HomeAFLExclusive: Amazon Series To Open AFL To New Audiences

Exclusive: Amazon Series To Open AFL To New Audiences

Exclusive: Amazon Series To Open AFL To New Audiences

The struggles and achievements from an unprecedented 2020 Australian Football League (AFL) season will be put on display in Amazon Prime Video’s new docu-series Making Their Mark.

Produced by JAMTV, the series takes viewers behind the scenes of a year characterised by the impacts of COVID-19.

Ministry of Sport spoke to the series’ producer, Luke Tunnecliffe, and director, Gil Marsden, about the series’ creation, how they navigated COVID-19, and the program’s international reach.

Initial creation

Making Their Mark is a seven-part sports docu-series, which follows AFL figures from six different teams throughout a unique 2020 season marred by COVID-19.

The series focuses on players and executives including Nic Naitanui (West Coast Eagles ruckman), Stuart Dew (Gold Coast Suns senior coach), Stephen Coniglio (Greater Western Sydney Giants captain), Eddie Betts (Carlton Football Club forward), Rory Sloane, (Adelaide Football Club captain), and the senior leadership of the Richmond Football Club (Peggy O’Neal, Brendon Gale, and Damien Hardwick)

The initial development of Making Their Mark began in early 2019, with JAMTV’s Luke Tunnecliffe and Gil Marsden meeting at the AFL Grand Final later that year to finalise their vision.

The duo was inspired by popular sport’s programs such as ESPN’s ‘30 for 30’ and Amazon’s ‘All Or Nothing’.

According to the series’ director, Gil Marsden, they noticed a gap in the market for a show documenting the AFL.

“You have to look into sport at the moment, and you have to look into AFL – it’s basically the lifeblood of the nation,” Marsden told Ministry of Sport.

“Anytime you develop something like this you need to survey the market and discover lessons that you can learn from the past.

“Instead of an encyclopaedic look at a team, we wanted to do something a bit more personal, with a bit more of a ‘heroes-narrative’,” he said.

Navigating COVID-19

With most of the organisation of the series sorted, the 154-member crew were ready to begin filming and production for round one of the competition in March.

It was at the time, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on all sporting leagues in Australia, including the AFL.

This saw play suspended for twelve weeks, leading to a condensed season, the relocation of Victorian teams to other states and games being played in empty stadiums.

The Grand Final was also held at night and outside of Melbourne for the first time in AFL history.

Series’ producer, Luke Tunnecliffe, said it put an immediate spanner in the works.

“We got a phone call from Amazon to say we needed to pack down,” Tunnecliffe told Ministry of Sport.

“They [Amazon] shut down 200 productions around the world as COVID really began to spread.

“Gil was even in the process of moving his family out from America, so to hear the words ‘shut down’ was pretty shattering for all of us.

“But after the initial shock we had to really focus on what we could do that was in our control to get production back up and running,” he said.

As Gil Marsden explained, they had to be proactive in their COVID-safe actions to ensure the production of the show could resume as soon and as safely as possible.

“We established the strictest of COVID protocols with the AFL to get us back up and running,” Marsden said.

“Then we were able to go back to Amazon and demonstrate to them that we’d ticked every box and more.

“We were one of the first Amazon productions in the world to resume.

“Problems didn’t really stop after our initial efforts, though – we were managing that crisis for the whole year,” he said.

Despite the unforeseen situation, Marsden knew they had the potential to create a special series.

“Tragedy for others is often gold for us,” Marsden said.

“Initially we had it set up to be a behind the scenes look at life in a normal regular season, but what we ended up gaining was a level of intimacy.

“Our crews were living next door in the hotel with the people they were living with.

“From a historical record, it was a snapshot from an unforgettable period of time,” he said.

Rise of docu-series

 The release of Making Their Mark comes amid a period of increasing popularity for docu-series.

Sports docu-series, in particular, have dominated on-demand streaming services, with Netflix’s ‘Formula 1: Drive To Survive’ and Amazon’s ‘All Or Nothing’ series giving fans unprecedented behind the scenes access to professional athletes, teams and organisations.

Tunnecliffe cited the ability of ‘Formula 1: Drive To Survive’ to bring new fans to the sport, and believes Making Their Mark can have a similar impact.

“They [the AFL] want to get new eyeballs on the game,” Tunnecliffe said.

“You don’t need to be an AFL fan or a sports fan to enjoy the series.

“You look at the rise of sports documentaries across the world, and particularly across the last 12 months.

“The AFL is hoping to capitalise on that and hoping that fans enjoy the peek behind the curtain,” he said.

The docu-series will be made available in over 240 countries and territories around the world, opening doors for new international fans.

Marsden mirrored the thoughts of Tunnecliffe and highlighted how it has the potential to reach a younger, global demographic.

“From the beginning, we already knew it was going to be global, but at the same time we wanted to make sure that we served the AFL community,” Marsden said.

“It’s a story about individuals overcoming a difficult year –a storyline that transcends sport.

“It also speaks to a sea change in the role of media in sport.

“We’ve become accustomed to press conferences where everyone is polished and dialled-in.

“A young audience today is looking on Snapchat, Instagram, and they’re looking at unfiltered footage of their favourite athletes.

“Something like this is an extension of that – it’s not polished, and it hasn’t been managed by the media departments,” he said.

Making Their Mark will launch on Amazon Prime Video on March 12 in Australia.

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