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The Dreamhouse Producer's Statement

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The idea for The Dreamhouse was hatched a decade ago. I’d been working with an inspiring arts organisation DADAA (Disadvantage and Disabled Arts Australia) and got to know a number of young adults with Intellectual disabilities (ID's)  who were about to leave school, and some of whom were already wanting to move out of their parents home. A film about that rite of passage would be a great way to explore a vibrant part of our community. I'd got to know many within the community of ID outside of work as well. As a carer of my stepson who has an Acquired Brain Injury, I knew first hand that this journey is full of challenges, colour, (black) comedy and life changing opportunities. 

10 years later, and following a workshop with the ABC, the idea took a different shape. I was aware that there are many young people with ID, (and also many much older people) looking to move out and share a home with friends. But how to make this work financially and practically? For those who don't receive government accommodation support, the barriers appear impenetrable. Waiting lists are long and usually only those in crisis get to the top of the list. There just isn't enough resource to go around.

We decided to look at setting up a home ourselves and find a group of young adults who were at the stage of life of wanting to move on. Not only would we film them moving, and trying life away from parents, but we'd aim to help make this a sustainable model so that it could become their home, long term.

The main challenge from a TV point of view was the duty of care towards the participants with ID's and also selling intellectual disability to a broadcaster. Some rigorous and passionate pitching, and a very good track record in broadcasting led the ABC to make a brave decision. It was gratifying to see that a few months later, the 2012 London Para-Olympics fundamentally changed the relationship of disability on TV, with audiences watching spell bound on screens worldwide. 

Our research and development phase was lengthy and for good reason. We had to get it right. Early on we started looking for a suitable home where there was an option for the housemates to stay on. This was a key criteria. Our search led us to Foundation Housing, a 'not for profit' housing agency. 

We also started looking for a team of consultants from the disability sector who could advise us. This led us to both formal accommodation agencies, such as Nulsen, work employment agencies such as Westcare along with associations ( DADAA, HeadWest, Autism Association) and individual parents, authors and university academics. We recruited Disability Specialist Geoff Potter to be an on screen guide as well as an off-screen advisor. Geoff runs CABA (The Centre for Applied Behaviour Analysis) with Cindy Wieman. Both were initially very sceptical about our intentions  - a TV company setting up a home for people with ID? - but after the first meeting there was a shift and they were re-assured that  we were not making Big Brother and had the care and personal growth of the housemates as a key consideration. 

Building this community of advisors was key to the project’s continuing success. Many stayed with us throughout the process, and some continue to support The DreamHouse, including Geoff and Cindy.   

Along the way we did hear from, and meet with a few people who were highly critical of what we were doing - mostly to do with the nature of setting up shared accommodation given the current government philosophy  favouring individual accommodation over  'group homes'. From our point of view we felt each to their own. Some might choose individual living, and others, like our housemates, wanted to flat share like their siblings had done, and like so many others in the community. The other criticism we faced was around the issue of consent and if we were exploiting people with ID’s by creating TV from their lives.  We’d always shared this concern ourselves and it was central to all our planning and modus operandi.   One of our consultants commented  "You have to allow people with ID’s the dignity of risk".  So often we wrap them up in cotton wool, we don’t listen to them and we don’t let them try new experiences”.    

Our housemates were very clearly articulating what they wanted – and that was to be given a chance to try living in the house away from parents. None of them knew if they’d like it or if they would want to stay on. But they knew that the possibility for real change was there. Finding the housemates was an involved process. We undertook extensive liaison with families, agencies (accommodation, employment and recreational)  and the grapevine. We cast for compatibility and each housemate and family was independently assessed by Geoff and Cindy. We also cast for personality. Our aim was to put the characters of the housemates centre stage with their point of view driving the series. For that, we needed people who liked to share their view of the world and wouldn't be phased by a camera. 

The other casting assignment was to find an army of support workers (the buddies) who'd volunteer their time to assist the housemates in their mission to become more independent.  We were keen to find as many ‘same age’ buddies as the housemates. We approached the Central Institute of Technology, who after interrogating our plans, signed up to help recruit. We advertised for 'buddies' as we called them, through the Carers Course and other professional networks. 

With the casting of the production team and crew we looked for people with the right sensibility. The vast majority of the team has a close family member or friend with a disability. 

During production Nulsen continued to provide us behind the scenes consultancy, and we also had access to Geoff and his team. Their chief remit was to make sure that the housemates were ok, both in terms of being filmed and in adjusting to their new independence.   

Having Adam Hills as narrator was a great coup. He has exactly the right sensibility (The Last Leg) and clearly enjoyed the comedy, joie de vivre, insight and emotion coming out of The Dream House. As we hope our audience will. It's been close to 3 years between getting the commission and delivering  the 6 x 30 mins series. We hope that the spirit and soul of the 3 housemates will permeate through many Australian households and in so doing, provide a new voice from an important part of our community. 

- Celia Tait, The Dreamhouse Executive Producer