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Interviews > Nicholas Bufalo

Nicholas Bufalo has been directing Neighbours since the mid-nineties. Here, he shares some of his thoughts on the directing process and why the show has been so successful for more than 20 years...

Could you tell us a little about your career prior to directing Neighbours?
Prior to directing Neighbours I had been working as a professional actor for some time. I worked as an Actor as soon as I graduated from Melbourne University (although I wasn't a drama major there). I had worked in theatre, film and television before making the transition to directing.

You began directing Neighbours in the mid-nineties. Had you watched the show before this? Did you know what to expect?
I had seen quite a few episodes of Neighbours prior to working on the show; I kind of expected and anticipated what the workload would be but until you're actually in that position, it's hard to fully comprehend. Not unlike someone who is learning to drive... you kind of expect what's invloved but until you're actually behind the wheel, it's all theory.

What is a typical day like for you, when working on the show?
There are four stages of production when working on Neighbours:

First stage is pre-production week, when you read the script and raise any story concerns with the producers. Once the script is locked down then the rest of the week consists of looking at the various locations to make sure that everything within the script will translate to the geography of the location. Then there are meetings with the various Heads of Departments where all requirements in the way of wardrobe, make-up, art department, audio, lighting and special effects (if there are any) are discussed.

Second stage is the location week where all the exterior scenes are shot. There really isn't an opportunity to rehearse these scenes with the cast prior to arriving on location.

Third stage is the studio week where you may have 70-80 scenes to rehearse and block with the actors over two days and shoot the same scenes in three days.

The fourth stage is the post-production week where the director sits down with the editor and they compile the show. Once the director is happy with the shape of the episodes, then there is a producers' screening where the fine tuning happens. Invariably there is more material shot than is needed and this is where the episodes are trimmed back for time.

As you can see, there are very different aspects of the production period so there really is no "typical day". If I had to say there was a common denominator to each day, it would be being prepared.

Are there any scenes or episodes from your time at Neighbours that you are particularly proud of?
Completing all the episodes in time is an effort in itself! Early on in my directing days I had rehearsed and blocked all of the studio scenes for a paricular block only to arrive on set and be told that the central actor in all the scenes was ill and had to take considerable amount of time off. We spent the next couple of days taping scenes with a lot of improvising and re-jigging. We still had important information to convey to the audience. We were all relying on adrenalin to get us through and get it all completed as per schedule. I was pleasantly surprised to find out later that the central episode for that block was nominated for an A.F.I.(Australian Film Institute) Award.

How has the show changed during the years you’ve been directing?
It has become a much faster paced show. When you look at early episodes, there are quite a number of static scenes of people drinking tea and they sit there talking in a two-shot. The style of television in general is faster paced and Neighbours has had to adapt along with the rest.

Given that Neighbours has been running for so long and, presumably, everyone knows their jobs very well, exactly how much input does a director have on such a show?
Because there is a large volume of material to oversee/rehearse and shoot, it's the director's responsibility to work closely with the cast to get the most out of the material - to facilitate getting the words that are on the page to the screen and most importantly make sure that nothing slips through the cracks in the way of story.

Have there been any Neighbours actors over the years that you particularly enjoyed directing and why?
They have all been fantastic to work with and I believe that most viewers don't realise the amount of work the cast have to do and the little amount of time they have to rehearse and record their scenes.

Are there any Neighbours characters you particularly enjoy directing?
Again, tough question to answer because it all depends what the current storyline for any given character happens to be.

You’ve directed other soap operas, including Home & Away and Shortland Street – how does Neighbours compare?
They are all very fast turn-around TV which means that it's a pressured environment. I've been lucky to work on these shows with crews that are able to handle the pressure and deliver the goods. Neighbours is probably a bit faster turn-around because there is one less day in studio.

Do you come across many of the same actors and crew on the various series’ you work on?
Every now and then I'll find myself working on a project with actors or crew members that I've worked with on other shows and it's always nice to catch up.

After more than 20 years on television screens, Neighbours is still very popular the world over. What do you think accounts for this incredible success?
Accessibility. Making the characters endearing and likeable (although some characters work because they're not nice at all) but most importantly the individual characters as well as the ensemble of characters have to engage the audience emotionally. We're interested to know how they are getting on and how they face their problems. It's about a Community that may or may not exist anymore and if you happen to live in one like that, then you identify and if you don't actually live in a Community like that then you have the chance to do so vicariously by watching the show.

Interview by Steve. Added on 19th November 2005