Julie Kalceff has worked in film and television for over 15 years and is the creator, writer, director and producer of the international hit multi-platform drama Starting From Now. Attracting both critical and popular acclaim, the series is one of Australia’s most successful multi-platform projects. It has amassed over 30 million views, been watched in over 230 countries, screened in festivals around the world, and was sold to and played on broadcast television in Australia.
This weekend, Julie will be speaking at Room to Move, a panel event run by Noted Festival in partnership with Lambda Literary, at Muse Canberra. Lambda Literary is the leading LGBT literary organisation in the United States, with their own LitFest, residencies, awards, an online review, writing retreats and other resources. Julie will also be running Writing Ourselves In with Noted Festival, a free writing workshop for aspiring LGBTQIA+ screenwriters.
I caught up with Julie to talk storytelling, opportunities for LGBTQIA+ creators and being who you are.
How did Starting From Now develop into the incredible success it is? Why do you think it resonates so deeply with audiences?
The short answer is – a lot of hard work. I think some content creators believe that if you create a series and put it online, people will watch it. An incredible amount of content is uploaded to the internet every minute. No matter how good your series is, if people don’t know it exists, they’re not going to watch it. The strategy behind the release of Starting From Now was to target our niche audience prior to release. This involved forming relationships with as many lesbian websites and bloggers as possible. They were already speaking to our intended audience. By piquing their interest and getting them excited about the series, we had a ready-made audience eager to engage with Starting From Now before an episode had even been released. Once a number of episodes were available online, word of mouth helped to broaden our audience. We currently have a diverse audience that is 20% male.
I think one of the reasons the series resonates with audiences is because the issues and themes it explores are universal. The characters happen to be lesbians but the show isn’t about their sexuality. I think this is why our audience is more diverse than our initial targeted niche. I believe another reason why the series resonates is due to the quality of the acting. I was extremely lucky to work with a number of talented actors across all five seasons. The core cast of Sarah de Possesse, Rosie Lourde, Lauren Orrell and Bianca Bradey has been with the series since day one. It’s the honesty, vulnerability and integrity they bring to their roles that allows the audience to become invested in the characters’ journeys.
Has your sexual identity affected your experience in your industry? Has it affected your experience as a writer?
Since becoming a writer, I have always been out and have never tried to hide my sexuality. I believe there have been times when this has worked against me and there are times this has worked in my favour. In the end, you can only ever be who you are. Your goal should ultimately be to become the best version of yourself possible. It took me a long time to learn this. When I graduated from the Australian Film, Television and Radio School I wasted a lot of time trying to write stories and characters that already existed on screen. I thought I needed to tell those types of stories in order to have my work produced. It was only when I remembered why I wanted to become a writer in the first place that I started writing about characters I believed in and stories I cared about. Only then did I begin to experience any real success.
What opportunities is the internet creating for people from the LGBTQIA+ community to tell their stories?
To some extent, the internet has shifted power back towards the creator. Rather than wait around for a studio executive or a broadcaster to deem your content worthy, the technology exists that allows you to directly access an audience. It’s the democratization of content. This is especially empowering to LGBTQIA+ creators. Television in Australia and, to a large extent, around the world, is predominantly conservative and lacking in diversity. The internet not only allows us to directly distribute our content to an audience, it enables us to prove there is an undeniable demand for diverse content.
What advice do you have for people with screen-related storytelling aspirations?
My advice is to learn as much as you can about writing and telling stories for the screen. Trust your voice and believe in the stories you want to tell, but also have the tools that empower you to tell them most effectively. Forge creative partnerships. After the first season of Starting From Now Lauren Orrell came on as my co-producer for Seasons 2 and 3 and then Rosie Lourde for Seasons 3, 4 and 5. It’s important to find people you can work with, who challenge you and who complement your skill-set. The process of creating content for the screen can be overwhelming. Break it down into smaller, manageable tasks and tackle one task at a time. And no matter how difficult it seems, never give up.