All images by Jane Zhang
A gnarly wind whipped through the trees when we arrived on set on a scorching day in February to film this year’s Dolly’s Dream campaign.
Later, the wind would die down, leaving only stifling heat for company. We'd drape ourselves in wet Chux and mainline Hydralyte to feel human. But for now it was bearable.
Our lead actor arrived with her mum. Just 14 years old, Audrey nailed her audition with a maturity and vulnerability that moved us all. It was the first time she’d properly auditioned for a part. And her first ever shoot.
The set was a remote country road in Little River - a train line on one side, paddocks on the other. A small and bloody awesome crew methodically went through their paces under the expert eye of Commoner Films producer, Raylene O'Hare, who had spent the last couple weeks working around the clock to pull all the production's threads together.
Soon, a lone figure wandered up the road with a very tall horse named Buddy.
Tiffany was dressed in a well worn Dolly's Dream shirt, dusty jeans and boots. She'd heard we were filming down the road from her place. As a longtime Dolly's Dream supporter, she was more than happy to give us a lend of Buddy for the shoot. Buddy would go on to deliver the kind of pitch perfect, miraculously timed performance that inexplicably happens from time to time when the cameras are rolling - the kind of performance we would ordinarily have to pay an animal handler in the thousands for.
Tiffany wasn’t the only local who wanted to pitch in on the day. People offered to open their homes and help out however we needed. They have their fair share of mental health challenges around Little River. They know how devastating the effects of bullying can be. There were also a handful of extras who were extended members of the Dolly's Dream community and had volunteered their time to be part of the film.
Dolly’s Dream is a charity born of the most unfathomable grief. Kate and Tick Everett couldn’t bring back their daughter, Dolly, after she took her own life in response to relentless bullying and cyber bullying. But they could do everything in their power to stop other families having to endure what they were going through. And they could do it in a way that was true to Dolly’s warm, generous nature.
We felt a great sense of responsibility to Dolly and her legacy with this work we were creating.
We sat with Dolly's story for a long time before bringing ideas to life. We spoke to kids and families whose lives had been turned upside down by bullying. We read some desperate pleas from families needing help. And we saw the gratitude and relief from families who'd been supported by Dolly's Dream.
But it was the research that told us how many kids don't speak up when they are being bullied that really galvanised our thinking. Bullying is not uncommon - one in four school kids will experience it this year. But then one in seven of those kids won't say anything. That's over 340,000 kids across the country trying to cope alone.
Dolly's own words are in our film script, spoken by her parents, Kate and Tick.
Kate and Tick's presence on set wrapped the production in a gentle sense of purpose that was palpable all day. Their warmth, integrity, humour and authenticity are something that will stay with us for a long time.
We are also honouring Dolly’s love of art and creativity in this campaign by continuing to put young women at the helm of these projects.
Maddelin McKenna is a brilliant director with a strong vision and gentle hand on set. Her partnership with DoP, Joey Knox, draws out some breathtakingly powerful images. And her ability to give actors the confidence and space they need to deliver beautiful, nuanced performances is a colossal strength, particularly with our first time lead.
Stills photographer, Jane Zhang, had the unenviable task of shooting all the campaign images while we raced through a tight filming schedule. But we were in expert hands, as Jane has shot stills on the sets of some of Australia's most loved TV shows. Her ability to quietly sneak around the film crew and capture all of Audrey’s vulnerability is a skill unrivalled by other photographers I’ve worked with on set.
With this campaign, we didn't want to shy away from the devastating impacts bullying can have but we wanted to balance that by demonstrating there is real help available.
Dolly’s Dream don’t just bring awareness to the cause. They offer round the clock support to kids and their families via a 24-he phone line operated by trained counsellors. They take anti-bullying workshops into schools across Australia. They provide parents with resources to help spot the signs of bullying early and provide support even when kids don’t feel like they can ask for it.
This campaign also delivers a message to kids, letting them know we see the hurt and fear they are experiencing. Letting them know they are not alone. Letting them and their families know there is support for them.
As a community we have a role to play in supporting the work of Dolly's Dream. Your support counts. If you can, please consider donating to the Do It For Dolly Day campaign. Do it for the 340,000+ kids across Australia who are staying silent about being bullied. Do it for Kate and Tick. Do it for Dolly.