Maddie Dyer and Rachel Griffiths.

After bonding on Ride Like a Girl, Rachel Griffiths and emerging writer-director Madeleine Dyer are jointly developing a TV comedy series based on a prominent Australian actor.

Describing Rachel’s concept as a new age, male version of Eliza Dolittle, Dyer says the plot will follow the actor as he learns to be ‘woke’ in how he relates to women and conducts himself in the current social climate.

They envisage an Extras-style series where actors and celebrities will play versions of themselves and are still in discussions with the actor about his participation.

Dyer spent five months with Griffiths on a Screen Australia-funded director’s attachment and director’s assistant on pre-production and principle shoot of the Michelle Payne biopic starring Teresa Palmer and Sam Neill.

That collaboration prompted Griffiths to laud Dyer as a “sister zeitgeist hunter” during her Hector Crawford memorial lecture at Screen Forever.

Explaining the expression, Rachel said: “It’s like being a tornado hunter, but it’s harder because you can’t actually see a zeitgeist on the horizon. You can only feel it like a poltergeist and find it by listening, and it has a very special frequency and it’s shy. But the zeitgeist is something that us independent producers need to woke to.”

That was the first time Maddie, who is partnered with Daniel Mulvihill in Mad Dan Productions, heard that term. Returning the compliment, she tells IF: “Rachel really helped me see the truth. She taught me to trust my gut and not rely on notes, to keep interrogating the story until the last minute and not to be scared to try new things.”

‘Sexy Herpes.’

Canadian company Aeotis Productions bought the format rights to Mad Dan’s Sexy Herpes, a 2017 online series which screened on the Nine Network. Set in a sexual health clinic where the staff are as dysfunctional as their patients, the dramedy starred Zoe McDonald, Katie Castles, Jay K. Cagatay and Genevieve Morris.

Aeotis producers Fabienne Larouche and Michel Trudeau and writer Marie-Andrée Labbé will start shooting a 10-part half-hour series in French in Quebec in early 2020 for Canadian broadcaster CBC, starring Letterkenny’s Magalie Lépine Blondeau.

That deal has encouraged Dyer and Mulvihill to seek Screen Australia funding to develop Sexy Herpes as a half-hour series.

Dyer decided to switch focus to writing and directing through Mad Dan Productions after working for some years as an actor. In 2008 she graduated from the University of Southern Queensland with a theatre and film arts degree and later spent six months studying at the International Film School Sydney.

Mad Dan started out making shorts and proof-of-concept works such as Monsters of Many Worlds, the SBS-funded short about three women who share scary stories of monsters from their diverse cultural backgrounds.

Blood Sisters, a spin-off of a 15 minute film written and directed by Dyer, has received development funding from Screen Australia and Screen Queensland.

The producers including Rosie Lourde originally planned to make a 10 x 10′ online series about three teenage girls who flee to the Outback after being assaulted and struggle to unite, survive and find their way back, but now think it may work better as a half hour TV series.

“We’ve had quite a bit of interest from local and overseas broadcasters and streaming platforms,” says Maddie, who wrote the script with Mulvihill and Kodie Bedford. Stephen Corvini, a long-time mentor of Mad Dan, and Enzo Tedeschi are the EPs.

Earlier this month the Townsville-based Dyer joined four other regional writers/directors at a four-and-half day workshop in Gladstone, Queensland, staged by Screenworks, Jungle Entertainment and Midwinter Films to develop the sci-fi comedy feature Croak with Nash Edgerton and Christiaan and Connor Van Vuuren.

Edgerton, Jungle Entertainment producer Chloe Rickard, Midwinter Films’ Bridget Callow-Wright and the Van Vuurens guided the participants through the late development stage of the feature co-written by Shane Brady and Priscilla Cameron, with the Van Vuurens to direct.

Maddie Dyer and Daniel Mulvihill.

The plot sees Josh and Stacy’s family forced off their farm by coal seam gas fracking. Subsequently their mother takes a job in Galston, a booming coal and gas port. Josh, a sensitive nature boy, and Stacy, a knockabout country girl, are pitched into a new school in a new town amidst strange goings-on: pets vanishing and cars mysteriously crushed in the night.

The mentors were “very open to what we had to say and they cared about what we are doing in our careers,” she says. “I think it gave Connor and Christiaan a lot to think about.”

One benefit: Dyer has attached Barbara Taylor, one of the workshop participants, as a writer on the development funding application for Sexy Herpes.

Dyer and Tony Rogers are attached to direct Pacific Cove, a black TV comedy series scripted by Dyer set in a coastal community whose livelihoods rely on summer tourists and are threatened when bodies start washing up on the beach. That’s in development with Ruby Entertainment and Jason Byrne.

Earlier this year Dyer did a director’s attachment with Kriv Stenders on the Screen Australia-funded feature doc Slim & I, in which Australia’s Queen of country music Joy McKean reflects on her career, decades of touring around Australia and her marriage of more than 50 years to Slim Dusty.

“Kriv is incredibly cerebral and smart but also so gentle and considered and he lets people be themselves,” she says. “I take a lot of inspiration from him being able to move between TV, features and documentaries.”

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