Coral Drouyn Interview

Coral Drouyn first wrote for ‘Home and Away’ in the early 90’s. A decade later with ratings being of concern, she was headhunted and moved to Sydney to become Script Producer and Story Editor on the show between 2002-2004. She is most remembered by fans as being the creator of the legendary Angie Russell, a character that she was most proud of. Her resumé reads like a directory of Aussie TV, with writing credits including Neighbours, Prisoner, Pacific Drive, and Blue Heelers amongst many others. Coral was kind enough to take some time out to answer our forum member’s questions about her life and time on the show.

Interview conducted by Frankie & Dan in December 2007

Did you always want to be a writer?

I have written for as long as I can remember and had my first poems published when I was 11. There are writers and there are storytellers ( sometimes both together but storytellers can also be directors…even actors) Writers can be made….storytellers are born – so I think that was always going to be my path even when I was an actress and a singer.

How did you get into the writing business?

My Dad had a TV show in Melbourne in the sixties called Time For Terry. I started writing comedy material for it when I was about 20…. It just grew from there. I got into serial writing after writing 20 or so stage shows because Ian Smith ( of Neighbours fame) was assistant Producer on a new show called Prisoner. I saw the first episode and thought…”I want to do that!” But actually my first TV script was for The Restless Years.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out? Do I need an agent?

You DO need an agent but the problem is you won’t get one till you have already got your foot in the door. That’s the Paradox. Your best way is to make contact with the script producer of a local show you like and ask if you could do an attachment to the script department for one week. That way you can see what it’s REALLY like.

Is there one script for a Film, TV show or Stage play that you would love to have written?

Oh Gosh….there are dozens. I wish I had written series one of The West Wing…. Or Boston Legal…. I would LOVE to have written The Shawshank Redemption

Which show, script, or storyline etc.. that you have written are you most proud of and why?

I am VERY proud of all of Prisoner (Cell Block H). It was ground breaking in its time….as was the Angie storyline and the Kirsty/Kane/Dani triangle. I’m also fond of a kid’s series I created called Wild Kat.

You started out in the business as an actress, would you go back to that if an opportunity arose?

I’ve had the opportunity many times – though my last acting job was as MRS Meggs in the film Ginger Meggs. I’m a better writer than I am an actress and my philosophy is to keep moving forwards and do things I HAVEN’T done before.

What is your favourite character of all time, that a) you created and b) someone else did?

I have two favourites that I created – Pixie in Prisoner and Angie in HAA. I would have LOVED to be the creator of Denny Crane and Alan Shaw in Boston Legal. David E Kelly creates great characters. I like House too. Not the show…but the character…not sure how much of that was the writer and how much Hugh Laurie who is just FANTASTIC!!!

In the UK practically all the soaps have regular gay characters but this seems to be something which Home and Away appears to deliberately avoid. Why is this do you think? ‘Perryadams’ comments that Pacific Drive’s Zoe was very popular and thinks Home and Away could benefit from having such a character. Could you see it happening in future?

Well of course before Zoe – there was The Freak AND Judy in Prisoner CBH. I don’t think a person’s sexuality is enough to define them….they have to be complete characters and Zoe especially was….yep…I’m proud of that character too.

Perry is right – HAA SHOULD have a gay character. I tried several times but it ended up a debacle. It won’t happen while the present hierarchy is in place. I have found on various shows but especially HAA, often the most vehemently opposed person to a gay character is a gay person. Not from homophobia…but simply from fear of ratings.

‘Perryadams’ also wonders if you would help him to create an Australian version of Footballers Wives?

Nooo….but he can help ME if he likes 🙂

‘I love music’ asks: Do you or have you read any of the fanfics on BttB?

I read a couple early on and thought they were great fun.

Where would you taken Sally if you were still Script Producer? Would she have moved into Summer Bay House?

No…for two reasons. Kate Ritchie asked me specifically NOT to put her in there and turn her into Pippa. And I thought it was cheesy and soapy. I did plan for Alf and Martha to EVENTUALLY move in there.

If you could choose one character to be from Home and Away, who and why would you be that character?

Irene! Always my favourite character. I was horrified when I found out there were plans to write her out when I came on board. Hopefully I gave her strong storylines and really grounded the character.

If you could, what would be the one thing you’d change about the Angie Storyline?

Change one thing and often a whole character will fall down…so I wouldn’t change her.

Where did the inspiration for such a twisted character like Angie come from?

There was a 1950s film called ‘The Bad Seed’ about a little girl who looked so sweet but would actually kill to get what she wanted… from her I created Angel on Prisoner…. And Angie was a jump from that – so it was a three stage process.

Angie’s relationship with her son Dylan was delightfully twisted. Did you ever consider having her love for/obsession with him be more wrong that it already was?

Oh yes – but that would have diminished Dylan – made him a victim – so we settled for the idea that she was a sexual predator with young students the same age as him. It was always implicit in the subtext but we hoped only the adult viewers would “get it”.

How do you feel about Angie’s “identical cousin” Josie? Do you think she damaged Angie’s memory, or enhanced it, or do you see Josie as a completely different character with little or no bearing on Angie’s previous storyline?

I HATED the IDEA of Josie. I categorically refused to bring back the “twin”…. But Josie did turn out to be a separate character – though I never believed her the way I believed Angie.

’emmasi’ would like to know how would you have written Robbie and Tasha out if you’d had the chance? (..she also hints that in her view having them run off with Kim would be a good start!)

I can’t remember but I think Tasha and Robbie who were TRULY different – were made into a travesty. I HATED what was done to them after I left.

If you were still working as the script producer for Home and Away what storylines would you like to have seen develop for Beth?

Well – I would not have got rid of Rhys – at least not for some time. I think Beth was made into a victim…and I haven’t watched the show this year so I don’t know where’s she’s going now.

I had planned a pregnancy for them, which threw the whole family into disarray ( Kirsty and Beth pregnant together) and then …because of her age…. The baby has problems – will be disabled…and she has to make the decision whether or not to go full term. She decides to terminate – for the baby’s sake….Rhys is outraged and leaves her. Kirsty and even Kit turns against her….you killed a baby….they can’t understand her dilemma…. that she felt it not fair to bring a really disabled baby into the world. Hopefully it would have played with the same intensity as the Rhys infidelity and the Kirsty/ Kane story.

You gave a great number of story lines to Max Sutherland, and fans either loved or hated him. What did you see in Max that perhaps some missed? Since he was the only cast member in his age group, did that make his story lines more challenging to write?

It wasn’t so much what I saw. It was a case of there were two characters in the cast with no weight on them….at opposite ends of the age scale. Colleen was just being a busybody and Max had no purpose. I thought by pairing them up as ‘the odd couple’ it will present story opportunities and make the characters earn their keep. And it was a very successful relationship.

More than any of your successors, you shared your story lines around, with everyone appearing to get a fair crack at the whip. How difficult is it to evenly spread story lines around and to plan/write story lines for characters that you either don’t understand or don’t like?

It’s an ensemble cast and as such the stories SHOULD be shared around. Sally hadn’t had a proper story in over a year when I came on board. It isn’t difficult to share around…it just takes a bit of extra effort. It SHOULDN”T be about whether you like the actor or the character…but how the audience relates to them. I know instances where “The Chair” has hated an actor so writes the character out.

Ryan comments that your 2002 cliffhangers was one of the best cliffhanger’s he has seen. On the other hand, the 2003 was in his view less effective. What things in particular do you think are needed for a good end of season cliff hanger?

I can’t remember what they were – but often what ends up on screen is not what was in script. I thought the mine cave in didn’t work like it should have because of production problems. Interestingly I saw a promo for the show which features a mine cave in and a couple of people still on the show have said that a lot of my storylines have been recycled over recent months. Don’t know if that’s true as I don’t get time to watch. But a good cliffhanger must put HIGH stakes on someone we care about – create lots of discussion about how it will be resolved when the show returns. If we’re not asking “What’s going to happen?” …then why would we bother to tune back in.

2005 and 2006, during Daniel’s time in charge, saw many lives on the line, a week barely went by without a “whose life is in the balance ” promo. Ultimately very few people actually died. Is there a risk of fatiguing the fans if there is too much of this?

Absolutely…I still have great faith and belief in Dan….but I was disappointed by the amount of “crime” stories and the use of guns. It’s a sleepy little seaside town for God’s sake and the storytelling should be at a human character driven level.

Neighbours has recently undergone a big revamp. What do you think went wrong there?

I think that all shows have a shelf life and Neighbours is reaching its use by date, that’s all. Having said that – if things go wrong and a show slides badly…you have to point the finger at The Script Producer – it’s their responsibility….just as it’s their credit if a show’s ratings suddenly zoom.


Quick Questions

Favourite Holiday Destination?
France and Bali – though Broome in NW Australia is amazing!
Favourite TV Show?
Wire in the Blood, Boston Legal, Antiques Roadshow, Bodies, How Not to Decorate (gotta love Justin & Colin!)
Favourite Website?
BTTB is an awesome site….but I spend more time on eBay!
Favourite Food?
Smoked Salmon, Brie, Avocado