About the Production
In the words of creator/producer/director Brett Harston:
Buck House was originally conceived in the late 80s and produced in the mid 1990s to promote a positive image of people living with HIV AIDS. It was a time when there was so much misinformation and fear-mongering in the public media –constantly bearing down and negatively stereotyping the LGBTQIA+ community -- that I felt we needed an LGBTQIA+ friendly platform to counter that negativity. It was then that Buck House came into existence.
With all of that in mind, my team and I decided to embrace and extend the stereotypes of the LGBTQIA+ community (as it was back then) to weave together a sitcom that the LGBTQIA+ community would not only be able to relate to in a positive and humorous way, but also, hopefully, the wider community as well.
Sitcoms of this era (as many still do today) followed a predictable path: they used stereotypical stock characters that everyone can relate to and set them up in ridiculous scenarios that the characters seemed unable to extract themselves from. At the time of the conception of Buck House, The Golden Girls was one such popular sitcom (particularly in the LGBTQIA+ community in Sydney). Another popular sitcom was Friends. And so, with the stupidity and resulting hilariousness of the American-style sitcom firmly established in the popularity stakes, Buck House set out to follow a similarly fervent route.
The idea of producing a home-grown LGBTQIA+ sitcom was also an opportunity to employ local LGBTQIA+ actors, writers, designers, camera, lighting, sound and a plethora of other production technicians. We also provided a practical, fast-paced training ground for young up and coming professionals.
Okay, I hear you ask, why has Buck House taken so long to get it online? To answer that I need to give you a little background...
As I mentioned earlier, Buck House was originally conceived in the late 80s, with three of the original pilots filmed before a live studio audience at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) in Sydney during 1995. This first series featured Jude Kuring (Noeline Burke of Prisoner fame) in the lead role of Phyllis Buck, the sexually frustrated, middle-aged lesbian landlady of a rundown boarding house in inner city Sydney.
These original pilot episodes were produced on a shoestring budget by a volunteer cast and crew, with fantastic assistance from various organisations including the NSW AIDS Trust and staff and management of AFTRS.
After undergoing various re-writes and proper funding secured, the series went into full production under a new mantle in 1997. The objective was to deliver full length episodes using streaming video via that marvellous new invention of the time: the Internet.
However, the (promised) countrywide rollout of inexpensive broadband did not eventuate as per the Keating government's plan. Unfortunately, at that time, industry players in Australia seemed only interested in providing high-priced ADSL/ISDN services to business, while the domestic market had to rely on very slow dial-up or re-mortgage the house!
So, rather than deliver a poor quality experience, the rollout of online delivery of the series went into hibernation until industry caught up with and adopted technology to meet my expectations, as well as those of an Internet savvy audience, i.e., you.
But in the background of all of this something considerably more ominous was happening.
Just as the production was in full swing (completing Episode 8 of the new series - yes, we had planned many, many more), our investment partner, a government-owned agency, was sold to private venture capitalists. Unfortunately this new crowd proved to be extremely homophobic and pulled our funding, forcing us to close down the entire operation.
Everything was packed down, including incomplete episodes, and stored away - safely I thought. Some time later, an accidental fire in the storage area caused extensive smoke and water damage to many of the masters, original audio and camera tapes (although here's a good advertisement for Panasonic Mini-DV tapes, as the ones that survived the fire damage have lasted and retained their quality for all these years up to now).
In the interim, I was living abroad in the UK and totally unaware of the disaster back in Australia. Having since returned down under, I have sorted through the footage that could be retrieved, including the only remaining master of one of the original 1995 pilots (available for viewing here - scroll to the bottom of the page), and a Hi8 backup of a rough first cut of a rejig of Episode 1 for the new series.
It's been a painstaking task to re-master the new series, especially having been plagued by many technical issues that have caused completion of the series to be setback several times. All the logging sheets, scripts and various materials required for re-editing were also lost. Because of this I have been working blind to edit episodes back together, primarily using slate numbers at the head of each scene/take as a rough guide to the order of how these (salvable) scenes would be re-cut.
I was very fortunate to find an old Digital-S master of the Sydney Mardi Gras Film Festival (1998) version of the first four episodes. The tape itself wasn't in the best of shape, but with a little splicing I was able to retrieve enough footage to split into the first four episodes. The audio was shot however, so this was imported from some old CD backups that my DOP of the time, Dion, had the foresight to run-off - many thanks Dion!
The remaining four episodes (Eps 5-8) have also been recreated using the same laborious techniques. In some instances the original Hi8 audio tapes have been lost altogether so sound has had to be captured from the original camera tapes; not altogether desirable, but with no other options it had to be done.
Finally, after all these years, I am very pleased to present Buck House as it was originally intended, albeit with some unavoidable technical glitches.
At the end of the day, one has to remember that what you are seeing with these episodes is history in the making with the world's first LGBTQIA+ sitcom.
I hope you will enjoy :)
Brett Harston 2023
NB Below are screenshots from an online 'Director's Diary' I created some years ago as a precusor to this site. I'm showing it here so you can see the sizes of the original video files we used for a test airing online. We used a program called Vivo, which churned the full sized videos down into clips we could post on the internet. Even then, we had to break each episode into scenes because we couldn't stream a full episode. There were two files available: one for regular dial-up users, and one for those lucky enough to be on ADSL/ISDN (old fashioned broadband).
PS It needs to be noted that we shot the series knowing our limitations with inferior internet access, as it was at that time. The upshot was we needed to limit camera movement and framing to try to accommodate faster internet download speeds wherever we could. As a result, we had to lock off the camera for most of the shoot, meaning you won't see many fancy cinematography techniques and the like. Along with that, our actors were limited to 'perform' within a restricted frame boundary. Such a bummer trying to produce a cyber sitcom at the advent of the internet arriving in Australia, especially with the promise of fast internet access never eventuating - an issue still faced in many regional and rural areas today!