Lauren Hillman’s television career is remarkable in that it’s unfolded almost exclusively in South Australia. But with the future of community television across the country hanging in the balance, she faces her biggest challenge yet.
Career path: Lauren Hillman
Lauren Hillman first discovered screen production during her study at Flinders University and straight away she knew that this was it – this was the dream.
Feeling unsure about the possibilities of producing TV in Adelaide, Lauren did what so many small-town creatives do and went to work in a London pub.
One day a regular customer walked in and asked, “So what do you really want to do?” It turns out that this man ran a television production company and all of a sudden Lauren found herself on the set of a history pilot shoot for the BBC, working as a runner alongside people like Phillip Bonham-Carter.
This experience cemented Lauren’s passion for the screen and with that, she came home and got to work, taking short contracts on shows like My Restaurant Rules and McLeod’s Daughters, and also spending three years working with Nova 919 shortly after their launch in Adelaide.
After an initial false start in which her resume was overlooked at the ABC, and a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, Lauren found herself working on the Adelaide production of Talking Heads. The next eight years were spent working her way through the ranks of the ABC on shows like Poh’s Kitchen and The Cook and the Chef.
Lauren’s last project for the ABC, The Daters, was a short-form dating series for iView.
“When you think about dating shows you think about all those horrible, bitchy, cringey situations. I wanted to create my own dating show about my actual friends,” says Lauren.
“I told the ABC that I would shoot 70 per cent of it on my iPhone too, so it would be really cost-effective. And they said yes! So for the next year, we made about 21 episodes and had so much fun. And then at the end of that year I was made redundant.”
For the better part of a year, Lauren found herself becoming very adept at goodbyes. First she left the ABC’s Collinswood hub, and then she produced Channel Nine’s telethon – the first in about thirty years but the last in their North Adelaide studios.
It was at this point that Lauren faced a crossroads – to move interstate or persist in Adelaide. Thankfully new local opportunities she couldn’t refuse started to crop up, including everything from producing last year’s Credit Union Christmas Pageant to Annabel Crabb’s live Fringe show. Her biggest and most challenging gig, however, is the general manager’s job at Channel 44.
“Community television has had an interesting past in South Australia, and I saw a massive opportunity here… Straight away I knew we needed to move premises and of course the first place I thought of was here, at the ABC,” says Lauren.
“I never thought in a million years that they would say yes… No one has independently leased space in the ABC in over 10 years… but this space gives us a whole new feeling of worth; it feels really good.”
Unfortunately, community television in Australia faces the prospect of extinction. In his role as Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull advised that licenses were not to be renewed at the end of 2016. Current Minister Mitch Fifield has since confirmed that yes, at the end of this year community TV is set to be switched off nationwide.
But Lauren believes that this doesn’t have to stop Channel 44 altogether. Utilising her experience with iView and short-form production, she has been instrumental in setting up the station’s online platform, which will only continue to grow to include local sport and arts content. Examples like their ReviewCycle initiative – in which people gave brief and punchy reviews of Fringe shows while riding with Eco Caddy – show the potential in this realm.
Channel 44, with Lauren at the helm, is set to embark on somewhat of a television revolution.
“The TV landscape has changed so much even in the last ten years but I think there’s some real opportunities in that,” she says. “Live events, engaging and collaborating with the community and crafting ourselves as a training ground for young media talent to work practically on real productions.”
With Lauren’s enthusiasm, experience and foresight imbued in her every word, this seems like so much more than just a pipe dream.