Surf, camera, action on local drama Surviving Summer

September 13 2023

Season Two of YA series Surviving Summer hits the waves this week across the globe thanks to the reach of Netflix.

Season One by Werner Productions (The Newsreader, Crazy Fun Park, Secret City, Dance Academy) returns to the fictional Shorehaven for more surf, romance and teenage growing pains.

After it launched on Netflix in 2022, the series became an instant hit, climbing into Netflixʼs Top Ten in over 42 countries including the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, Italy, Spain and Brazil.

Returning cast include Sky Katz, Kai Lewins, Lilliana Bowrey, Joao Gabriel Marinho, Savannah La Rain, Asmara Feik, Adrienne Pickering, Dustin Clare, Chris Alosio, Kate Beahan.

Additions this season are Olympia Valance (Neighbours, Playing For Keeps) as Elo, Annabel Wolfe (Black Snow) as Wren and Josh MacQueen (Black Snow) as Baxter.

Joining behind the scenes is director / performer Christiaan van Vuuren better known for comedies including Soul Mates, Queen of Oz, A Sunburnt Country, Squinters.

Surviving Summer marks his first directing of a drama series.

“I’ve only ever done comedy. That was the most exciting thing for me about this opportunity and the reason I’m so grateful to Jo (Werner producer), Josh (Mapleston creator) and Sian (Davies) -she’s the set-up director who backed me for this,” he tells TV Tonight.

“It was really nice to be challenged with different things and get to work on stuff that’s more nuanced and performance-focussed, where you don’t have the safety of a punchline at the end of a scene. I also felt really nicely guided by Jo, Josh and Sian. The cast and crew were wonderful. I had a great time.”

Van Vuuren’s recent experience in surfing also opened doors with the production.

“I had a turning point in my life during COVID where I decided I want to start surfing and challenged myself on something I wanted to do my whole life. I started going out to the beach every single day, falling off and looking like an idiot and just not giving up until I could actually start surfing. Ever since then, I’ve just been obsessed with it.

“So when Season Two came around, they were looking for someone to be in the room who loves surfing and is obsessed with surfing culture.

“I got involved in the Writers Room for Season Two, helping jam on storylines for a week or two and then off the back of that I was offered an opportunity to direct.”

Direction of the series entails two units, with a surf unit shot led by Surf Producer Fran Derham.

“You provide lists and story boards and the kind of shots and tone you need for each sequence. Block 1 Director Sian Davies would go so far as to storyboard every single shot in those sequences. Whereas for the most part, I’d prepare a shot list, a few references as to the kinds of imagery you’re looking for. Then they’d go out and shoot it, you’d review it, work out if there’s any shots missing, and what you might need,” he explains.

“With any given shoot day, you’re always at the whim of the cast availability, weather, and the schedule. But with surf unit shoot days, you’re at the whim of all those things, as well as tide, surf conditions, wind. There’s a lot of factors that need to be right for you to be able to get out there on the water and shoot a good day of surfing. There’s the water temperature, how cold people get, physical tiredness when people have hit their limits for the amount of times they can paddle onto a wave.”

Van Vuuren credits the young cast for long shoots which are demanding of them physically.

“Everyone does such an incredible job. The cast sometimes will be out at 5:30am getting ready to be taken out on the back of a jetski to shoot some surfing stuff. They might shoot two or three hours and then come out, get cleaned off and get sent across to the main unit. They’ve got to do acting all day. So the cast are pretty incredible.

“What you end up with is a show with a cinematic look where the style of the show is equally impressive in the water as it is on the land.”

While Season One was focused around the dramatic tension of a budding relationship between Summer (Sky Katz) and Ari Kai Lewins, Season Two picks up Summer has spent time back in the USA and improving on her surf skills.

“Season Two kicks off with her returning back to Shorehaven and she comes back to find that Ari may or may not have moved on and have himself a new girlfriend. So basically, you’re launching back into a whole bunch of fun, teenage drama and a bit of the old love triangle.

“There’s new relationships and chemistry between different sets of characters and but it’s very much got the same momentum, heart, and lots of great surfing footage shot by one of the best surf photographers in the country, Rick Rifici.”

In addition to its young, diverse cast, this season also sees and LGBT storyline.

“One of the one of the (characters) who had a traditionally straight romantic arc in Season One has an LGBT romantic arc in Season Two.”

Filming takes place along the beaches of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria including Anglesea, Airey’s Inlet and Fairhaven, but this season also filmed in Byron Bay, Kingscliff and Cabarita.

“It’s an episode about some of the characters getting a sponsorship trip to do a photo shoot,” he continues.

“There’s some spectacular locations with a really different look to coastal Victoria. And also, on a selfish part, I got to surf in a whole bunch of different waves and locations!”

As the Shorehaven kids grown much closer to adulthood this season promises bigger parties, bigger surf comps with The Nationals, and bigger consequences when everything blows up.

“If people loved Season One, they’re gonna really love Season Two,” van Vuuren assures.

“All the stuff that worked best in Season One has been amped up and taken further in Season Two. What we’ve all made is a really slick, fast-paced story that’s full of fun, mischief, drama, romance. All sorts of juicy gold!”