After the triumph of 10’s new Ambulance Australia series comes another late 2018 debut – The Secret Life Of Four Year Olds. With access to their private world, the series follows the lives of 10 four-year-olds and 10 five-year-olds at a pivotal time in their development.
The series slots into the Monday 7.30pm hour vacated by Blind Date.
One connection between Ambulance and Secret Life is 10’s executive producer Sarah Thornton, who worked on both. While Ambulance was made for 10 by Endemol Shine Australia, Secret Life comes from Screentime. Exec producing for Screentime was Jennifer Collins, who recently moved to Fremantle as director of content. Co-ex-producer at Screentime was Emily Griggs. Narrating the series is The Project’s Carrie Bickmore.
Thornton told Mediaweek that Secret Life is a UK format. “The format stemmed from a one-off documentary in the UK that Channel 4 made. It wasn’t planning to turn it into a series but it was such a surprise hit that it was continued.” UK series have been screened in Australia on Foxtel’s Lifestyle.
Some of the production crew on Secret Life actually went from this show to Ambulance, which was produced more recently.
Thornton likes her tech and she reckoned Secret Life used one of the largest fixed rigs ever used on a factual show in Australia.
“What they did was set up a genuine preschool environment and rigged it with cameras and a control room. The show employed two child psychology experts – Dr Caroline Moul and Dr Dave Pasalich – who observed the children’s behaviour as they went about normal routines in day care. The children also took on tasks and challenges that were designed by the production team in collaboration with the psychologists.”
A fixed rig is a fancy word for cameras positioned around a location or precinct.
Thornton explained: “It is one way to bring scale to factual storytelling that you otherwise couldn’t have. Although the cameras aren’t hidden, the people being filmed really forget they are there. What you get is an incredible insight into human behaviour, not produced human behaviours that we often see on television.”
There are no camera operators, sound people or producers on set during filming.
Although most of Secret Life was filmed on the preschool set, there are back-stories where the program visits the families to introduce the parents.
Thornton is more than happy with the final product, paying credit to what she called “the extraordinary children who were incredibly well cast”.
She added: “Even though the show was completed some time ago, I still remember all the kids by name and even remember what they did.
“Screentime did a fantastic job casting the series.”
Thornton explained there are very strict rules for the amount of time the kids could spend on camera. “We also alternated casts, so we could give the kids a break before we needed them again. We were careful that filming wouldn’t be too intrusive into their lives and of course followed all the guidelines in terms of the amount of time they could be on camera.”
Parents were allowed to stay on set if they wished, watching from a parents room fitted with a monitor.
The show has talked through the storylines of each episode with parents before it goes to air. “They know what to expect. There are amazing journeys for the children and the program captures children who don’t get on, good behaviour and challenging behaviour.”
As the parent of a small child, Thornton said Secret Life was not about judging any of the kids.
Top Photo: The Secret Life Of Four Year Olds