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Podcast – Sally Caplan on the Australian screen industry

Screen Australia’s outgoing Head of Content Sally Caplan reflects on her eight years at the agency, changes in the screen sector, advice to applicants and more.

Sally Caplan headshot.

Sally Caplan

Find this episode of the Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

Sally Caplan joined Screen Australia in 2014 on a three-year contract and stayed for eight years, in a period that saw the introduction of the streamers, major changes in the film distribution landscape and shifts in the way the agency funded development.

On the latest episode of the Screen Australia podcast Caplan, who left Screen Australia in late January, looks back on her time at the agency, delivering wide-ranging insights, advice and commentary on those seismic changes in the screen sector between 2014 and 2022.

“I think the most obvious thing is fragmenting audiences and film distribution, even before the COVID pandemic… distribution wasn’t working the way it was and that was for many reasons I think but partly because of the rise of the streamers,” Caplan says, remembering the introduction of Stan in 2015, swiftly followed by Netflix.

“I think there’s been a pivot, apart from feature film distribution, (for) feature film itself the number of applications we get is much less than it used to be. And then we saw the rise of the number of TV applications because of the new platforms… we see more pressure now on our TV funds than our feature film funds, which was completely the other way around when I first got here.”

During Caplan’s time at Screen Australia, projects funded have included feature films such as The Dressmaker, Lion and Babyteeth; TV dramas such as Safe Harbour, Upright, Stateless, The Secrets She Keeps and Bump; children’s TV such as Bluey, Hardball, First Day, Mustangs FC and 100% Wolf; and documentaries such as That Sugar Film, The Australian Dream, Revelation and Brazen Hussies. Online projects include Starting from Now, Meta Runner, Cancelled and Superwog and numerous Screen Australia special initiatives such as Gender Matters, Developing the Developer, Skip Ahead (with Google) and Digital Originals (with SBS).

“Overall, I’ve loved it otherwise I still wouldn’t have been here after eight years,” she says.

“I really admire the sector here. Some super talented, smart, bright people.”

Subscribe to Screen Australia Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Pocket Casts

AUdio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome back to the Screen Australia podcast and our very first episode of 2022. I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication Screen News. Before we start, I want to take this moment to acknowledge the countries we meet on - the unceded lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The work of producing this podcast has been on the lands of the Gadigal people who are of the larger Eora Nation, and it's where I have been able to work during my years at Screen Australia and also as a journalist before then. It is a true privilege to be a visitor on this land of the Gadigal people. Always was. Always will be. To kick off our first episode this year, we are joined on the podcast by a former colleague of mine at Screen Australia, the wonderful Sally Caplan, who up until early 2022 was the head of content at the agency and someone I've been trying to get on the podcast for years, so this is a real coup personally for me. The reason being is that Sally has a wealth of knowledge about the screen industry. She has more than twenty-five years of international experience across financing, development, acquisition, production and distribution. And that has included roles such as Managing Director of eOne International, Head of the UK Film Council's Premier Fund and President of Icon Film Distribution UK. In 2014, Sally moved to Australia to become what's now Head of Content at Screen Australia for what she thought would be a three-year contract, but then ended up staying on board for eight years. During that time, the screen industry here and globally has changed enormously and throughout the podcast, Sally reflects on the major changes in the past eight years, learnings from her time at Screen Australia, advice for applicants and much more. To stay up to date with the Screen Australia podcast, subscribe to places like Spotify or iTunes, where you can also leave a rating and review. Any questions of feedback, send them to [email protected] and remember to subscribe to Screen Australia's fortnightly e-newsletter for all the latest articles, funding, announcements, videos and more. Now here's Sally Caplan.

[00:02:17] Caris Bizzaca So Sally Caplan, welcome to the Screen Australia podcast.

[00:02:21] Sally Caplan Thank you. My pleasure.

[00:02:22] Caris Bizzaca Finally got you on the podcast. It only took you leaving the agency to actually get you to come onto the podcast, but you made it (laughter). First question is a question we ask of everyone that comes on the podcast: what is your background in the industry and what was your role at Screen Australia?

[00:02:43] Sally Caplan I started life qualifying as a lawyer because it was at a time when people were saying, 'oh, there's graduates who are unemployed and I was told very firmly by my school and my parents, I had to do accountancy, law or medicine. And I [said] I want to do English. 'Well, then you just end up as a teacher' so I gave in. Clearly, I was quite mild in those days and I did law and I have to say, and it's advice to anybody, I don't regret it for a second. It's taught me so much and it also enabled me to get into the industry. I worked as a lawyer and I was always working my way towards being an entertainment lawyer and finally succeeded and my first proper job in the industry, I was working for Polygram, which some of you who are old like me will remember, which by then was bought by Universal. They were setting up a film division and they said, 'Sally, we want you to come over and do business affairs legal for us.' And I said, 'No' and they said, 'Why?' And I said, 'because I want to do acquisitions.' And I actually didn't really know what acquisitions was, but it sounded cool, and I thought, I'll just go watch lots of films and buy them and read scripts. It'll be so cool. And looking back, I'm hugely embarrassed and I had no idea what I was doing and I went to Cannes [Film Festival], within three weeks my boss, who had also not got a film background because it was all new for Polygram, went to Cannes, he said, 'Sally, we're going to Cannes in three weeks' time.' I was [thinking] 'oh, great.' Subsequent years pre-Cannes was an absolute nightmare. You'd have to read sixty scripts, you'd have to decide which ones you might want to buy, you'd have to run numbers, and it was generally all on scripts, and then you had to check out everything in the festival. What is it we need to see that we might want to buy? I went to my first Cannes going with my boss who didn't know either, going 'we haven't really got any meetings, do you think we should set some meetings up?' And we kind of did it when we got there. Anyway, that's very long story short. That's how I started.

[00:04:45] Caris Bizzaca And that's how you're not meant to go to Cannes, right?

[00:04:48] Sally Caplan Exactly, and some of the sales agents who are now friends say 'we all laughed at your first Cannes, thought 'oh dear how is this going to go?' But fortunately, you do get the hang of it and it was a lot of fun. I did Acquisitions for a while and then I went to run Icon [Film] Distribution [UK], I worked for a distribution company - I went to work for Icon running their distribution and then I went to the UK Film Council, which is now the BFI (British Film Institute) [which] is very much like Screen Australia, it's the agency and they only ever did film. Following the UK Film Council where I was at for five years, King's Speech was one of mine, but I just love the industry. And after the Film Council, I was poached to run sales for eOne International, which I did for nearly three years. I have to say I didn't like that; I just could not get excited that we'd got five thousand dollars for a sale in Poland. No offence, Poland, not picking on you, but it just wasn't my thing. And there wasn't a degree of creativity because obviously you had to buy or acquire the rights to product to sell and a lot of it came through eOne itself so you didn't necessarily get a choice in what you were selling, but it was still an amazing experience and looking back, I don't regret it for a minute. I didn't love it, but I made a lot of friends, I learnt a lot, which is always super important and then I spent a while being freelance aka unemployed, and the next chapter is here, which you may want to hear more about or not as the case may be.

[00:06:22] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, definitely.

[00:06:24] Sally Caplan I was freelance for eight months and I was actually quite enjoying having a little lie down and doing little bits and pieces, but generally not being that busy. A friend of mine from Australia called and said, 'did you know there's a job going at Screen Australia? It's Head of Production and you should apply.' And I was going, no, I love London. I've got a few interesting projects on the go and there's no way I'm doing that. And that was the end of that until about two weeks later when I got a call from a head-hunter and she said, 'your name keeps getting mentioned. There's a job - Head of Production. Are you going to apply for it?' I said I vaguely know what you're talking about. Absolutely not. I was just thinking 'what are these people going on about, I'm not moving to Australia.' You know how sometimes you say no to something and it just keeps ticking away. I was excited at the thought of working, I mean, my background was very much development and feature film, little bit of doc[umentary], not much TV because the organisations I worked for were feature film distribution companies or the UK Film Council as I said was only features. I said it would be great, I love TV and the landscape seems to be changing so I don't want to be just saying I'm an expert in film. It's a three-year contract, they're not offering it to you, they're asking you to apply, so why don't you just apply and see what happens? I rang the head-hunter back and I said, 'Is it too late to apply now?' She said, 'Almost.' It's quite complicated, it wasn't like you just send them your CV and say, I would like to be head of production Screen Australia, you have to do all kinds of statements and selection criteria and it's quite a big thing. I actually really enjoyed doing that and bizarrely, when I was clearing out my office I would say the other day, it was the other three weeks because that's how long it took, I actually came across my application. I have no idea why I kept it, to be honest, but it was just interesting looking back and seeing clearly what I thought the job involved and what it actually did involve. I was very keen for them to know that I knew it wasn't just film because in the UK it's still only film, and I was actually was quite excited at the prospect of doing something a bit out of my wheelhouse, if you like.

[00:08:45] Caris Bizzaca You were saying what you thought the job would be and what it was [was different], so what is the role? It's now Head of Content, not Head of Production, but what is the Head of Content and what is the Content Team at Screen Australia? What are they responsible for?

[00:09:05] Sally Caplan I have to say, they're one of the best teams I've ever had the pleasure to work with, so Content covers development for a start. That's obviously very critical to everything we do and when I first got here, development was pretty vanilla. It was mainly feature films, but I can talk more about that later if that's of interest. It also includes scripted, which is TV, both kids TV and I won't call it adult TV, general TV is what we call it. It's for grownups, grown up TV. It also includes feature films, and it's very interesting to see how that whole thing's changed since I got here eight years ago. It also includes documentary and also includes online. That was eight years ago, we are one of the few agencies in the world to fund online, and I was really excited about that. Not because I was a cool dude or anything but, because I thought this is going to be really exciting and I have to say it's been one of my pleasures. I don't think I've actually made it to cool yet, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it's just worth mentioning that in terms of budget, the online department is our smallest. In terms of eyeballs, it's our biggest on all the different platforms, which of course have multiplied enormously. When I started there wasn't a TikTok, for example, or an Instagram, so it's been a really exciting area of growth. And it's not that anything else isn't important, but it's obviously an area where as an agency, we're catering for a younger audience, whereas a lot of the feature, and obviously kids TV is different, but the general drama is very much playing to older audiences and I think it's very important that we engage Australian kids early and hear Australian voices, and indeed that could be online or it could be Bluey or the [other] fabulous TV shows that have been made here, because if you can't engage kids at an early age, what's the chances that they're going to look for Australian product as they get older if they've been just spoon fed a lot of American? Nothing wrong with American product. I love it. But also there's an awful lot of it.

[00:11:16] Caris Bizzaca The idea that you're getting your accent, your world reflected back at you as a child.

[00:11:23] Sally Caplan Yes, exactly. Which is one of the reasons why one of the things we noticed early on is that particularly with animation, they were using either Canadian or American voices, largely because it sold a bit better, because apparently the Australian accent, not I would know, is hard to understand, harder to understand than Canadians and obviously English accents apparently are much easier to understand than Australians. The other reason they were using those voices is that they could do them under different residual agreements which were cheaper than the Australian ones. We thought that was not cool to be funding content that looked American or didn't look Australian, particularly in the kids' space, so we changed the guidelines and basically said if your animation or whatever it is, if your kids programme doesn't sound Australian, it doesn't have to look Australian, it doesn't have to have Harbour Bridge and everything, and some of the animations are a little bit uncertain where they could be set almost anywhere. But if it doesn't sound Australian, we're not going to fund it. It's fine. You make it, that's great, good on you. But don't come to us for funding, you'll still get offset or PDV, which is, as most people know, as the post, digital and visual effects, which a lot of the animations rely on because that's thirty percent, they would now get thirty percent under the offset, but it was easier to get the PDV. They were well supported and we just felt that our direct funding that we control and make decisions over here is a small limited pot unlike the offset, so we want to be sure we're using it wisely, and producers here are lucky enough in pretty much most cases to have a very generous offset compared to most other territories.

[00:13:08] Caris Bizzaca When it comes to the content that Screen Australia produces, what you've kind of outlined there, the content department covers development and then investments in production funding, features, TV, online, and documentary. Then those departments also sometimes will work with the First Nations Department, but that operates entirely on its own, producing its own content.

[00:13:39] Sally Caplan Correct, we have an amazing First Nations department, and it's like a microcosm of what the agency does. It's incredible, they do everything. They're doing TV, kids and grown-up TV. They're doing features, they're doing initiatives, they're doing workshops, they're doing development.

[00:13:54] Caris Bizzaca And the scale is just as big.

[00:13:56] Sally Caplan Yes, so for example, Total Control, and Mystery Road, which are some of the biggest TV shows ever came out through our First Nations Department, as they should do.

[00:14:07] Caris Bizzaca How did you manage your approach when you get here and you said one of the things that you were excited about [with the job] was that there was a challenge aspect to it. There were gaps in your knowledge. How did you manage that as Head of, then Production, now Content?

[00:14:25] Sally Caplan I think my advice to anybody is don't pretend you know what you don't know, you'll get caught out and it's not helpful because you won't learn. That was very much my approach, is to be upfront and say, 'can you explain this to me? Why do you do this?' And just ask a whole lot of questions. Probably some of the people I was asking would go, 'Oh my God, she's now over us in terms of management, and she doesn't really know that much and she doesn't know that much about documentaries and she doesn't know that much about Australian documentaries. It was kind of a challenging period but I think I would always say to people that the people I'm most scared of is the people who don't want you to know what they don't know and they try and bluff it and get through. That's where it gets dangerous, I think most people respect you if you say, 'help me.' And I was blessed with a pretty good team in all areas that all been there for a while and they were quite experienced and I think they were very generous and put up with a lot of questions. I think that leads me on to another piece of advice is if you are doing something or producing something or whatever it is and there's areas you don't know, make sure you surround yourself with people who do know. Don't be frightened to ask them and say, 'help me'. I think people appreciate that - they want to feel valued. You're saying 'you're really smart, you really understand this,' and you're not just pandering to them. It's like, 'I need you, this is where we want to get to and this is your part of it to help me get there'. I think other people might disagree, but that's certainly served me very well.

[00:15:58] Caris Bizzaca You started at Screen Australia eight years ago. What have been some of the biggest changes in the industry that you've seen during that period? I realise that's such a massive question. Just thinking myself about how many things have changed in eight years, but what are some of the things that jump out to you?

[00:16:19] Sally Caplan Starting more basically, I think the most obvious thing is film distribution, fragmenting audiences, even before the COVID pandemic, distribution was in trouble, just wasn't working the way it was. That was for many reasons, but partly because of the rise of the streamers. People were going, 'I don't need to go to the cinema anymore. I can just watch all this fabulous content at home.' That was in the early days because if my memory serves me right, Stan was the first one on board here really. They knew they were six weeks in front of Netflix and how does Stan compare with Netflix? That's six years ago, it seems like yesterday in a way, but we're so used to streamers now. I think that was when particularly there was an impact on feature distribution and companies like eOne here in Australia was a very successful company, but parent company said, 'We don't see this as the future' and shut them down. That was scary, that was four or five years ago. You could understand some of the smaller ones saying, 'this is a difficult landscape now.'

[00:17:32] Caris Bizzaca That was when all the features went to Universal?

[00:17:36] Sally Caplan Exactly right, and they were making less. I think there's been a pivot, apart from feature film distribution. Feature film itself, the number of applications we get is much less than it used to be, used to be predominantly feature films. Then we saw the rise of the TV applications because of the new platforms. The obvious ones are Stan and Netflix, now there are so many, Amazon, you almost lose track, and Peacock and Paramount plus. A lot of the production companies that had largely focused on feature films were making TV series, were moving into TV. We see more pressure now on our TV funds than we do in our feature film funds, which is completely the other way around when I first got here.

[00:18:23] Caris Bizzaca Is the other thing you mentioned with development that there has been a change in the amount of television series coming in for development?

[00:18:33] Sally Caplan I think it was about three or four years ago, and I would give huge credit to Nerida Moore for this. And whilst I was involved, she was the architect. But we all talked about it and said we only fund features, this is crazy. Obviously, Documentary had their own separate development department, but in Scripted we only fund features.

[00:18:53] Caris Bizzaca In Development?

[00:18:54] Sally Caplan Yeah, it was so out of date, so the big things that we did and as I said, Nerida was the architect of it, so she deserves enormous credit. We [said] 'Okay, so what are we going to do? Let's expand it to online for a start, because that's such an important area and let's support it. Change it to TV and let's figure out are the broadcasters and the platforms just going to laugh at us and say, great, we don't have to do development, we can send them all to Screen Australia and see what happens, so we divided it up into two areas, divided up into Generate and Premium. Generate was for the newer teams, the less experienced teams.

[00:19:31] Caris Bizzaca And by doing that, you also open it up to people that didn't have the number of credits that they previously needed.

[00:19:37] Sally Caplan So we got rid of all the eligibility. There is no eligibility other than you have to be an Australian citizen and it has to be a project that looks like it would--or permanent residence and you have an idea and it's something that looks like it would qualify as what we call Significant Australian Content, so qualify for the offset because obviously we did get some applications from films that you were [thinking] 'this could never be an Australian film.' And it's not to say it would be a complete bummer if the main creators are Australian, but sometimes they were actually overseas, it was more American driven with some Australian participation, which is all fine. But we didn't want our limited funds to be going to creatives that weren't predominantly Australian. So that was three or four years ago, it involved a two-stage process, which was entirely new. Because we knew that by getting rid of eligibility, we would be flooded and we were, so we had a two stage: you submit your idea, synopsis and some basic documents, and at that stage we'd say,' that looks great, go to stage two' or 'sorry, it's not really there.' And we could reject it quite quickly without having to read scripts and we also introduced at that time the video pitch part of your application. At stage one is a three-to-four-minute video pitch, which some people love. Other people were like, 'No, we can't, no we hate that, and it's not fair.' And we're going, 'in real life you have to pitch. If you're going to get anywhere, you will find yourself having to pitch in markets or in the street or at a party or whatever. You have to pitch.' The great advantage of our video pitch, if it's not very good, you can go, 'yeah, well, we'll just do that again.'

[00:21:19] Caris Bizzaca Take two.

[00:21:20] Sally Caplan Take two or maybe take three. Whereas in real life if you happen to be in a lift with a studio head as people have done, I've seen it, and you're pitching to them and it's not very good. You can't say, hang on moment, can I just do that again? You get a minute.

[00:21:35] Caris Bizzaca You got your one chance.

[00:21:36] Sally Caplan You get you one chance, so it's actually something we felt was useful and just advice that we give people who don't quite understand the point of the video pitch, was saying, please don't just repeat what's in the synopsis. We know that. Give us a flavour of why do you want to do this? Why now? Why you and please sound excited. I know it can be boring if you've pitched something fifty times, but if you sound bored, it's gonna be like, 'Oh.' Don't worry too much about it, because we don't judge you just on the quality of your pitch. But do try and tell us something we don't already know. Make us excited. Why are you excited? And very much the 'why this and why now.'

[00:22:14] Caris Bizzaca Speaking then on applications, you would have seen a lot of applications over the years, but do any jump out at you as just incredible applications?

[00:22:27] Sally Caplan  I can't think of individual ones off the top of my head, but I think it's generally: put yourself in our shoes, and what's going to excite us. The mistake that most often is made is probably not giving us much information. Or just giving us what's in the synopsis, because we get so many applications, so we can't ring you up and say, 'this application is very good, but can you tell us a bit more about it?' We just don't have the resources, the idea is that hopefully you'll put in a good application at stage one and kind of go 'what would they need to know, what is it that they can't tell from the basic documents we've submitted?' And it's that what will make us go to the next stage, and then at stage two, we do read longer documents and we have more time because we filtered it. A lot of them won't get through, so we're concentrating on what we call the stage two documents. The other aspect of it, which has become increasingly more important is culture and diversity, inclusivity and gender equity. We will favour applications and projects that are featuring those things. But what we don't want is people going, 'oh, Screen Australia love inclusivity and gender equity so if we just include some of that in our story then we're more likely to get the money.' It has to be authentic; it has to be lived experience.

[00:23:51] Caris Bizzaca Is that the 'Why you? Why you why this story? Why now?'

[00:23:55] Sally Caplan Yeah, and it's been fantastic to see a big rise in skill sets of people who previously were underrepresented communities and didn't have the same opportunities as some of the more privileged majorities. A lot of that came out of things like, again, fantastic initiative, big credit to Louise Gough, who was a DE [Development Executive] at the time, and Nerida. We ran this Developing the Developer workshop. I think the first one was five years ago and it was a huge success and it was looking for people who are inclusive diversity, who hadn't had opportunities but had some track record. Then they went through four-stage workshop and Louise ran that and was absolutely incredible.

[00:24:36] Caris Bizzaca Many of who are working in the industry now as development executives.

[00:24:40] Sally Caplan Yes, many of who worked in the industry, so a lot of initiatives went on in that nature, and without going into them, people will know, I mean Online have followed suit and Documentary. It's an exciting time. We're seeing a lot more skilled creatives so that we want to empower people to tell their own stories and not just be a part of the process.

[00:25:01] Caris Bizzaca If you look back, even I think Gender Matters was six years ago, so in that time, Gender Matters, Developing the Developer, the development guidelines have changed, there's been quite a lot of changes within the agency, not just externally.

[00:25:19] Sally Caplan Absolutely. I mean, we've got initiatives, Online, do a lot of initiatives targeted at diversity like Digital Originals, which we did with SBS.

[00:25:29] Caris Bizzaca Kaleidoscope Project is a recent one.

[00:25:30] Sally Caplan Yes, and the SBS Writer's Incubator project, which I think is really exciting, where they get the successful writers from all over Australia. It's very important that it's regional, not just New South Wales and Victoria, and are being placed with some of the top production companies for a year. But I think it's very exciting and we're already seeing some significant changes, but more and more. It's not quick, it's frustrating, you think it's obvious, it's so obvious. And that's where so many of the interesting stories are and interesting characters and different stories and distinct stories. But as you can witness with First Nations, it takes a long time. It's important not to give up, keep your foot on the pedal and we'll get there because that's where everyone is realising that's where some of the really exciting talent is, or has realised.

[00:26:22] Caris Bizzaca Talking about applications still, what do you feel like you see too much of in applications?

[00:26:29] Sally Caplan "It's just like Fleabag."

[00:26:33] Sally Caplan No, comp[arison]s are very important, but be realistic. And again, probably what we see too much of is a slight lack of understanding of cultural safety. As I said earlier, just not enough information. We can't read thirty pages at stage one but what are the key points? What is it that's a bit different, a bit distinct? And what makes you the right people to do this and to do it successfully? We also see some applications that are very strategic, so for example, premiums for more experienced practitioners, but that's not to say that if you're a less experienced practitioner, you couldn't team up with somebody more experienced so you can do a project in premium. Again, it's not about we don't want to make bad relationships and have somebody team up with someone just because they might get them into do their eight-million-dollar feature film, which would be premium.

[00:27:27] Caris Bizzaca What do you feel like some of your biggest learnings from your time at Screen Australia?

[00:27:37] Sally Caplan That one could be another podcast. Just learning that the adaptability of the sector. The whole COVID experience whilst it's been pretty awful, I take my hat off. So many people have managed to adapt and I just think there's a lot of resilience out there. I'm also impressed, as I said earlier, with the number of production companies that were really only into features and at that time it was probably smart and sustainable, who have swiftly become very successful, experienced practitioners producing TV series. If you look around, Australian TV has improved enormously. We used to hear criticism from sales agents [that] the TV series in Australia, they tend to be very low production values compared to other countries and they tend to have the first four ep[isode']s might be quite exciting and then it's always a bit of a letdown at the end. One of the reasons for that is that working back from a TX date, you might still be shooting ep[isode] four while you're still writing at five and six.

[00:28:55] Caris Bizzaca We would typically look at twenty-two-episode seasons then as well. It wasn't the six to ten episodes that you get now.

[00:29:01] Sally Caplan Exactly. So I've seen production values go up and I think that's important and I think the resourcefulness to get those financed, which is impressive. We've got more platforms now for sure. Stan has been fantastic, I think in terms of their point of difference is they want something Australian, so they don't want just to look like there are more American shows. They are working towards commissioning thirty shows a year and as I explained to them, and they will acknowledge this with a big smile and they did send me flowers on my last day, is that you can't come in to us with every round. We can't be part of your business plan. But it's been exciting and I think it's improved. I think part of that [is] we're quite strategic with what we will fund in development for TV because we don't want to try and replace the broadcasters, A) because we don't have the money, B) we don't have the knowledge of the audience that they have or the understanding of what's really working for them. They should be running that, but we do it to make a difference and to help get a show that is high production value and finishes as strongly as it starts, if not more strongly. So that's been exciting, but it's good to see new players, there's Foxtel got out of drama for a while and now they're back, which is fantastic. Warner Brothers Australia only ever used to do shiny floor shows and they're now doing scripted and the first two well Love Me was at Christmas, which I think a lot of people saw and got fantastic reviews and they're shooting The Twelve now.

[00:30:40] Caris Bizzaca Are all of these companies that work in TV coming into Screen Australia for something at some point because quite a number of years ago, maybe the broadcasters wouldn't have come in to Screen Australia as much?

[00:30:56] Sally Caplan Absolutely, there's just more TV being made and more TV production companies, so it's our biggest pressure point in terms of people coming in, and it's very different to feature. You can make a proper creative assessment of feature because by the time they come in for the application, you've got the script, you know who the director is, you probably know some of the cast, so you've got all the information. Whereas TV works very differently. They don't go into heavy development until they know they've pretty much got the finance committed or interested. So at the time we see it, they're applying for production finance and all we'll get is a bible, which is the document which outline outlines the series and what it's about and the themes. We'll know some of the writers, not always all of them, we won't know the directors. It's very different to feature film, it's very much producer/writer driven TV. Whereas feature film is very much director driven and we wouldn't fund anything without knowing who the director is. But across six or eight epi[isode]s, you might have two or three directors for TV, doing different blocks and that's quite normal. We often don't know that, so there's a degree of trust and we say we have to manage our budget and you have to manage your slate. You can't come in every round, production companies you can't come in with every single project you're doing because it's important that we're funding the best, but there has to be a little bit of fairness and saying, well, you haven't come in for a long time and it's an interesting project so, okay, we'll do that. But platform, please don't come in the next three rounds with something else. It's an interesting process. It's not ideal, it's a bit haphazard, but it kind of works.

[00:32:37] Caris Bizzaca What kind of advice would you give people in the industry going into 2022?

[00:32:46] Sally Caplan It's a very good question. I think it's finding your resilience, being realistic and basically adapting. But to a degree, I think that's already happened. As I said there's the switch, higher production values of TV, there's more people doing TV, the amazing way the industry coped with COVID. And I would like to have a shout out to the agency here, because we were incredibly supportive with things like premium plus when nobody was in production, we just got a whole lot of money out there and invented a new programme. Big shout out to my colleagues Kelly [Vincent] and Amy [Powter], who have worked tirelessly across COVID and checking safety plans and the agency itself. Kelly Vincent and Amy Powter, who [have] just been amazing and I take my hat off to them. It's been very hard at times. And that was on top of their normal jobs, which is doing all the projects coming in, budget checks and all the rest of it. I just think the amount of money that the agency has shelled out and that we are managing and adapting, but that didn't come from the government. It wasn't extra money we were given for COVID, so we've had to manage the budget different way.

[00:34:00] Caris Bizzaca You've also said before that the amount of output that Screen Australia has, comparatively to some of the screen agencies around the world, is quite impressive.

[00:34:15] Sally Caplan It's extraordinary. In terms of the breadth of what we do, this is anecdotal but just from agencies I've talked to and I've talk to many of them over the years, we have the broadest scope, not necessarily the biggest budget. A lot of them still, even the BFI in the UK who are doing a fantastic job generally in terms of diversity and inclusivity and distribution and cinema support, they only do feature films. There's nothing wrong with that, but we feel that we were right in opening that out because feature films, the signs were a long time ago that they weren't going to be necessarily the force that they used to be. But in the midst of all that, our wonderful distribution manager Ant Grundy put out a campaign single handedly last year, Our Summer of Cinema, featuring four Australian films, one of which was The Dry, which did over twenty million at the box office. Penguin Bloom was about seven, Firestarter - a wonderful Bangarra documentary, and it had a real impact. I think that's what I admire about the agency, we've got lots of really smart people who cover a lot of different areas. It's not just, 'oh, I'm expert in film.' We have that amazing resource for distribution. We have an amazing marketplace team who will keep on top of what's selling and recoupment - if you need advice, like we've got this project, can you have a look at it? What do you think that would be? What do you think that might sell?

[00:35:41] Caris Bizzaca You can also check out the podcast on Marketplace with Rakel Tansley. Talking about Screen Australia and your memories of the place, what do you think you will miss most and what do you think you will miss least about working at Screen Australia?

[00:36:03] Sally Caplan I think I'll miss reading scripts at weekends. I'll miss variations, which we have many. No, I'll miss people more than anything else, and I'm just so impressed, so many really smart people. There's sometimes a perception that if you work in an agency, it's because you can't cut it in the outside world, which is so far from the truth. I've met some fantastic people and I have some fantastic friends and I will be stalking lots of you. In terms of other things that I won't miss, I suppose it's that we're actually quite good on bureaucracy, but some of the stuff is tedious. I was joking about variations, but there's so much paperwork, it all has to go into systems, and I get it, it's governance, it's got to be good. But that does get tedious. I won't particularly miss negotiating deals that nobody else seems to care about. 'Just get us the money. Don't be difficult.' That's not really a head of content role, but it seems to have ended up with me because of my business affairs and legal background. I can do that stuff, and somebody has to. We work closely with SPA and some of these things, somebody has to say certain commissioning platforms or financiers are taking the mickey a bit. It's very important to remember that the Producer Offset is, I think, the only tax incentive or tax credit, as it's called, in other countries, where actually by legislation is the producer equity. Like any equity, you can trade it, but it's extraordinary. Every other territory, you get a tax credit. Nobody gets any benefit from that, the benefit goes into the project to see that it's made. But here we've actually seen many occasions where the Producer Offset is recognised as equity, like any other equity, and that can bring back considerable receipts to a producer for a project that works or semi-works even, rather than just going from project to project, I'll get my production fee, get my production overhead, and then I'll lurch to the next project and hope I'll get a production fee and overhead and not have to reinvest half of it. You actually have some equity in that as well, so if something does well, you'll get some income coming in even if you're not shooting or about to shoot. I think that's really important and it's a very special thing and peculiar to Australia. So I'll miss the Producer Offset and dealing with it... maybe.

[00:38:34] Caris Bizzaca And advising people not to trade it all away.

[00:38:37] Sally Caplan Exactly.

[00:38:39] Caris Bizzaca Was there anything that you wanted to add that you feel like we haven't covered today?

[00:38:44] Sally Caplan I think this is pretty comprehensive. I've had an absolute great time. There's been the downsides but overall, I've loved it otherwise I wouldn't still have been here after eight years. I really admire the sector here. Some super talented, smart, bright people and I hope I'll be around for a lot longer. I'll have a little lie down now, but I've got a couple of irons in the fire and I'm staying in Australia.

[00:39:13] Caris Bizzaca Great, so we'll get to see soon. Well, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today, Sally. We really appreciate it.

[00:39:24] Caris Bizzaca That was Sally Caplan, outgoing Head of Content at Screen Australia, and a huge thanks to her for joining me on the podcast. For all the latest episodes of the Screen Australia podcast, remember to click that subscribe button on places like Spotify and iTunes where you can leave a rating and review and for all the latest funding announcements, videos, articles and more, you can also subscribe to the Screen Australia fortnightly newsletter. Thanks for listening.