IF Magazine

23 February, 2024 by Sean Slatter

When preschool series Fizzy & Suds airs on the ABC next month, viewers will not only be treated to the writing and directing of Genevieve Clay-Smith, but also the voice work of her two-year-old twins and the ballet talents of her former nanny.

Monet and Everest Clay-Smith voice Suds, one half of the animated bubble duo that guides young viewers through 26 different topics via a mix of 3D animation and observational documentary techniques.

In episode two, the pair head backstage at ballet performance to learn about pirouettes and pointe shoes, receiving a demonstration from a blue ballerina who is played by hearing-impaired dancer and Clay-Smiths’ former nanny Elizabeth Rodway.

Clay-Smith, the co-founder of disability-led social enterprise Bus Stop Films and production company Taste Creative, also worked with neurodiverse collaborators including Blue Mountains-based composer Jerrah Patston, who composed the title song with Sam Worrad, as well as DOP Kent Marcus.

Fizzy and Suds is the first ABC production to be certified Inclusively Made, an industry accreditation process set up by Clay-Smith and her husband Henry Smith, in consultation with Bus Stop Films, to promote authentic inclusion in the film and creative industries.

The criteria consist of inclusive concept development, authentic casting, accessible auditions, inclusive crew employment, accessible locations, accessible communications, a safe and inclusive workplace, management of accommodation, and having an inclusion officer.

The writer/director said the series was full of contributions from “people that were meant to be in it”, adding the involvement of her twins added a “very personal element”.

“They were just under two years when we recorded them, so they had just begun developing vocabulary and were making the cutest sounds,” she said.

“But they had short attention spans, so we had to record them outside and keep them interested. When one of them got tired, ld’ say, ‘Okay you can you can get Monet now. They tag teamed really well and I was able to build a really good Suds vocal library. Plus, when the main recording was finished, I was able to get some sneaky Zoom recordings because I live with the talent.”

Clay-Smith was brought on during the early stage development of the Tilt Media and Entertainment production, working alongside producer Sam Griffin, executive producer Chris Hilton and ABC executive producer Mary-Ellen Mullane.

With the bible for the program already created, she worked with Griffin and the ABC’s early childhood development team to determine the topics for the 26 episodes, which include modes of transport, food, animals, activities, the environment, and everyday items.

When it came to the look and feel of the series, a “small and nimble” animation team was used to craft the two hosts, which comprise a 3D bubble body and stop-motion faces that float through live-action backgrounds. The team also created sensory montages, shots of kids creating and playing, and thought bubbles – sequences designed to deliberately disrupt the overall style of the show to encourage divergent and active thinking, questioning and curiosity.

Each 11-minute chapter, shot over a day during an eight-week schedule, was constructed under the guiding principles of extreme intense interest and divergent thinking to offer up new interpretations and meaning from multiple viewings.

“It was really important to me that if the show was going to be exploring divergent thinking and neurodiversity we have talent and creatives with that lived experience contributing behind the scenes and providing opportunities for people to grow their own careers and experience,” Clay-Smith said.

“It was so exciting to me, particularly in children’s television, to provide that kind of representation because our kids need that. Also, it’s my firm belief that including people with lived experience of disability on projects actually elevates the production value, ignites creativity, and brings a stronger product and that’s definitely evidenced in the show.”

Other projects to achieve the Inclusively Made label include Thomas Charles Hyland’s This Is Going To Be Big, a high school-set documentary that follows a community as they prepare for their school’s time-travelling John Farnham- themed musical. The film, soon to be shown on the ABC, won the Audience Award and the Schools Youth Jury Award at last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary at the AACTA Awards.

Clay-Smith said she began developing the accreditation process two years ago after being spurred on by a desire to see greater authenticity among projects that claimed to be inclusive.

“If people are gonna say. ‘We made a film inclusively, it’s one person in the background that happens to have a disability, it’s just not good enough,” she said.

“People behind the scenes need to be represented and we need to learn what inclusive filmmaking is. The [accreditation] is an initiative for education, learning what inclusive filmmaking is and then kind of going. ‘Okay, well if you are doing it, then sing it loud and proud.”

It’s a message Clay-Smith hopes to further through her projects as a writer/director, having previously created documentary series Perspective Shift, which follows three creatives with a disability, as well as ABC Kids series Tell Me a Tale, in which children provide voice overs for animations of their drawings across one-minute episodes. She is also known for her work on shorts, such as The Interviewer, I Am Emmanuel, Kill Off, and Shakespeare in Tokyo.

Last year, her debut feature Baby Cat received development funding from Screen Australia. To be produced via Bus Stop Films, the film tells the story of a dance obsessed woman with trisomy 21 (down syndrome) who, after losing her mother, must prove to her estranged grandmother that she can live independently or risk losing her family home and her freedom.

The project has been more than a decade in the making for Clay-Smith, who hopes to head into production early next year.

She said she was glad for the journey it had taken, given where it’s at now is “really exciting”.

“I feel like its’ the most authentic version of the story that has been scripted yet and the team that’s around it is so passionate about it,”she said.

“These things are so unpredictable, but it’s going in the right direction at the moment, which is great.”

Its’ a far cry from when she was looking to take the next steps after winning Tropfest in 2009 for her first inclusively-made film Be My Brother, and wa asked by an agent why she would want to make a film about disability.

“I was told if I kept making films inclusively and representing people with disability on screen that I would get pigeonholed into this girl that makes the Down syndrome films”, she said.

“It’s taken along time to shift those kinds of attitudes. For so long when I was going out to try and forge partnerships with production companies, people just went, ‘That’s nice that you’re doing that but that’s just impossible in the industry’. What I was doing with Bus Stop just felt so on the sides, but I just knew if we kept telling really good stories really well, eventually we would break through, and certainly that has occurred and is occurring.”

Fizzy & Suds premieres on ABC Kids and ABC iview on Monday 1 March, 8:10am.