She left Taree four years ago to study law but life took an unexpected turn for Montanna Dowden, now the creator, writer, executive producer and star of a burgeoning TV series on the Gold Coast.
The 22-year-old first started writing Beyond Truth, a crime thriller, five years ago.
The story is based around the character of Katherine McCallister (played by Montanna), a celebrity who has a seemingly picture perfect life but whose sinister past is creeping up on her.
"It gets dark," Montanna says.
"It's a different take on a typical crime show. The pilot has a lot in it, I'm really excited to get started."
Filming on the pilot is due to begin soon, although with some cast members based in Sydney and Melbourne (although the majority are in Queensland) and closed state borders due to coronavirus restrictions, there are some challenges.
It's a different take on a typical crime show. The pilot has a lot in it, I'm really excited to get started.Montanna Dowden
"We've got the location and the budget, we're waiting for restrictions to lift."
Montanna, who created and wrote the original story, is co-directing with filmmaker Calder Varg Fenwick under his new production company Umbra Mundi.
"I first met him directing a show I was working on as an actor three years ago.
"He has helped rewrite part of the script. He's 20 years my senior and has extra life experience, so it brings an extra layer."
Planning for filming of the series began two years ago and auditions were held via Zoom this year.
"It was an amazing process and I learned a few things. I'm tight with Zoom now," said Montanna.
Since then they've done a table read with the cast, also over Zoom.
"I wasn't sure how the table read would go with 35 people but it was better than expected."
The independent production is low budget and the cast is donating their time to filming.
"It's getting to the stage that it's starting to get off the ground."
Montanna said she had originally been nervous to show people her work.
"At high school they said I was a good writer. The more people I showed, they loved it."
Montanna graduated from the Manning Valley Anglican College in 2015 and relocated to Queensland in March 2016 to take up study at Griffith University.
And although she started in law, she is now in her third year of an English and drama teaching degree.
"I didn't see that coming. I left school wanting to be a lawyer."
Montanna said she had two amazing teachers at the Manning Valley Anglican College, for drama and legal studies, who inspired her.
"I was in a bad spot at school, my mum was in hospital for three months of my HSC year."
While she started her law degree she realised fairly early on that it wasn't for her.
"I took a year and had a chance to be a teacher for an acting class. It was one of those moments of, 'this is what I want to do'."
Her first prac was back at Manning Valley Anglican College. "It was weird and really cool. It's been great.
I credit part of my confidence with the education I received. My school was super supportive. If I wanted to do something, they pushed me to do it.Montanna Dowden
"I credit part of my confidence with the education I received. My school was super supportive. If I wanted to do something, they pushed me to do it."
And while she is studying to be a teacher, she said acting is her passion.
"If an opportunity came up I would take it and defer."
COVID-19 restrictions meant any plans she had to go to America have been put on hold.
She works with an accent coach who has worked with a number of Hollywood stars and has also kept up Zoom lessons with her acting coach.
"My mum is a vulnerable person so I had to be in isolation quite a lot."
Montanna hopes that if restrictions lift they will be able to start filming in late August or early September.
Once it has gone through post production, it will be screened before a test audience with feedback determining whether they need to change something before they start submitting it.
"With post production we anticipate testing in September next year, if the timetable doesn't get disrupted. It's going okay so far."
Montanna has 12 episodes written.
"We're really only at the starting line. Everyone has been amazing. We're happy with the cast, who have been supportive and patient. A lot of actors are excited to have something to work on, particularly because of COVID."
Once complete the plan is to submit the series pilot to festivals and major networks, as well seek funding for the rest of the series.
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