In their new limited Netflix series, “Clickbait,” producers David Heyman and Tony Ayres set out to make something more than just visual clickbait. They wanted a show that blends compulsive viewing with deeper, universal themes.
In the series, Adrian Grenier (“Entourage”) plays an outwardly devoted husband and father who finds himself at the centre of a murderous viral video as his family scramble to find him while a ghoulish public (and press) devour the story.
“As I move into television, it’s about making shows that stay with you,” said Heyman, who has produced the “Harry Potter” films as well as Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time” and Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.”
In 2015, he set up Heyday Television with NBCUniversal International Studios, with “Clickbait” being the latest series to come out of that partnership following “The Long Song” in 2018 and “The Capture” in 2019. “You have the immediate grab of the addictive watching, which of course one wants,” he said of the show. “But also the ideas, both the characters and the themes that underpin the story, resonate and stay with you and will lead to conversation. Because [“Clickbait” is] so much about today, and about what we’re dealing with in this new world.”
For Ayres, who won acclaim for his limited series “Stateless,” which stars Cate Blanchett and Dominic West, his aim is to make television that brings people together as well as reflect the world around us. “I think David and I have a common interest in the idea that what unites us is important to speak about,” he said. “And that in a time of accelerating division, one of the things that our medium can do is actually find common touchpoints, even if it is people from very different walks of life being able to talk about a TV show that they liked. You know, that’s the beginning of a connection between human beings.”
Underscoring the point, “Clickbait” boasts an effortlessly diverse cast (“I think I’m always conscious of trying to reflect the whole of society when we make work,” said Ayres) and the production is a joint British-Australian-American effort, with Heyday Television collaborating with Ayres’ own (Australian) company, Tony Ayres Productions, as well as Sydney and Melbourne-based Matchbox Pictures (all three of which are co-owned by NBCUniversal International Studios).
Because, although set in California with an American cast, “Clickbait” was filmed entirely in Australia, with U.S. doors and cars being shipped in to ensure the sets looked authentically American (“Australian door handles are six inches higher than American door handles,” Ayres explained.)
Although the decision to shoot down under was partly financial and partly due to COVID precautions, Heyman said, “There’s a great crew base and talent base there. Also, it’s amazing how much of it does look like parts of the States so it didn’t feel like a compromise at all, actually. It felt like real added value.”
As the man who almost single-handedly resurrected the U.K. film industry when he brought the “Harry Potter” series to Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, Heyman is uniquely qualified when it comes to emerging production hubs outside of Hollywood.
“I moved back to London [from Los Angeles] in 1996,” he recalled. “I was warned that it was career suicide, that it was the worst thing I could do because I was away from Los Angeles and New York and what was I thinking? And it turned out, in part because of extreme good fortune and finding ‘Harry Potter,’ but just in general, to be the best decision I could have made.”
For Ayres, shooting in his homeland was equally significant, in part because he is passionate about training up the next generation of talent. “I think it’s really important that Australian filmmakers also fight for an indigenous industry, a local industry as well, because the two things are symbiotic and they go hand in hand,” he said.
“I mean, I don’t think we would want the majority of Australian production just to be American shows that are located here. We also want to make Australian content and that’s also a significant part of how we train crews, how we get actors, so I think that it’s trying to kind of maintain the ecology […] We’re trying to make sure that there is an industry here as well as an industry to serve international.” Ayres’ next project — an anthology series about the devastating 2019 Australian bush fires — is a realization of that ambition.
As for Heyman, he intends for Heyday Television to echo the variety and breadth of its film counterpart. “I think that if you look at the films [I’ve produced], it’s about working with great filmmakers,” he said. “And that’s what I want to do: work with great creators. And it’s eclectic, you’re right. My taste is broad and varied. I don’t want to be pigeonholed just making family films.”
That’s not to say he doesn’t appreciate his success with family-oriented projects such as “Harry Potter” and “Paddington.” “Family films have been very generous to me,” he said. “They changed my life — it’s just such a huge gift, making films for the family audience.”
Could Heyman’s own gift for adapting beloved children’s books translate to his television production company, for example, with a much-rumored “Harry Potter” series? “No comment,” Heyman said firmly, although he promises some “very exciting projects” coming to the small screen soon.