Co-directors Stephen Lance and Mairi Cameron are just back after spending 10 days in the US polishing the screenplay of The Secrets Lives of Dresses with the Brooklyn-based writer, Aussie Emma Vuletic.

Lance and Cameron also spent a few days in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to soak up the atmosphere in the town where the source material, Erin McKean’s novel, is set.

Producer Leanne Tonkes and Lance are exploring the idea of co-producing the film with heavyweight US producer Grant Curtis, who produced all three Spider-Man movies and executive-produced Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful. Curtis and his producing partner Jeremy Wheeler wanted to buy the film rights and contacted Tonkes and Lance after discovering they optioned the novel in 2011.

Tonkes and Lance tell IF they will “aim high” in casting the lead roles but will ensure there is significant Australian content to qualify for the 40% producer offset.

The protagonist is Dora, a young woman who is forced to return to her home town to run her grandmother's vintage dress shop after her aunt Mimi suffers a stroke. Dora quickly discovers each dress has a secret story that will change her life forever.

In 2010 Lance bought a copy of the novel as a birthday present for Cameron, with whom he has co-directed numerous music videos and a short film. He mentioned the novel as a potential subject for a film to Tonkes, who, by sheer coincidence, had just been given a copy by her husband.

Lance asked Vuletic, with whom he had developed a number of projects, to co-write the screenplay with him. “I wanted to put a female voice to the script to complement mine,” he says. He sees the film as having a strong pull for females in the vein of The Help, Terms of Endearment and In Her Shoes.

Tonkes pitched the project at this year's MIFF 37ºSouth Market, which gave her the chance to take part in the recent London Production Financing Market. Screen Australia is funding the development of the screenplay.

Lance and Tonkes hope to start shooting in Australia and the US in the second half of next year after release plans are finalised for their most recent collaboration, My Mistress.

An unconventional and provocative love story about the relationship between a vulnerable teenage romantic and a French S&M mistress, it stars Emmanuelle Béart (A Heart in Winter, Nathalie, Manon of the Spring, Mission: Impossible), Harrison Gilbertson and  Rachel Blake and will have its Australian premiere at the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival.

By the time Transmission releases the film in September or thereafter, Tonkes aims to capitalise on the fast growing international profile of Gilbertson, who co-stars with Aaron Paul in DreamWorks’ action thriller Need for Speed and in US horror movie Haunt with Jacki Weaver. Gilbertson has just been cast in Fallen, Scott Hicks' US-set drama with Addison Timlin and Jeremy Irvine.

Tonkes hopes My Mistress will get a berth at one of the major international film festivals, which would be a springboard for foreign sales handled by Tine Klint’s LevelK.


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