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Three learnings from Ride Like a Girl

The director’s attachment shadowing and assisting Rachel Griffiths on Ride Like a Girl reveals her key takeaways from the experience so far.

Madeleine Dyer and Rachel GriffithsMadeleine Dyer and Rachel Griffiths on the set of Ride Like a Girl

Emerging filmmaker Madeleine Dyer hasn’t even finished her 16-week stint on Rachel Griffiths’ directorial debut Ride Like a Girl, but already the experience has opened her eyes up to the realities of making a feature film.

As Ride Like a Girl’s inclusive attachment (an expansion of Gender Matters Attachments for Women), Dyer is working as a director’s attachment and director’s assistant across eight weeks of pre-production and eight weeks of the principle shoot.

Dyer, a director/writer/producer and one half of Mad Dan Productions (who created the online comedy series Sexy Herpes), says the Ride Like a Girl attachment has been quite an all-encompassing role.

“I would basically be doing a report every day or two days for Rachel on anything from every head of department, from music to costumes, to hair and make-up, to production design. Any major question or progress I would report to her and get feedback from there and then distribute that info accordingly. So that was how I was keeping the ball in the air for her,” she says.

Ride Like a Girl stars Teresa Palmer as Michelle Payne, the first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. Dyer says because the film’s timeline spans from 1991 to 2015 and centres around a family of 10, who change in age and look throughout, casting was a huge undertaking in pre-production that she was able to help with.

“That was the biggest thing, the casting, and making sure that we had younger versions and older versions of the Payne family,” she says.

“So I was able to distil all that down to this downloadable visual document, to show the different major phases in the film and the characters and their real life characters.”

A typical day during pre-production would involve compiling a list of questions for Griffiths that they would go over on the drive home.

“Seeing all of those decisions [required of Rachel], all of that information filtering and processing and distilling things down has been huge,” she says.

Dyer is still in the process of absorbing the experience, but says overall the attachment has provided an incredible insight into what’s required of a feature film director.

“If anything it's really nice to watch Rachel, who obviously knows she's a first time feature film director and, of course, needs to collaborate, but she’s stepping up and trusting herself. That's what I've really taken from this. I want to make sure that I do that too and do trust myself as well, moving forward,” she says.

Here are three top takeaways Dyer has gleaned so far from her work on Ride Like a Girl:

1. KNOWING YOUR STRENGTHS

Dyer says Griffiths and the other Ride Like a Girl producers have built an incredible team to support Griffiths’ strengths as an actor-turned-director.

“I don’t think you could have a better crew, across the board. Everyone is incredibly talented and, more importantly, passionate people who love what they do,” she says.

“And because she's got such a strong team with Susie Struth the script supervisor, and Chris Webb on first assistant directing – that almost holy trinity have really kept her buoyant and allowed her to utilize the strengths she has on set…

“She knows she's fantastic with blocking and she has gotten some incredible performances so far… And then she's got Director of Photography Marty McGrath, and Jess Clarke-Nash on camera, along with the incredible camera team, and they've been assisting her in the technical aspects and making sure she's telling her story cinematically in the way she wants.”

But Dyer says she was speaking to McGrath, who explained the role of a director is akin to a bus driver.

“Rachel's steering the bus, but there's a whole engine that causes it to run and without it you've got nothing and he's obviously referring to all the crew and all the heads of department,” she says.

“[So] you've got to make sure everyone's working together and collaborating [and] that always comes from the top, from Rach.”

" … She’s stepping up and trusting herself. That's what I've really taken from this."

2. MAKING THAT DOUBT A POSITIVE

Dyer says that with Griffiths making her feature directing debut and Ride Like a Girl being the first Gender Matters feature to go into production, talk on set has naturally turned to ‘the female gaze’.

 “We were trying to decipher exactly what the female gaze is [and] I don't want to generalise too much, but I think as a woman you can sometimes doubt yourself that little bit more.”

She says that doubt can manifest into contemplating ‘is this the right choice?’ or ‘am I making the right move here?’

But she says that doubt can become something positive, because it means you’re thinking as a director in an inherently different way.

“That extra detail you put into that thought process, that means [there’s] something kind of special that comes from that doubt. It’s an incredibly human feeling. It can be used in a constructive way. So I think for me I'm just mulling on that as a takeaway as well, that the doubt is okay, embrace it, and use it to step into a new place for yourself.”

With Ride Like a Girl, as with any of Dyer’s projects, she says on set it feels like a pretty genderless place. People are more noticing of how Griffiths has a unique approach.

“Rach has a really incredible way of getting right in there with the actors and really immersing them in the experience that I think just comes from her having so much experience on one side of the camera and then moving into the other,” she says.

“I think people have been noticing that and going ‘this is a different approach or this is a new way of doing things’. It's not so much the gender thankfully, in my eyes at least.”

3. PUTTING TAKEAWAYS INTO ACTION

Dyer says she’s noticed there isn’t a huge amount of difference between big budget and small budget projects.

“Being more of an indie filmmaker, just by necessity, it's nice to see that if you share the same philosophy around filmmaking then it’s just money that's the difference. If you've got good people, you're efficient, you're a good communicator, you're passionate – those are the key things at any level you need to take with you and bring into any film.”

And she’s itching to get behind the camera on her own projects once her time on Ride Like a Girl ends.

Dyer’s production company Mad Dan Productions, which she runs with her husband Daniel Mulvihill, received development funding from Screen Australia for their online series Blood Sisters, plus Screen Queensland funding, with the pair set to co-write and Dyer to direct.

“We've got a bit of funding to develop the pitch bible and get it into a spot to write it and then hopefully produce it. So as soon as this job's done I'll be immersing myself in that. I'm just really excited to know that I have a practical, very real opportunity to put everything I've learnt into this next project,” she says.

“I've just been given such a wealth of confidence and belief in my own abilities and I have a lot that I can digest and put into play for my own projects moving forward. I’m incredibly grateful to the producers for the opportunity.”


Ride Like a Girl is distributed by Transmission Films and scheduled for a 2019 release. It received production funding from Screen Australia in December 2017.