Anya Beyersdorf re-imagines Shakespeare with Rachel Ward

Anya Beyersdorf.

Prolific screenwriter Anya Beyersdorf says her excitement level has gone through the roof as she collaborates with director Rachel Ward on one of the segments of the ABC’s female-driven Shakespeare Now anthology.

Enjoying a career high, Beyersdorf is also working on an Every Cloud Productions’ drama and developing multiple projects with writer-director Miranda Nation, Aquarius Films, Truant Pictures and US director Alexis Ostrander.

“I have had a privileged, lucky lockdown,” she tells IF. “I think I would have gone mad if I didn’t have all these scripts and virtual writers’ rooms. It’s kept me connected and doing meaningful things.”

Hoodlum Entertainment and Margot Robbie’s LuckyChap Entertainment are developing Shakespeare Now, consisting of fresh re-interpretations of Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Macbeth, Love’s Labour’s Lost, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night.

“Rachel is such a generous, clever, cool woman,” she says. “To have the opportunity to work with her is a dream come true.”

While she isn’t allowed yet to name the play, she says the creative teams have been given the licence to completely re-imagine the works, putting the female characters to the fore.

She has written an episode of an Every Cloud series, title under wraps, commissioned by Stan.

For Truant Pictures she is writing the sci-fi action-adventure Signal with story development funding from Screen Australia. Based on a short story by South African Charlie Human, it’s set in the near future and follows a street orphan who discovers an uncanny ability to manipulate electromagnetic waves.

When dangerous factions attempt to exploit her power she sets off on a perilous journey into lawless lands to track down her infamous mother, who holds the secret to her power and the key to her survival.

Todd Brown, who will produce with Zareh Nalbandian and Casey Walker, optioned the story and hired Anya, whom he’d admired ever since reading Serpentine, her feature screenplay which featured in the inaugural Australian Black List in 2018 and was a semi-finalist for The Academy Nicholl Fellowships.

Alexis Ostrander (TV’s Supergirl, Condor and Nancy Drew) is attached to direct the horror/thriller about a group of village girls on their way to a group wedding who are kidnapped by guerrillas and forced to serve as “camp wives.”

The director’s US agent CAA is looking to package the project, whose tone of magic realism Anya likens to Beasts of No Nation and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

As IF reported, Beyersdorf, Tara Winkler and Sinet Chan are developing an untitled feature for Aquarius Films about a Cambodian orphan who teams up with an Aussie in a fight to end child trafficking, based on Chan’s life. Jen Peedom is attached to direct.

Liaising with Cambodian-based Chan and Sydney-based Winkler via extended Zoom sessions, Anya says: “I’m really enjoying collaborative storytelling. Each of us brings something strong and different to the table. I’m honoured to be part of it.”

‘It’s Me’

She is working with Miranda Nation on two projects. One is Aleph, an eight-part series which follows a woman who is faced with the choice between saving her daughter or saving a humanity teetering on the brink of extinction. Nation created the project, which has just completed phase one of the SBS/Film Victoria Pitch to Pilot initiative, for producer Liz Watts.

The other is Dog Summer, a feature based on a short Anya wrote which she describes as a cross between Andrea Arnold’s short film Wasp and Beasts of the Southern Wild.

“I’m so thrilled to be collaborating with Anya again,” Miranda tells IF. “She is a massive talent with such an original and striking voice, as evidenced by her blossoming career.”

Anya trained as a journalist and spent a few years writing and directing short films and as an actress before deciding screenwriting was her passion. She has a Masters of Film (majoring in screenwriting) from the University of Sydney.

At university she had an epiphany while listening to her screenwriting teacher Ian David. “That changed the direction of my life,” she says.

Her 2014 short Paradise won an AWGIE award and she has since expanded that as a feature screenplay entitled Dreamer Awake, developed with producer Nicole Coventry and director Lucy Gaffy. As an interim step the team is developing a podcast with funding from the ABC’s Fresh Start fund. In the spirit of Twin Peaks, the mystery is set on a tropical island where a crazy cult is holding a conference.

Also on her slate are Huckstepp, a biopic on murdered police whistle-blower Sallie-Anne Huckstepp for producers Jan Chapman and Blue Tongue Films’ Nash Edgerton; and Franki, a comedy for Aquarius based on John Ahern’s novel On the Road…With Kids about an Australian family’s adventures in a camper van in Europe in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine.

US producer Lee Magiday (The Lobster, The Favourite) commissioned her to write the short It’s Me, starring Maxine Peake and Russell Tovey.

Her agent, HLA Management’s Kate Richter, who also represents Tony McNamara, heard Magiday was looking for a writer and suggested Anya.

Directed by Helen Randag, the UK-shot film follows a woman as she remembers moments from a dark game she played with her son throughout his childhood. Tragedy strikes when he unexpectedly returns.

The film premiered at the Manchester Film Festival and will take the festival route when those events resume.