Words and Pictures

with Elizabeth Walton

Acting in character with screen writer Tony Morphett


“I hated it when they killed Goldie, I really did. I mean, they didn’t kill Frank, did they? It probably sounds a bit weird talking about them in this way – but you really become quite involved.”

Award winning writer and Leura resident, Tony Morphett is joking about the fate of characters he created for the TV series, Blue Heeler and Water Rats. “You become very attached, but I’ve learnt over the years to let go.”

Tony has been writing TV drama since the 60′s. From Water Rats to The Sullivans, his list of credits is impressive. He creates an original concept and develops it into the final script. When shows become so popular that the episodes start running into the 100′s, the fate of the characters is often handed over to other writers.

Letting go can be tough, particularly when it involves allowing someone else to make decisions he doesn’t necessarily agree with.

“You can sometimes think an action is out of character, but even when i don’t agree it’s like in real life – they’re doing something unexpected, they’re note really acting out of character, they’re doing something they were capable of all the time.

“In Australia, we’re lucky to be working with such a deep level of professionalism, that when other writers do things to your characters, you know it’s not just on whim – there’s been ¬†all sorts of elements going into that decision.”

Despite the intricate plotting and planning, the characters still act out the odd surprise that their creator wasn’t expecting.

“I mean, even if you wrote a 500 page biography on someone, you’re never going to cover everything about their life. So you can have surprises, as long as they’re consistent with the character’s history.

Tom Croydon in Blue Heelers went to Vietnam, so you can’t contradict that by saying he was a conscientious objector and didn’t go to war.”

Tony draws inspiration for creating characters from watching and thinking about events in daily life. “You do need to be careful that you don’t use the people you know. The imagination is there to use. Using friends and acquaintances is a bit cannibalistic, really, but as a young writer, I was quite capable of being ruthless!”

He’s been in the industry so long that he predates video and colour TV. But some things go full circle. Tony is now watching video make a come back. For a while, overseas markets preferred film to video. But digital video has now become so sophisticated that productions shot in film are being transferred to video for editing.

“I’ve seen some huge changes in technology, but it doesn’t usually improve the end product. I remember when Neil Davis was shooting in Vietnam, he was using a 16mm wind-up Bolex – which works like a clock which you wind up- and producing some extraordinary footage, in 100-foot loads which capture 2-3 minutes of footage at a time – just like Damian Parer and his award wining “Kokoda”.

“I was recently in Jamaica with my wife during hurricane season, so we were watching CNN to find out what was happening, but by the time we finished, I was so sick of the news that I didn’t ever want to see another newscast again. More certainly doesn’t equate to better.”

Clocking up page after page of credits is a workload he achieves by writing most days from 9am til 6pm, “but I don’t watch clock. I take a leisurely lunch for a couple of hours.”

In the evenings, he feeds his voracious writing appetite by watching, he claims, enough TV to give him square eyes.

“Let’s see,” he muses, screening this week’s guide, “this evening I’ll probably record South Park while I’m watching Law and Order. Friday night I’ll be watching Dalziel and Pascoe, followed by Silent Witness. I watch the shows I’m involved with, and The Bill, Kavanagh QC, Dilbert, Seinfeld, Sex and the City – that’s a great show – oh, and I love the news, lost of news. I also read four newspapers a day.”

Tony’s latest series is co-written with this wife, artist Inga Hunter, who thought of the original idea for the series upon hearing that Bondi police were opening a cop-shop under a flat. The series, above the law, is due to screen on Channel 10.

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