Climate Fiction series The Commons takes home $10,000 prize for Australian Sci-Fi screenwriting

02 December, 2020

John Hinde Award

AWGIE Award-winning screenwriter Shelley Birse has won the 2020 John Hinde Award for Excellence in Science-Fiction Writing for The Commons, with David Peterson’s feature script Untethered taking home the prize in the unproduced category. 

In a year marked by twists that have at times felt like a science-fiction movie, the John Hinde Award has recognised two outstanding scripts that speak to the hopes and fears of modern Australia, espousing the strengths of the sci-fi genre and examining issues that will mark the decade to come.  

AWGIE and AACTA Award-winning screenwriter Shelley Birse was awarded the $10,000 prize in the produced category for Episode One of the gripping television drama The Commons. Described by The Guardian as ‘eerily plausible and uncomfortably timely’, the Stan series offers a prescient glimpse into a not-too-distant future where climate change and biotechnology raise important ethical questions for humanity. Antony Webb’s AWGIE-nominated short film Carmentis and Episode 13 of The Unlisted by Mithila Gupta were highly commended.

In the unproduced category, David Peterson took home the prize for his feature script Untethered. It follows a former refugee on a mission to Mars who must confront her lack of trust in her crew when their ship is damaged and grapple with unlearning the lessons of her deadly voyage with people smugglers 30 years prior. Described by the judging panel as unique in its depiction of the past influencing the future in a realistic and dramatic way, it was praised for its originality, strength of craft and, much like The Commons, its relevance to modern Australia. Paul Jenner’s television pilot Grail and Fabian Lapham and Stephanie Crowe’s children’s animation Cosmic Lighthouse were highly commended.

The three projects will now be inducted onto AWG’s Pathways Showcase, with Peterson receiving up to $5000 in professional development support to further develop Untethered.  

In a stand-out year for the Awards, the winners and finalists were selected from a pool of over 170 entries, with the final judging panel praising the quality and skills of the shortlisted writers.

‘It was really exciting to see the breadth of creativity and voices, especially within science-fiction; a genre we've typically shied away from in Australia. Writing sci-fi can be extremely challenging, and we would like to commend all the writers who submitted scripts. As judges, we all hope that these Awards will give oxygen to further development and will bring the scripts to the attention of those who will enable them to be made.

The John Hinde Award was established as part of a bequest from the late Australian film critic John Hinde, whose vision it was to see future generations of Australian science-fiction screenwriters nurtured through industry opportunities. 

Past winners in the produced category include Lucas Taylor's AWGIE Award-winning multilinear narrative experience Eleven Eleven in 2019, Cris Jones' feature The Death and Life of Otto Bloom in 2017, and Episode Five of the acclaimed Indigenous series Cleverman by Michael Miller in 2016.

In the unproduced category, 2019 winner Steve Mitchell has been inducted onto AWG’s Pathways Showcase and continues to develop Cowtown. 2018 winner Georgina Love was awarded a scholarship by Final Draft to attend the Rocaberti Writers’ Retreat in the south of France, and won the Screencraft Screenwriters Fellowship. 2017 winner C.S. McMullen (Awake) saw her debut feature The Other Lamb premiere at Toronto International Film Festival in 2019. She is a writer on the recent horror anthology series Two Sentence Horror Stories for The CW / Warner Brothers Digital and has also worked extensively in Australian writers’ rooms and development.

2020 John Hinde Award shortlist

  • Big Red by Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce 
  • Black Mist by Ryan van Dijk and Alexei Mizin
  • Copy Cat by Millie Holten
  • Cosmic Lighthouse by Fabian Lapham and Stephanie Crowe (Highly Commended)
  • Grail by Paul Jenner (Highly Commended) 
  • The Longest Day by Ellen Shanley
  • Removed by Sarah Emery and Carl Firth
  • The Replicas by Adam Daniel
  • Science Witch by Fabian Lapham