Tony Cavanaugh is a novelist, scriptwriter and producer in film and television. He has forty years of experience in the film industry, in all fields, from the genesis of an idea to production, post and marketing. He got his first job at Crawford Productions, at the age of fifteen, where he worked as a runner on Matlock Police.
After studying at La Trobe and Flinders universities, Tony again worked at Crawford Productions where he spent three years in the Camera Department on The Sullivans. He then decided to move across into the Writing Department where he became a script editor, writer and story editor for The Sullivans. Working closely with Hector Crawford during the last series of the award winning show, he wrote its final episode.
His work as a writer and editor at Crawfords over the years was diverse: the Emmy winning series, Zoo Family, the drama, Carson’s Law and the long-forgotten (and totally dreadful) Cluedo; he adapted Robin Klein’s novel, Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left into a series and script edited the film, I Live With My Dad.
In the mid 1980’s he was asked to create The Flying Doctors into a series, devising each story, hiring the writers and overseeing the editing of all scripts, while liaising with the directors and actors.
Tony was hired by Nick Roddick, editor of ‘Sight and Sound,’ to write feature film reviews for ‘Cinema Papers,’ a magazine published and distributed through newsagencies each month. He worked on the magazine for two years.
He left Crawfords after the first season of The Flying Doctors and became a freelance writer, story editor and script editor for all the major Australian production companies on a diverse range of television series. He also worked as a “crisis-manager” when scripts and writers were in need of guidance during, or just before, production. In this role, Tony was hired by the Networks to ensure that their needs were being addressed in order to maximise ratings.
During this period he assessed thousands of screenplays from America and the UK, for Tony Ginnane’s IFM, a Melbourne-based film financing and production company. Tony was also a regular guest for Jon Faine on ABC morning talk radio where he commented on the film and television industry. He was often invited to work for the Australian Film Commission as an assessor of screenplays. He also worked in this role for Film Victoria, the Australian Children’s Television Foundation, the Australian Film Finance Corporation and the West Australian Film Commission.
He script edited Cassidy, a mini-series for the ABC, Haydaze, a children’s series for Seven, Lift Off for the Australian Children’s TV Foundation and Black Boomerang for ZDF; he wrote for GP, A Country Practice and Neighbours; he worked with the McElroy’s on Shark’s Paradise and wrote one of Jonathon M Shiff’s first series, The Search for the World’s Most Secret Animal.
Father was made in 1989. Tony co-wrote and produced the film. Max von Sydow played the main character. Max is a legendary actor and one of Ingmar Bergman’s regular performers. His films include Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, The Exorcist and he had just been nominated for Best Actor in the Academy Awards for Pelle, the Conqueror.
Father was released in 1990. Evan Williams, from The Australian called it ‘the best Australian film ever made.’ Max von Sydow won Best Actor at the Australian Film Institute Awards; Julia Blake won an award for Best Supporting Actress. The screenplay was shortlisted in the 1990 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.
During the making of Father, Tony was adapting a young adult’s novel, Clowning Sim into a mini-series, Clowning Around. He worked with the BBC, the ABC, French broadcaster TF1 and the American channel, Nickelodeon, on the development of the scripts. The mini-series was broadcast around the world in 1991. Among the actors were Van Johnston (Brigadoon and The Caine Mutiny) and Ernie Dingo.
Tony was asked to adapt a New Zealand novel, Once Were Warriors; instead he suggested first-time author, Alan Duff, was a more appropriate choice if guided through the process of adaptation to screenplay. Tony worked in Auckland as he taught Alan the essentials of scriptwriting then as he edited the script to its final draft. The film was an international success.
Tony created and wrote Clowning Around Encore, another mini-series, based on the success of the original. Robert Vaughn from The Man From UNCLE played the lead role.
In 1991 Tony formed Liberty Films. Its first production was Fire, a thirteen-hour drama mini-series. Tony was a creator of the drama; he also wrote and edited the scripts and produced the series. Fire was nominated for Most Outstanding Mini-Series and Most Popular Drama at the 1994 Logie Awards. Fire II, a second season, soon followed. Fire went from a 48% share of the audience to a 54% share on its final night.
While the second season of Fire went into production another television series, created and written by Tony was picked up by Network Ten. Adrenalin Junkies was set in the world of emergency medicine; re-titled Medivac for Australia, the series was launched with strong ratings and became an audience hit in Germany. Medivac ran for three seasons. By this time Tony's Liberty Films had developed a joint venture arrangement with Beyond. Mikael Borglund came on board to executive produce all the Liberty & Beyond productions.
Tony’s next production was The Day of the Roses which told the story of a train derailment at Granville, in Sydney, in the late 1970’s, which killed over 80 people. The mini-series was acclaimed in the press and remains in the “top ten” lists of best dramas made in Australia. It was a huge ratings success for the network and, as the first mini-series in nearly twenty years, resurrected a narrative format. It won awards for Most Outstanding Mini-Series, Direction and Screenwriting at the 1999 AFI awards. It won an award for Best Drama Production at the Logies as well as having been nominated for Best Actress and Best Actor. It won Guild Awards for Best Composer, Best Make-up and an AWGIE award for Best Screenplay.
The Love of Lionel’s Life, a telemovie shot in Clifton and Brisbane, with Matt Day, Nadine Garner and Alex Dimitriades, was co-written and produced by Tony in 2000. Finding Hope was filmed in Glasgow, Brisbane and outback Queensland with Rebecca Gibney in the lead role. It went into production in 2001.
Tony then began to write Through My Eyes, the definitive story (as of writing, in 2019) of the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain. The mini-series was commissioned by the Seven Network. For two years Tony (and his partner) interviewed over three hundred people who were directly involved in the events following the disappearance. He was granted, for the first time, access to legal documents and statements and evidence that had been warehoused in Alice Springs. Aware that the eyewitness accounts and stories of the Aborigines had not been told and, in some cases suppressed, Tony met with the traditional owners of Uluru. This developed into a close relationship and the community of Mutijuli. Tony was granted the first (and, of writing in 2019 only) permission since Handover, to film drama at Uluru. (‘Handover’ – 1985 – is when the local Indigenous people took control of this sacred site.)
The script was short-listed for the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. With Miranda Otto as Lindy, the mini-series was broadcast in 2004. “The best Australian drama of the year, if not the decade,” wrote the Daily Telegraph. It was nominated as Most Outstanding Mini-Series at the 2005 Logies. Miranda Otto won an award for Best Actress. At the AFI Awards it nominated for Best mini-series, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress.
Tony spent a number of months in Los Angeles where he worked at RKO Films (Citizen Kane) on the development of a number of movie re-makes, including Gunga Din. During this time he worked closely with director John McNaughton (Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer and Wild Things).
In 2008 Tony produced (and script-edited) the film, In Her Skin (I Am You). Shot in Melbourne and Brisbane, the film starred Guy Pearce, Sam Neill, Miranda Otto, Rebecca Gibney and Justine Clarke. The music was by Sigor Ros musicians from Iceland, John Butler and Mark Seymour. The film was released by Goldcrest Films and was screened at the 2010 Brisbane Film Festival.
Tony has been a Judge for the Logie Awards and the Australian Film Institute Awards. In 2009 he was asked to Judge for the International Emmy Awards, held in New York.
Also in 2009 Tony was a Producer on Nine Miles Down. Shot in Tunisia and Bulgaria, the film had originally been optioned by Tony in 1992. He developed the project with Spelling Films in Los Angeles, working with a number of Hollywood screenwriters and directors such as John Carpenter (The Thing) and William Friedkin (The Exorcist).
Over the years Tony has taught scriptwriting at Melbourne University, RMIT, Swinburne, QUT, UQ, AFTRS, the Australian Writer’s Guild, Griffith University and the New York Film Academy on the Gold Coast.
After a hiatus from the film and TV industry, when Tony focused his energies on novel writing, in 2013 he produced and script edited the low budget film Rise, written and directed by Mack Lindon.
Tony then worked as script editor and story consultant with Playmaker Media in Sydney on Matt Ford’s Hiding, an 8 hour ABC mini-series, which went to air in February 2015. Tony and Matt also collaborated on Radar Love (a Matt Ford concept) which has been optioned by the Nine Network.
Tony worked in 2014 with Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries Season 3 as Story Editor. In 2015 he worked on Mako Season 3 as Story Editor and writer. In 2016 he worked with Vicki Madden’s Sweet Potato Films; based in Tasmania and the creator of the acclaimed The Kettering Incident for Foxtel, Vicki and Tony collaborated together on numerous Sweet Potato projects, associated with companies such as ITV, ABC (US) and Mushroom Films. Tony is the script/story editor on the movie, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, written by Deb Cox, directed by Tony Tilse and to be released in 2019. Tony has continued to work with Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger in late 2018 and 2019, as a story consultant on the reboot of Seachange for the 9 Network.
In 2012 Tony’s first novel, Promise, was published by Hachette Australia. Selling enough copies to earn him the description “best-selling author”, the book had good reviews in both Australia and the USA.
The good part of any crime story is an intricate yet totally authentic plot, allowing the reader to suspend any disbelief for the entire journey. Mr Cavanaugh manages this with the deftness of a tightrope walker – all the while retaining his own unique approach to the characters and the backdrop
Sam Millar – The New York Journal Review of Books
Compulsive reading. Promise itself is more menacing, more disturbing and much more confronting than any other crime thriller on the shelves. It is brutal. It is terrifying. It is a brilliant book.
Rob Minshull – ABC radio
A short story, The Soft Touch, was published as an e-book in February 2013 and his second novel, Dead Girl Sing, was published in March 2013. Both Promise and Dead Girl Sing were nominated for the Ned Kelly Awards. His third novel, The Train Rider, was published in March 2014. Kingdom of the Strong was published in August 2015. His novels have also been published in the UK, Germany and France.
Blood River, his fifth novel, was published by Hachette in April 2019.
Tony has spoken at the Quais du Polar in Lyon and in Paris and Pau, at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, Brisbane Writer’s Festival, Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, crimeFest in Perth, Reality Bites on the Sunshine Coast and at the Sharjah International Book Fair.
Throughout 2015 and 2016, Tony worked heavily in the Chinese and South-East Asian market in film and TV. He is part of ABS Motion Pictures, a Bangkok-based production company.
In March 2017 Tony and Louise Lee Mei created Armarna Films which is based in Queensland and NSW; this company has a slate of films and TV series. Penny Wolf from The Film Consultancy in London is one of its partners. Screen Queensland has invested in Armarna by sending Tony and Louise to the Shanghai International Film Festival in June 2017. Among their films is a Chinese comedy/drama in development with Grand Canal, a Chinese action sci-fi movie which generated interest from Wanda and Fire, an action adventure film, with Arclight.
In 2018 Tony and Louise joined forces with Mikael Borglund and Beyond to create a new joint venture, Beyond Armarna. Its focus is on high-end television dramas, driven by strong female lead characters. Among the writers Tony is currently working with are John Misto (The Day of the Roses/Shoe Horn Sonata) Peter Gawler (Underbelly) Jaime Browne (Brother's Nest) and Benjamin Legrand (Snowpiercer).