will still create a visually interesting result.

It’s much much harder to do this with a digital camera.  In a way, they are too perfect.  And they are too consistent !  So now more and more I look to find ways to create interesting looks in camera from the actual set design, from the way I light things.

For Puberty Blues, we decided to focus on using vintage lenses to create our imperfect and raw look in-camera.


Arri Alexa with 25-250 Angenieux


Reef Ireland ( Bruce Board)

For a while we even toyed and went as far as testing anamorphic lenses.  But the Alexa 4×3 cameras were very new and couldn’t be easily had and so the 1.78 crop from the 2X anamorphic on a 1.78 sensor was far too great.  Those tests did look glorious and for a while and we wondered if we could convince TEN to put it to air as 2.35 !  I really wish that 1.3x anamorphic lenses were more readily available so we could have 1.78 Anamorphic when shooting on a 4×3 sensor camera like the Alexa.


“A” camera operator Geoff Owen with a MK2 Zeiss Superspeed, our workhorse lenses.

Instead we searched for the oldest lenses we could find to put on the cameras.  We’ve reached to the tops of the shelfs at the camera rental companies and dusted off the oldest lenses we could rent. Old Cooke and Taylor-Hobson zooms as well as Zeiss superspeeds ended up our main lenses of choice.  On the Canon C300 and Blackmagic camera we were often using Glendyn’s own Leica R series lenses.


Getting the condensation out of our lenses in the early morning.

Using vintage lenses help give us a uniquely imperfect look and I have to say I was so surprised at how beautiful these old lenses can be.  All their optical faults and imperfections actually give us a very raw look that is totally unique.  In other words, they gave us the RAW and un-polished look we were chasing.

Black Magic Cinema Camera on the beach

Black Magic Cinema Camera on the beach

Puberty Blues is also shot on some very very long lenses. Like crazy long.  Even our wide shots were often on 50mm or 85mm lenses.   We called the 35mm lens “voldermort” because it was almost never mentioned when talking about coverage.  I don’t think we ever put the 18mm lens on.  On the beach it wasn’t unusual for us to shoot dialogue using a Canon 150-600 T6.7 with two 2x doublers, giving us a ridiculous 2400mm !  I’ve never shot  drama using such high focal length lenses.


“A” camera focus puller Pim Kaulk looks to camera while Geoff Owen (A camera), myself on B camera and “B” camera focus puller Frank Hruby work on the beach with the LONG glass


– In this early scene, the girls venture away from the safety of South Cronulla beach to Greenhills beach, in an attempt to try and gain acceptance by the Greenhills gang. Most of this scene is shot at the long end of the 150-600MK2 Canon with the 25-250 Cooke and Angenieux doing the “wide” shots.  It was actually quite a difficult scene to pull off as we had a lot of our cast, on the beach and several riding horses bareback !  Plenty of variables to go wrong…

Long lenses created a really unique perspective and also helped to eliminate non-period backgrounds as well, especially when we couldn’t realistically lock down the entire Cronulla beach.  The big giveaway was usually people wearing non-period colours walking their dogs through the background. Fluro colours were the worst !

Puberty Blues is being shot using Arri Alexa’s as the principal camera, supplied by Video Australasia.  Main unit also carried Canon C300’s in C-LOG and we also used the new Blackmagic Cinema Camera, shooting a mix of DNG and ProRes 422 HQ.  The Alexas were shooting ProRes 4:4:4:4.

We also have a surf unit that used RED EPIC cameras, mainly for their smaller size and great high speed options. There was also some Alexa work in the water as well and one of our Alexa’s had the high speed option enabled, which meant we got some lovely long lens 150 FPS surf photography from shore as well.

Tim Tregoning and Roger Buckingham took care of a lot of the in-water surf work.

Craig “Jacko” Jackson and his team of unflinching grips did an amazing job, especially trudging up and down the beaches !

We tried to get as much surf photography done early on  in the shoot as posisble.  Principal photography didn’t start until the beginning of April.  The water temperature was already dropping as we went into winter and from a script point of view, the cast had to appear in the initial episodes without wetsuits as was the style for summer surfing in the era.


– This sequence illustrates how with multiple units shooting over multiple days we had to piece scenes together.  There are EPIC slow motion shots, shots on Alexa from shore and in the water as well as BMCC footage.  Doing dialogue in the surf is not for the feint hearted ! Just try to imagine how it was mic’ed as well !

Puberty Blues was created as an 8 episode series and unusually, there were only two directors.  Glendyn Ivin was the setup director, doing eps 1 & 3 followed by Emma Freeman who did eps 2&4.  Glendyn then returned for eps 5 & 6 and Emma finished the series doing 7 & 8. It put a lot of preassure on both Glendyn and Emma who would be doing post for their respective first blocks whilst doing pre for their final blocks but I think it all made the show very tight and consistent.


Glendyn works with Ashleigh and Brenna.

Both Glendyn and Emma are highly performance oriented directors.  They both in their own ways value extreme naturalism and truth in performance and look over all else. When it came to blocking and staging the actors, neither wanted to be too prescriptive.  We tended to get the actors into the space and see what they wanted to do and then we tried to follow and keep up.

So rather than coming with pre-arranged ideas about the blocking, we’d try to be as open as possible and let the actors themselves determine it.  Sometimes this wasn’t always possible because you’d run into issues with non-period backgrounds but I felt like it was my job to get out of the way as much as possible and create a performance friendly space.


Debbie ( Ashleigh Cummings)


Sue (Brenna Harding)

I think a large part of the success of Puberty Blues comes down to the amazing performance of the cast and especially that of both Ashleigh Cummings (Debbie) and Brenna Harding (Sue).  I’d like to think that as the cinematographer, I was able to contribute to that performance by not only capturing their performance visually, but creating an environment and tone on set that had them completely at ease with the sometimes difficult material they had to deal with as young performers.


– This is one of my favourite scenes in the show.  It’s so heart breaking.  Sue has earlier tattooed her then boyfriend’s initials Danny Dixon into her thigh but has just publicly humiliated her.  Debbie is trying to help but it only serves to rub salt in the wounds as she talks about her boyfriend Garry.   Sue realises her boyfriend Danny will never measure up as well as Gary, Debbies boyfriend.  You can see this in a single withering look from Sue, that Debbie can’t see.  This was brilliantly staged in the toilettes so that we can see what’s going on, but they can only “hear” each other.  Lighting is this is again kept simple and from outside the *set. A couple of 4k HMI pars into the frosted windows from outside.  You can see how these lamps play in the wide shot.

Sometimes this also means not being selfish about the images or lighting things that you’d like to fix.  You have to judge when to intervene and when to just let things go for the better of the show.




When casting the show, Glendyn and the producers had specifically targeted younger cast that were new. We had several gangs of girls and guys that were in mid teens and several were doing a TV series for the first time.  Having such a young and relatively inexperienced cast along with our desire to create very performance friendly environments on set meant we tried as little as posisble to have the filmaking process impose itself on the set.

To that end, we tried to create a kind of holistic process for our lighting and staging as well.  We tried as much a posisble not to mark the actors at all.  That’s not to say we don’t use marks, but my amazing focus pullers tended to simply mark out the space itself.  That way, the actors had the relative freedom to move where they wanted to and we could still have a chance of keeping them sharp !


“B” camera focus puller Frank Hruby

A camera focus puller Pim Kaulk and B camera focus puller Frank Hruby were so amazing and selfless for allowing me to create that environment on set.  It required that they adapt a little to the way I wanted to work.  They had a very high strike rate.  Frank especially, who with me on the B camera tended to be on the longer lenses.


Emma Freeman in particular also loves to cross shoot, and I always try to accommodate that.  For those that don’t know, cross shooting is when you shoot both sides of the action in a scene.  Traditionally, it’s not done because it’s a really big compromise in terms of lighting and it also often means that the actors have to land in the right area to allow the cross shoot to happen so the cameras don’t see each other.

Emma always likes to shoot her close ups first, and then work back out to wider coverage so we tended to cross shoot close ups, often taking more takes than usual.  Once Emma has the performance she wants we then work back out.  Both Emma and Glendyn also really love to shoot without rehearsing.  So once we’ve done the block through we set the coverage up, do a quick line up to make sure the frames will have a good chance of working and then we go for it !  It’s a huge burden on the operators and focus pullers, but it also leads often to magical and unexpected things happening in the take.



– In this scene, Emma knew there would be dynamite as Judy Vickers (Claudia Carvan) tries to make peace with her daughter Debbie (Ashleigh Cummings).  We shot the two CU’s first and Emma used the very first unrehearsed take we did.  We shot a looser mid and a another long wide outside the door to complete.

There’s a perception with cross shooting that it’s faster or somehow saves time and I’d actually argue it’s about the same as regular conventional coverage.  That’s because it often take a little longer to set the cameras and to light simply because you have to make it look good in two directions.  What cross shooting does give you though is the ability to have actors overlap their dialogue and for the continuity for each to always match.  And it means the actors are working of each other’s performance rather than feeling like all the attention is only on them for their single.


– This was the first time we meet Ferris, and we needed to set up his relationship to Gary.  This was cross shot so that we could get both sides of the action when the slap happens.  The only lighting was a bit of fill for some of the slap part.  Everything else was as is.

I’ve ended up developing a lighting approach that also allows cross shooting more easily, simply by building the lighting into the sets and locations themselves.  On top of that, we tried to stage scenes in locations within the set that had the best natural light for that time of day.

We attempted a very holistic approach to our lighting.  By working closely with designer Jon Rohde, we tried to choose locations that would enable us to light using natural lighting, and then having the curtains and dressing on the windows become the diffusion and scrim frames that I’d normally build.

This mean we effectively would light from outside the set.  Although we did occasionally bring lighting hardware into the set, we tried to give as much of the space over to the actors as we could.

When working with such a young and sometimes inexperienced cast, especially with challenging material, we wanted to make the space as intimate as possible. We tried not impose too much of the filmmaking process on them and just adapted ourselves to them.  It was all about trying to make it a very actor friendly working space.


Naturalistic lighting – Supplied via Mole Beams


– For this location at Cheryl’s house, the art department created a wall of shear curtains and lace for us to light through.  There wasn’t a lot of room out the windows and this scene was lit using only natural light and a single 1.2k HMI Mole beam for some harder sunlight accents along with a 575 HMI par without a lens.  This meant we could still create a bit of shape and just let the natural light through the curtains do the rest of the work.  The actors were stages along the line of the curtains which also helped.

If we put down marks, it was focus only, not for them to hit. We were lucky enough to have two very talented focus pullers, Pim Kaulk and Frank Hruby on A and B camera respectively.

Night interiors were often lit again, using numerous pracs supplied by the art department.  Instead of “film” lights we’d just use practical light themselves.  Pracs are no longer motivating a light source, they ARE the light source.


– This is a great example of the TONE Glendyn was really going for…Of adolescents being naughty and getting up to mischief.  It was created very organically.  We kicked everyone out of the room and Glendyn worked with the cast for quite some time to layer what they were doing in the space.  In the end the main lighting was an uncorrected fluro practical kino that gave a great greenish cast and a couple of tungsten pracs.  That was it, just pracs.

We tried a mix static and tripod operated shots with easyrig / handheld shots.  This gave us a lovely mix of more formal shots which we could then intermix with the easy rig shots which produced a very subjective and more visceral kind of of shot.  We were really trying to get into the perspective of these young girls and to try and see the world from their point of view, and with their innocent and non judgmental eyes.  We often would shoot from below the adult actors eyelines to literally give it a younger perspective.

This is the saving grace of the Easy Rig.  I actually don’t like using it but the Easy Rig does allow you to get cradled handheld shots from lower eye-lines whilst allowing for a sustained endurance.  I could hold the camera for much longer periods of time than if I was just holding it in my arms.  I used the Arri’s extension viewfinder bracket to put the viewfinder at a comfortable operating height and I mostly pulled my own focus for these style shots.  That meant I could listen to the scene on coms and simple trade the focus around as I followed the scene itself. With such long lenses I often couldn’t hear what was happening unless I had the coms and it became an essential part of our shooting style.

It leant us a very unfinished and unrefined shooting style that counterpointed nicely with the more formal style of coverage we were tending to do with the A camera.

My electrics teams was headed up by Mark “Barky” Jefferies.  I really appreciated his no-fuss demeanor.  HE really did just get on with the jo and really got on board with the visual approach Glendyn and I were trying to establish.

Although a lot of the time we were trying to be as naturalistic as possible this wasn’t mumblecore.  We still wanted to achieve a raw beauty through naturalism.  A key scene that mixed practical lighting with our own lighting was the end of episode 3 when our girls sneak out of home for the first time and have their first shared experience with the greenhills gang and their newly acquired boyfriends.  It would also tragically mark Frieda’s story and show the darker and more sinister side of being a part of the Greenhills gang.


Wherever possible we tried to use the existing natural light and schedule to be there at the right time of day.


To say Glendyn has a *thing* for fireworks is an understatement. His short Cracker Bag won the 2003 Palm D’Or.

From the very earliest days of pre he was talking about this scene.  Glendyn really wanted the chaos of the beach party along with the recklessness of teenagers in an age when fireworks were easily acquired.  We were somewhat restricted with what we were able to do with real fireworks, given the safety concerns with our young cast.  The trick was to create the sense of dangerous kids skylarking with fireworks without it being dangerous.

Working with Barky, we created three 30’ towers to which we attached vertical strips of 1k Par cans.  By choosing a range of colours and using a desk to program them to chase we could create a sense of kinetic lighting with colour.  The lights would chase from the ground up to the top of the tower…stay on for a few moments and then fade, replicating the effect of fireworks at close range.  By putting a couple of bonfires in the deep BG and some ground pots discharged by VFX along with some actual fireworks we had a great mix of real and practical lighting.  I had two single 4K HMI’s on towers on the deep BG of both lines of action in order to create a backlight for the two directions we needed to shoot.

We also had a few hours to shoot this key scene, and with it being set on a beach, everything would take that much longer. It was over a Kilometre from the nearest point you could drive a car and access was very difficult. The fast turnaround of TV meant we couldn’t shoot past 11PM.  This meant we had only about 4 hours of darkness to shoot.


We all knew this would be a really important scene, Debbie and Gary’s first kiss.  It was staged and scheduled for one of Glendyn’s favourite locations, the “pipes”.  The pipes were actually created by production.  Glendyn and the producers really wanted a spot for the gang to hang out away from the beach but also away from parents.  We found this great horse riding park in Kernel right near the oil refinery.  We then brought in these concrete pipes for the kids to hang out in.  Like all the important scenes of this show, they all seemed to be the ones with the least amount of time to shoot, which creates a kind of crazed mania while we’re shooting.

Glendyn had deliberately had the pipes positioned so that you could see the oil refinery deep behind in the background.  We turned up with only about 20 mins of daylight left so we had to work very quickly.  I had the Alexa out with a 25-250 on, but I was still waiting for the head to arrive. as we were moving from another location.  The actors were already there and ready to go and I could see the sun disappearing.  It was beautifully lighting up the oil refinery behind so I grabbed a shot bag and plonked it on the head and we rolled up without waiting for the head to land !!  And it was a good thing too.  The take went for about 2 minutes and you literally watched the sun fading on the background as the take went through the camera.

We still had the closeups to do and the pipes made it very very difficult to get both angles.  We shot Ashleigh’s side first in a mid and a CU and then I basically crawled into the pip from the other side with a C300 and a 35mm R leica prime on and shot the Garry side of it.

With different cameras and the lighting changing so quickly it was a lot of effort to get the match to happen in the grade and the lens size doesn’t really match, but we just had to get  it while the light was there.


– Also at the Pipes, and another example of the use of cross shooting, for this awkward first kiss between Bruce board and Debbie Vickers. Also one of the few times we used steadicam on the show to bring the girls into the location.


-An interesting challenge to shoot this as not only did we have to convey the dance itself in all it’s glory, but we also had several important pieces of dialogue to get through as well.  We had a lot of extras as well, I think upwards of 60 with the parents and the additional dancers.  I hung a couple of 6K spacelights above for most of the level and I then had plain festoon lights positioned in the background against the red curtain and the stage.  I had 2 K fresnels as back edges for both looking at the dance and then when we spun around to look at the parents watching.


We had no time at all for this scene and there was pressure to cut it altogether.  The final sequence on the beech was shot in a matter of about 10 minutes with a single camera.  You’ll notice the first shot is a single shot that carries Sean and Vicky up the street.  It’s a 300mm Canon and the fine work of Frank Hruby pulling focus.  From memory there were only 3 takes of this.  I had a couple of 2k blondies and some down deep on the left and a single kino in daylight supplementing the existing street lights with some CYAN 15 on it.  You can see the colour mix at their feet as they walk through it along with the green of the practical mercury vapours in the deep background.  I also had the first organise a couple of cars to drive through the background of the shot to give us some headlights in the deep back ground.

Once we got to the beach itself we literally only had a few minutes to get what we needed.  My gaffer Barky built a Kino parabeam with daylight and with cyan 15 on the beach and we had a 1×1 LED in Tungsten as a bit of an edge.  Cranking the Alexa up to  2000 ISO and going wide open on the 35mm MK2  Superspeed we basically shot this almost as a continuous sequence, on the easyrig.  I don’t think we even had time to change the lens !  We were lucky in that we had some low cloud over the city and the light from the city glowing against the clouds gave us a nice silhouette of Sean and Isabelle with just a little fill from the Parabeam.



In an early scene in Episode 2, Debbie is at home and decides to practice her kissing in the mirror in the bathroom.  Emma wanted to make sure we got it right from the beginning so we decided to shoot using a single camera.  I was literally standing in the bath with the easy rig and the Alexa.  Pulling my own focus using the Zeiss 50mm Superspeed, we rolled not knowing what to expect.

This clip is take one and is what we captured unrehearsed and was the first setup of the scene.  The next setup in the scene, at the point when JLT bursts through the door, we see his arrival and we then cross to the other side of the line and see Debbies reaction to being caught.  When it cut’s back to his single, it’s actually the same setup as the very first one, just with focus deep now with JLT. A final setup was shot outside the bathroom to see Martin closing the door again.  Lighting in this scene was 100% available light.  There was a single window in the bathroom which you can see in the third shot.



– Something that Emma Freeman loves to do is to collapse scenes that are kind of written to flow together into a continuous sprawl.  This scene was staged to be run continuously and in the final cut theres even a chunk missing from the middle.  This greatly simplifies the shooting of it and the lighting and it generally makes a LONG day more achievable. This sequence was originally written as 4 separate scenes, but we simply ran them together on the day making it much simpler to get all our coverage.



– We were so lucky with our amazing cast.  We had a number of other scenes to shoot in the car park this evening and this scene with young Ed ended up being last.  Glendyn had a very specific image he had in his head of head looking at the rocking panelvan and registering what was happening inside.  

With time rapidly running out, we again cross shot this car interior and only had time for a single take of the singles inside the car.  Ed did an amazing job.  In a situation like this I usually have the cross shooting cameras on sliders so they can “correct” for the actors if the ended up masking each other’s shots.  

In this car park I used a lot of “Urban Vapour” on tungsten lights along with single fluro battons with yellows and straws.  I really wanted the car park to be a mix of colour.


This is a terrific little behind the scenes lifted from the DVD extras.  Theres many more chapters on the show, but this excerpt deals with creating the look of the show.


The amazing Claudia Karvan who plays Judy Vickers, Debbies mum.


The delightful Susie Porters who plays Sues mum, Pammy.


Sean Keenan, who plays Gary Hennesey


Jeremy Lindsey Taylor as Martin Vickers


Charlotte Best as Cheryle


Isabelle Cornish plays everyone’s favourite moll, Vicky


Reef Ireland plays Bruce Board


Child Prodigy Ed Oxenbould


Ashleigh Cummings plays Debbie Vickers


Brenna Harding plays Sue Knight

Digital pictures were taking care of the images after they left the camera.  Colourist Annalie Chapple was involved with our very earliest tests.  She did a great job of marrying the three different camera formats, the Alexa, the BMCC and the Canon C300.  Annalie also understood we really wanted to kind of be a bit more cinematic with the images.  Glendyn took a lot of the same reference images and she immediately understood the colour palette we were going for.

Digital Pictures supplied their Ranger Data cart which was located in the production office with editorial.  We split rushes at lunch time and of course at the end of the day. The data cart was a Resolve based workstation transcoding everything to DNx for Editorial.  They had a DLT system on board for long terms archiving as well.

Many of the surf sequences in the show are a combination of multiple units.  Main unit certainly shot a lot of the surfing sequences from shore, and we tried to do this whenever possible when it lead to a dialogue sequence or onto shore.  Often though the surf unit would then come through and shoot additional material, later the same day or even on different days if there was anything that was up close and in the water.  We did have a splash housing for the Alexa supplied by VA, the Scubacam.  We also had a very inexpensive housing for the blackmagic camera that also worked really well and was used often.

I’m so proud of the world we created.  Puberty Blues really is a very special show.  Everyone involved really cared while we were making it and the cast were really so amazing, I honestly felt privileged everyday to be able to turn up on set and work with them.

You can watch all of Puberty Blues via iTunes here.

You can visit Glendyn Ivin’s site here

You can visit Emma Freeman’s site here





About johnbrawley

Director Of Photography striving to create compelling images
This entry was posted in Lighting, Philosophy, Production and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Australian TV comes of age – Puberty Blues

  1. ghanns says:

    Congrats JB!!! Well done matey

    Glenn Hanns cinematographer Sydney, Australia Tel. + 61 421667205

  2. Niles Harrison says:

    Thanks for the insightful and in depth look into the production of what looks to be quite a good show. Cheers from California.

  3. Hope one day to work with such a fantastic crew, ever shot looks fantastic!

  4. Xavier says:

    Hello John.
    This is a very good Post!
    One question. What water housing did you use on Blackmagic camera?

    Thank you!

  5. Xavier says:

    Thank you! I didn´t know these ones.
    Keep the good work!

  6. Annie says:

    I blogged a bit of this on tumblr (its a fan site I am not in the industry) and I just wanted to say that this was a very interesting post – so much work and creative input required for what we as viewers finally see.

    Look forward to Season 2.

  7. Mike Cummings says:

    Hi John, Ash’s dad Mike here. Thanks you for such an amazing insight to the complex work required to make visual entertainment in film so appealing. I loved your examples of the work in Puberty Blues and your explanations for us all. I also loved watching Ash and her fellow cast members doing such amazing work – but then again I am biased. Ash, Brenna, Ed and co were all so safe in Glendyn, Emma and your hands. Ash enjoyed an amazing experience.
    Best Wishes,

  8. Reblogged this on Ehran Edwards and commented:
    A friend of mine shared this blog post about Puberty Blues with me and I found it absolutely fascinating. Thanks Chloe!
    Written by the cinematographer for the show; John Brawley, the post goes into great depth about the choices made for the show to stay true to the book.
    There was a huge focus on giving the show a strong young naive energy, to stay in line with the feel of how the book had been written and to really capture the world that the characters were coming from.
    Brawley then goes to great length explaining how they created the look for the show, without making the trendy 70’s period the focus as audiences were going to connect with that anyway.
    Brawley takes us through their camera choices and how they combatted the consistency of digital cameras by interesting lens choices. How they tried to free up the actors movement by not locking them into specific marks, the decision to cross shoot many scenes and film from close ups and then going wide with the coverage.
    I found this a fantastic insight into the shooting style of the show and highly recommend filmmakers to read it.
    I haven’t even seen the show and found it extremely inspiring as a cinematographer – after reading this of course, now I just want to grab the show and spend the day soaking it in.

  9. lisawilk says:

    Hey John,

    Amazing work!
    This question is off topic but i’d figured id ask you on your most recent thread.

    So you probably know the blackmagic camera better than anyone out there.
    I have a question when shooting in low key lighting. whenever i light something very purposely low key i seem to get a horizontal line that ive heard so many other people talking about. My key is exposed properly, and i have maybe an accent or two in the back spreading a bit of light. i would say all of my zone 1-3s are having a line in the middle of the frame with a different color shift on each side.

    this is an example of similar lighting im talking about.

    Can you give me some tips on how to avoid getting this while getting an image in the camera close to what i want the final image to look like.

    BTW i’ve been shooting at ISO 800 in prores.


    • johnbrawley says:

      Hi Lisa.

      Are you seeing the line in your finished footage ? I assume you’re shooting FILM ?

      Basically, you shouldn’t see the line, even with low key stuff, unless it’s VERY underexposed and you’re trying to lift it back up. But perhaps you’re monitoring in FILM / LOG where there are no true blacks and you’re seeing it there ?

      Do you have an example you can show from your rushes ?


  10. Hi John,

    Great post and its really informative. One question on using practicals, do you change the bulbs to a higher CRI bulbs or use the existing bulbs?


  11. What an amazing in-depth look at the making of Puberty Blues. Love all the gorgeous images and clips. Thanks for sharing.

  12. says:

    Hey John,
    Amazing work! I really appreciate you taking the time to give us all these fascinating details.

    I just received my BMCC camera and i am blown away by it. The only downside i would say is its abilities to render a clean mage in lowlight. And i dont mean “no light” when i say lowlight.

    There were a few scenes that i shot in a short film we just completed that were nighttime interiors. I noticed in certain parts of the frame that were about 2-3 stops underexposed the camera had a good amount of noise and a slight horizontal line in the middle of the frame. Even when shooting 800. The actors were properly exposed and had little noise, it was just the areas of the frame that would naturally be dark had the line with the green hue at the top. The footage I shot has the horizontal very slightly when at 800 without any post manipulation what so ever.

    I like to get my image while shooting as close to the final image in camera. Ive been monitoring in video and shooting in FILM.

    So my question for you is if you were to monitor at 400 ISO and shoot at 800 ISO than later drop exposure one stop in post would footage be less noisier? Would it be the same for both prores and RAW (I’ve been shooting mostly Prores). If so, what would you recomend my zebras be at 400 ISO to match my 100% zebras at 800 iso.

    thanks in advance!!!!!!

  13. Petter Brandt says:

    This may be a little bit off topic

    Just scrolled through your blog looking for some footage to test grading in resolve and stumbled upon the title “en kärlekshistoria”. Just to mention it’s not a Danish film, it’s actually one of a few Swedish films worth mentioning. (Although we see it more as a classic piece than an obscure hard to find one..) 🙂

    The whole film’s actually uploaded to youtube:

    (Not that I think that anyone that can understand the swedish without subtitles haven’t seen it yet..)

  14. Great insight to what must have been a terrific adventure working with so much talent John. I was in a gang from Bankstown that used to go to Cronulla in the early 70’s every weekend by train. Fond memories of Cronulla, looking forward to watching.

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  16. Edan Cohen says:

    Based on this post I went and watched Puberty Blues. I’m sorry to say that the show was so engaging that I completely forgot that I was supposed to be paying attention to your work. It’s a treat watching non-American dramas and seeing how much more they respect the audience’s intelligence. Your work was top-notch – very filmic, pleasing images that reminded me of my favorite Hollywood films from the 1970s. Please tell me there will be a season 2.

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  20. Gabriella says:

    when dose puberty blues season 2 start

  21. Dhruv Bhatia says:

    Where can i watch full episodes of the show .

  22. Jeremy Savage says:

    Great info John, I downloaded the series from iTunes and thought to myself not only is the production & acting brilliant alongside the casting. It was so nice to be totally lost and immersed in Australian Drama yet again! Congratulations to all for Best TV Drama at the ACCTA Awards!

  23. Caitlin says:

    Any production that involves Claudia Karvan, Dan Wyllie and Susie Porter, is a winner in my eyes. Shame it has to be disturbed by ads. Total winner!!

  24. Trudy says:

    It’s Kurnell not Kernel! How could anyone get that wrong? It’s Captain Cook’s landing place!
    Apart from the bad spelling, I absolutely love Puberty Blues. It’s so well done and I loved being reminded of all the different things that you forget when you were a kid. Like elastics and the teacher throwing chalk at you and smoking on the bus, etc. A great Australian production!

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