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MaveriX: motocross meets drama in Alice Springs

The co-creators of ABC series MaveriX on the drive to bring the teen adventure drama to Australian and global screens.

Cast and crew on set for MaveriX.Behind the scenes on MaveriX (Photo credit: Charlie Lowson)

After eight weeks of filming in Alice Springs, the final block of shooting on MaveriX was in Adelaide, where in torrential rain, co-creators and executive producers Rachel Clements, Sam Meikle and Isaac Elliot were watching a lake form on their motocross track.

“It poured for about a day and a half, so much so that we lost a half day shoot,” Meikle says “If one of the bikes had attached a rope with a surfboard, you could have surfed across that track.”

Rachel Clements Rachel Clements
This was in stark contrast to the 39-degree temperatures, dust and flies they encountered during parts of the Alice Springs shoot, but Clements says at this point, they couldn’t go into overtime. They had to try and make it work.

“The crew and the cast were quite incredible,” she says.

They managed to get the shots, which you can see for yourself with MaveriX airing on ABC ME from 1 April (with all episodes to binge on iview) and poised for a global release on Netflix.

It marks the culmination of a long journey to bring the world of motocross in Alice Springs to life in the thrilling adventure teen drama – an idea that first gained traction in the middle of the desert in the Northern Territory.

Around seven years ago, Clements and Elliot were producing the feature documentary Finke: There and Back, about the gruelling two-day desert race. Audiences will remember Elliot also featured in a moving on-screen story in the documentary: a 2007 accident left him confined to a wheelchair, but he remained determined to finish the race. Elliot had a motorbike modified and took to the desert track, shadowed by two friends.

Clements – a producer and co-founder of Brindle Films – says it was while they were making Finke: There and Back that she and Elliot first started to talk about a family and teen drama series within this world of dirt bikes.

“The other part is my son was the under-10 BMX champion of Central Australia, and he wanted to make the move into motocross, so the two things were happening at the same time: Digby, with his riding and Finke Desert Race,” she says.

Clements took the idea to writer Sam Meikle, who she’s known since their AFTRS days, and brought him out to the Finke Desert Race to get a sense of the world.

Meikle says that that trip set the wheels in motion.

“I went up to the Finke Desert Race over that weekend and really got a taste of [it] because I feel like there's kind of two worlds: it's motocross, but it's also Alice Springs, because I think we've been really true to all the great things about Alice,” he says.

Elliot adds: “Alice Springs is really a racing dirt-bike-centric town. It's 1,500 kilometres to anywhere, so people just build their own fun in Alice Springs, and a lot of that revolves around dirt bike racing.”

The three quickly formed a team as co-creators/executive producers but with Clements also producing, Meikle leading the writing team, and Elliot directing episodes 3 and 5 of the fast-paced series.

The six riders stand together, smiling.MaveriX

In MaveriX, six young motocross riders join a riding academy in Central Australia designed to take them to the next level ahead of the MX National Championships and find themselves pushed to the limits: by the training, the environment and each other.

Meikle says the concept of the series – and to structure it around the racing championships – came together organically, and from there he wrote a pitch document that got finance from the ABC and the ACTF. They then brainstormed the show out in a writers’ room and plotted the first two episodes. “Over the course of five years, we developed the show, we wrote the show and then we began putting the crew together,” he says.

Sam Meikle Sam Meikle
Led by Meikle, the writing team included Fin Edquist (who is also a co-executive producer), Michelle Offen, Kelly Schilling and emerging writer Sarinah Masukor. Schilling would also go on to shadow direct three episodes and co-direct one episode. 

Clements said they wanted to ensure newer voices were paired with experienced writers and directors – and the support from Screen Territory and the SAFC also made that possible.

“We always knew that Isaac would be one of the directors [and] we wanted to get an emerging director from South Australia on the team as well,” she says, adding that Elliot worked alongside set-up director Ian Watson, while Schilling shadowed and co-directed with Geoff Bennett, the other series director.

With MaveriX, Elliot was keen to capture the world of motocross in Alice Springs that he had lived and breathed for so long – so even though they were making a teen adventure series rather than a documentary, he wanted it to feel real.

“I grew up living at the motocross track as a caretaker with my parents,” he says. “So the bike and the track being your backyard… getting up and getting on your bike and riding is not an uncommon thing…

“[We had] this sort of blending of reality [with the] MaveriX world, so there's a lot of liberties that get taken in the story, but I think we filmed it in a really authentic way…

“When motocross is shown in Hollywood, you can really start to see the seams of visual effects, and we don't really have that. We just have real riders on real tracks.”

Motocross rider on bike.MaveriX (Photo credit: Daniel Asher Smith)

Some of the best Australian motocross riders doubled for characters in MaveriX, including three-time national MX champion Dean Ferris, Renae Ferris, and then-South Australia U16 champion Emma Haylock (current South Australian U16 champion), as well as local riders in Adelaide and Alice Springs.

Riders also joined the writers’ rooms to provide insights, including New Zealander Courtney Duncan, a three-time Motocross World Champion, and Victorian professional motocross rider and now coach Lee Hogan.

Set up director Ian Watson also brought the double-whammy of more than 30 years’ experience in Australian television drama, as well as being a long-term motorbike rider, and Elliot remembers his openness to learning about the motocross world.

“[He brought] a perspective of knowing how to ride and knowing the functionality of it and just transferring that idea onto dirt bikes,” he says.

For Elliot it involved making the leap into his series television directing debut on “a huge shoot.”

“It was learning the process of big television and also how to utilise a larger crew in a really efficient way... about the efficiency of the TV production machine… and getting a scene up on its feet really, really, really quickly,” he says.

“Once you get your head around that, it starts to become really fun.”

In the moments when they were filming bikes, Elliot felt like he was back shooting documentaries, which is how he started in the film industry following his motorcycle accident.

“I actually filmed the National Championship in 2009... So it very much felt like that,” he says. Then there were the similarities between him and the lead character of Scott Griffin (Darcy Tadich).

“My racing number was sixty-one and I rode that exact bike when I used to race,” he says. “And it was just me. I was just like filming a mirror.”

Isaac Elliot with racer sixty-one on the set of MaveriX.Isaac Elliot and racer 61 Scott Griffin (played by Darcy Tadich) on set for MaveriX (Photo credit: Daniel Asher Smith)

Clements says there’s a lot the industry can learn from Elliot and his directing in Central Australia.

“I don't believe that there's ever been a director in a wheelchair, filming high-end drama… [and] certainly remote,” she says. “It was a really steep learning curve for me and Sam and also in a way for Isaac... We could prep as much as we could, but some of it we had to just learn on the go.”

She says there is pushback when you ask people to work in a way that’s different to the stock standard. There needs to be a willingness to learn and adapt.

Meikle says the grips and split crew on MaveriX improvised a split for Elliot that could be mounted to the handlebars of the four-wheeler buggy he was directing from.

“It's just how do you make sure that all of that artistry and energy that Isaac wants to bring to it, that it's facilitated in a way that that can be done efficiently.”

Crew and Isaac Elliot on set for Maverix.Isaac Elliot on set for MaveriX (Photo credit: Daniel Asher Smith)

But Meikle acknowledges that MaveriX is the type of project to do that – from shooting, to story, to the look, they wanted to raise the bar. When it came to the story itself, they faced the challenge of pushing the content toward a higher age group while still remaining in the kids’ TV space – something that ABC and distributor ACTF really supported them with.

“The show is ambitious on a lot of levels,” Meikle says.

“Doing anything where you're talking about kids and motorcycles is going to be tricky. Then we were also talking about doing it remote in Alice Springs, which provides its own challenges.

“But we - Rachel, Isaac and I… we had the ambition to have a good, strong, relationship-driven drama that was underpinned by action, but that also didn't shy away from the issues.”

It means one female character has a strong feminist point of view, because she’s competing in a male dominated world, while other characters come from disadvantaged backgrounds.

"We wanted to talk about that disadvantage and not shy away from it because we feel that those issues are very much prevalent now, particularly even in the playground at school,” Meikle says.

“The ABC and the ACTF obviously were keen that we do that, but also that we do it in a way that's accessible to kids. So like anything that takes a lot of balancing.”

They also had notes from Netflix through the ACTF, who sold the rest-of-world rights to the streamer (with ABC holding exclusive rights in Australia). But Meikle says Netflix never tried to get them to make a ‘global’ show.

“Netflix's strategy tends to be tell your story specific to your region,” he says. “And always you tell a story locally, and if you do that well and it's got global themes, it will travel. And I think that's MaveriX.”

MaveriX airs daily from April 1 at 5.30pm on ABC ME with all episodes available to binge on ABC iview.