Georgie Stone Talks About Working with Director Maya Newell for the Documentary The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone in This Interview

Director Maya Newell is a collaborative filmmaker who often brings on the subjects in her films as creative forces to help bring their story to life. Her latest film The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone encapsulates 19 years of the life of Georgie Stone an Australian transgender teen as she helps change laws in Australia, affirms her gender, and finds her voice, leading to a role on Neighbours.

In this interview, Georgie Stone talks about that collaborative process with Maya Newell, the fortune of the deep archive of home videos that her parents took as she and her brother grew up, and the importance of advocacy and support.

The Dreamlife of Georgie Stone screens at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival before launching on Netflix later in 2022.

Thank you so much for sharing your film. Gosh, I’m a huge fan of Maya Newell’s work. I had been aware of this for a period of time and had been very eager to see it. And then watching it, I was moved and grateful that you told your story and shared your story.

Georgie Stone: Oh, thank you. I’m a fan of Maya too. She’s absolutely amazing.

She is, isn’t she? She has a very collaborative approach with her filmmaking. I was wondering if you can talk about that with telling your story and coming on as a creative producer with this particular film.

GS: It was always very important to Maya that I was consulted with everything, and that nothing was done without my consent. So it was a really wonderful process. Because throughout all of it, I felt safe and I felt heard. And I knew that nothing was going to be put in there that I didn’t agree with or didn’t feel comfortable in sharing. But also in the editing process and in the process of actually putting together this film, it was really wonderful, not only from a story perspective having control, but also in the way that it was told, like in a creative sense, it was really wonderful to be involved in [that too]. I have this newfound appreciation and love for filmmaking, and I think I can attribute that to Maya and seeing her work and seeing her creative process. It’s been wonderful.

What was that discussion process like of deciding how to frame your life story?

GS: It happened over quite a few years, and it evolved over time. So we started filming when I was 14 and at that point, we didn’t really have a plan for what we were doing, we were just filming. And then as I got older into the late teens, we started to think about how we could tell the story, whether we wanted it to be a feature or a short, how to frame it. We went through a few ideas and then settled on this non-linear dreamscape kind of thing where we use my surgery as a sort of jumping-off point to look back into memories.

We had a lot of archive footage from when I was a kid, lots of home videos which was really helpful in filling out the early life. And then once we had those videos, it cracked it open a bit and we were able to sort of weave that into the footage that she had taken. So it evolved over time [but] that idea of the dreams really stuck. 

When did you come up with the title? Or was that a joint discussion between yourself and Maya?

GS: We had a list of possible names, but it was Maya’s idea, and that one kind of worked. Especially once we started editing the film, it became clear that that was the right one.

Your family took a lot of home videos. Obviously, it’s hard to talk for your parents, but what was their thinking behind filming the family growing up? Did they ever expect it to be turned into a documentary in the future?

GS: Not at all. No. I’m not really sure why, I think it was just something that their parents had done, so it was something they did too. I’m not really sure. When we were maybe five or six, my brother and I really loved making short films. I did one about Swan Lake, and there’s me dancing in a tutu in the film. And my brother did one about a superhero called Super Arno. So we always loved filming stuff like that. But in terms of the candid stuff of us running around, and back when we were babies, I think they just wanted to document it all. But no, there was no plan for a documentary at all.

Did they have some kind of archival process? Was there like a bookshelf that they had, 2008, 2009, so you knew when the video was taken?

GS: No, it was stored on a computer. But it was quite messy, I think. A lot of time was spent by Maya sifting through, trying to find stuff. But I don’t think it was very thought through. Like it’s just “The kids are doing something funny, let’s film them” and then kind of store it. I don’t think there was a plan like “We’re going to document everything and then put it in this wonderful — and make a slideshow.” I think Dad had this idea of “We’ll show some really stupid videos at their 21st birthday.” But besides that, no plan.

But Maya loved it. It was kind of a filmmakers’ dream to have all this footage as a kid especially as the film was spanning years. We started at 14, and then [to] realise there’s all this footage of years before. Watching it kind of feels like Maya has been there from the beginning, a presence from the very beginning.

You’ve moved into acting, and filmmaking is a big part of your life. Do you ever see yourself going back to Swan Lake and doing a performance of that? Is there a dream performance that you’d like to do?

GS: I don’t think I’m a good enough dancer to do Swan Lake. I did ballet lessons when I was like five. That’s about it. I don’t know if there’s like an endpoint [or] a goal necessarily. There are definitely things I want to do. Like with my experience on Neighbours, it’s been wonderful because there are so many different genres within that. So I’ve had to do very dramatic stuff and very comedic stuff and more like action-heavy stuff. So I think that’s made me realise that I love a wide variety of genres.

I think an ideal goal for me would be to do as much variety as possible. But really, it’s just about the stories. If it’s a good story, if it’s an interesting story that will challenge me in some way, then that is great.

Maybe if there’s a goal, it would be to work with directors I like. I really want to work with Greta Gerwig, I really want to work with Chloé Zhao. The stuff like that, those would be the goals for me.

Obviously the film’s not about Neighbours, but this particular interview is for the Revelation Film Festival and one of the people who runs the festival is a diehard Neighbours fan. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask a Neighbours-related question as we’re in that area. Obviously, you’ve wrapped up filming. It’s very sad for Australia as a whole but how does it feel from your perspective? Has it sunk in?

GS: Yeah, it’s incredibly sad, I had such a wonderful time working on that show with all those incredible people. I learned so much. It was such a great training ground. I met so many beautiful people. So I’m really sad that it’s ending but at that same time, I’m really grateful for the opportunity to have been on it and to be just a small part of its legacy. It’s been a pleasure.

There is so much really powerful footage of you in this film being an advocate and advocating for trans youth. What was your experience revisiting that?

GS: It was interesting. I think in hindsight, I’m able to appreciate what we were able to do and what these last years have been like, and the fact that I was doing all of that at the same time as doing school. I think at the time, people would say, “The work you’re doing is really good, it’s powerful,” and I’d kind of go like, “Yeah, whatever. They’re just saying that. I don’t feel like I’m doing much.”

But looking back, I have a different perspective on it. I’m realising how much work we did and to have done all of that at a young age and at school and to have been so open and so vulnerable. Now I’m realising how much I value my privacy, which is kind of ironic, because I’m releasing a documentary about my life. But how important that is for me, and how much it has cost to be so open. I suppose looking back, those are the kind of thoughts that are running through my head. It’s very surreal. It’s like an out of body experience watching your life on a cinema screen in front of other people. It’s weird. It’s very foreign. But good.

It feels like you’re watching somebody else do it. Did you have that experience yourself?

GS: In a way, yes, I did. But in some senses, I felt almost too connected which made me terrified, because I’m quite self-critical. It is sort of how you said, it’s like an out of body experience. You’re watching it like it’s someone else. And you do kind of have to watch the film not as yourself but as an audience to kind of appreciate what it’s about. But then at the same time, it’s so emotional. I watched it and it brings me back to those emotions that I was feeling and the headspace I was at. It’s kind of like looking through a diary. You’re put back in your head. It’s very weird.

You’ve got a great support network, both in your family but also with Maya as the director there. Can you talk about what it means to have a support network when you’re telling your life story on film?

GS: Oh, it’s everything. It’s everything. I wouldn’t be able to do it without that, and I wouldn’t do it without that. Everything I’m able to do is because of the family support I have, and I know that so many trans gender-diverse nonbinary young people don’t have that. About 66% don’t have family support. I shouldn’t be lucky to have to have it, but I am. I am incredibly lucky. That’s why I’ve been able to do advocacy. That’s why I’ve been able to be vulnerable in public and put myself out there, because I know that I have people who will look after me when I get off the stage or when I get home.

Being so public and open has got to make that privacy feel even more precious and important. How have you been able to find the ability to return to that?

GS: It does, it does. Having agency over your story and how you tell your story is also agency over what you share and what you don’t share. That’s something I’ve had to be more and more aware of. I’ve had to be more particular about what I want to say, what I do share with people, and then what I don’t. I had to reset boundaries after a few years of advocacy, because then at Q&As people would start asking incredibly personal questions and it would be quite scary, quite exposing. Especially starting with Neighbours as well with a new sort of audience knowing who I am and being in the public eye more, I had to reassess what I was comfortable with and then set boundaries that would protect me. I’m a lot more economical now, I’m a lot more precious [with what I share], but have to be.

Can you give any advice to people who might be going through something similar, whether it’s a trans experience or nonbinary or gender-diverse and they’re going through something similar even at school or as a creative or in life? Effectively being out in society and being open about who you are can be a little bit difficult for people. Do you have any advice for people?

I would say that exact thing. You don’t owe people anything. You don’t owe people your life story. You don’t owe them an explanation or to be open. So share what you’re willing to share. Share what you’re open with. Share what you’re comfortable in sharing. But don’t feel like you owe anyone anything more. Don’t feel like they are entitled to everything. Share what you’re you want to and you feel comfortable with, and then don’t be afraid to put up boundaries. You’re not being mean. You’re not being ungenerous.

It is absolutely enough just to exist, just to be. If you want to share things, you can but if you don’t want to or you’re unable to, that is absolutely okay. Boundaries are really important. Boundaries are healthy.

The last question which I want to ask is one which I’ve really enjoyed getting the answers from people who work in Australian film and TV lately is about what it means to be in Australian film, in Australian TV right now. What does that mean to you?

GS: For me, it’s incredibly exciting. I think right now there’s a real appetite for underrepresented voices and under-represented stories. A space has opened up for people like me to be in charge of the telling of our own stories, and I think the work that is coming out right now is really quite exciting and raw and honest. So it’s really awesome. It’s really inspiring me to continue to create my own work. It’s a great time right now.

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