Adriane Strampp and Nelson Khoury at her residence.WALK through the rooms of Adriane Strampp’s home, an old coathanger factory hidden away in the shrinking wild and down-at-heel end of Fitzroy, and it is easy to guess that an artist lives there.
Each piece of recycled furniture, each painting, even the books lying crookedly on the main coffee table look as though they have been chosen with painstaking care – not in a money-with-good-taste way but in a no-money-with-exceptional-taste kind of way. The home speaks volumes about its owner.
The softly spoken painter has lived and worked around Fitzroy for decades, renovating and decorating her warehouse shell piece by piece as money and time have allowed. From the green, weathered front door to the eclectic artwork and her prized old AGA cooker, the home looks spectacular, yet comfortable and lived in. Even so, there is a styled flawlessness – a Truman Show-esque oddness about the way mugs, soap and perfume lie about.
On closer inspection, it becomes clear that this loft is also the main set for a Melbourne television show – doubling as the screen abode of 35-year-old obstetrician Nina Proudman (Asher Keddie) in Offspring.
When the show’s location manager, Nelson Khoury, set out to find a new home for main character Nina (in the storyline, she was about to move in with beau Patrick Reid, played by Matthew Le Nevez), he inspected more than 40 homes. During the hunt, he walked past Strampp’s nondescript facade on the Collingwood end of Smith Street, in a backstreet, while she was having a cup of tea with the door open. He poked his head in and knew straight away it was the right fit. ”We wanted Nina to live inner city, in Fitzroy,” Khoury says, ”we wanted her to live in a special-looking place that had lots of angles for the cinematographer to shoot, that would make the people watching at home feel like they want to live there.”
For Strampp, who says she is used to exposing personal details of her life through her art exhibitions, handing over her home for filming was not a big leap. Mostly, she says, the crew have been unobtrusive.
”I am a maker … I make things and let other people see them. No secrets,” she says. ”They [the crew] know everything, right down to where I keep my undies, because sometimes they have to remove them.”
On a day before filming, orange bollards are set up around the house and along neighbouring streets. Security personnel stand guard outside from the night before. In the morning, trucks start moving in and suddenly 50 people are bustling about Strampp’s home. The house fills with crew and camera equipment and Strampp leaves for the day. ”When I get home it is all gone and everything is exactly as I left it, as if they’d never been here,” she says. Staff actually photograph her house in the morning to restore it exactly. Online responses from viewers to Nina’s new home were mixed. Many gushed; others preferred the previous, more modern, abode. It can take time for viewers to warm to a new set on television, Khoury says. ”We don’t like to move characters, but when we do we try and top the last one. Some people are attached, but in this case viewers seemed to let go pretty quickly.”
Khoury began his location hunt for Offspring three years ago, advised by the show’s producers, John Edwards and Imogen Banks, that Fitzroy was to be a star in the show – in the way St Kilda formed the centrepiece of one of their previous series, The Secret Life of Us.
”They were interested in cool shapes and the fact you have $2 million houses next to commission flats, the fact you have all these factories and churches,” he recalls. ”It’s just a great look, it’s a great part of Melbourne.” In hunting for the right local pub, Khoury visited just about every one in the area, eventually choosing the Union Club Hotel.
”It’s a great pub. Inside there’s a lot of space; there is a lot of great colours, lots of reds and yellows; there is a horseshoe bar that we can shoot from both sides,” he says. ”It’s easy to shoot the two boys, Jimmy and Mick, and shoot their faces while they are having a chat.” The Union also has small businesses directly across the road used as sets for the Proudman family’s real estate business.
The Black Cat wine bar was also picked because of the ambience of ”the trams going by, those lovely buildings in the background and a bit of greenery as well”.
A Melburnian, Khoury spent seven years in New York, first working as a locations assistant on shows such as Law and Order before graduating to bigger projects such as managing scenes for the Oscar-winning documentary Man on Wire and Martin Scorsese’s The Departed. For I Am Legend, he closed parts of central Manhattan including Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue and Sixth Avenue.
”We shut down Washington Square for a month to do the final scene where they come and blow up his house.”
Much of Khoury’s job involves juggling people and dealing with local authorities, which he finds ”exhausting”. Finding the right owners to lend their homes is also vital. It’s part of the reason Strampp’s was chosen – she is an open person, happy to let people inside her life.
Almost a year later, the arrangement seems to be working for Strampp, who says there are few cons other than not being able to recover in her bed from the occasional hangover on filming day. She gets a free cleaner and is paid an amount by Southern Star that the company and Strampp decline to reveal. She is grateful for the experience – and how it showcases Fitzroy. ”I love that we have so much character,” she says.
So, it appears, do the makers of Offspring.
■Offspring Season 3 is on DVD.
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