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Podcast – What SBS Scripted are looking for

SBS Head of Scripted Julie Eckersley on pitching, what they’re looking for, and investing in people and development.

Julie Eckersley

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

Julie Eckersley wants SBS to be gate openers, not gate keepers.

“We are here to serve our industry, we are here to get your great ideas on the screen, so we want to talk to you,” she says. “There should be no sense that we’re a hierarchy or that we’re hard to get to.”

Identifying, developing and elevating talent from underrepresented backgrounds in front of and behind the camera is a key goal for Eckersley in her role as Head of Scripted at the national broadcaster. 

Part of that is through initiatives like the Screen Australia/SBS Digital Originals and the Emerging Writers’ Incubator. But since Eckersley started in 2021, the SBS Scripted commissioning team have also published the SBS Scripted Pitch Deck Guide and in June launched the ‘TV Lunch’ sessions – a monthly virtual industry information session and Q&A. It’s open to any early to mid-level practitioner who wants to find out more about working with SBS or in the industry.

On the latest episode of the Screen Australia podcast, Eckersley talks about what makes a great pitch, how to get in touch and why they don’t require writers to have a producer attached to their project. She encourages anyone with a great idea to get in touch with the team through the TV Lunch sessions and pitch to [email protected], but has a word of advice:

“I would just say, you get one chance at a first impression so don’t come to us when you haven’t done the work,” she says. 

The SBS Scripted commissioning team includes Eckersley, Penny Win, Commissioning Editor Loani Arman, and Scripted Development Executive Catherine Kelleher, who together develop and commission original Australian content.

SBS have been known in the past for their 4 x 1 hour series, but Eckersley says they are expanding into the 6 x 1 hour and half hour drama space, as well as moving into a variety of genres, although they aren’t looking at comedy, children’s, or features.

Safe Home stars Virginia Gay, Aisha Dee and Mabel Li (Photo credit: Sarah Enticknap)

“We’re also pushing into genre, so we’re doing sci-fi, speculative fiction, magic realism, horror – we’ve got all these different shows in development from different genres and fantastic, exciting new voices with really fresh takes on story and what it means to be part of this Australian community that we’re in.”

Other changes the scripted team are bringing in include distribution advances and a commitment to put “real money on the table for development.” 

“Having been a producer, I know you cannot cheat that development process and it’s something that I’ve heard bemoaned for a long time so it’s something I really wanted to address… [to] go really strong in that scripting phase.”

Throughout the podcast, Eckersley also talks about everything from their strategy, differentiating from the streamers, TV ratings, binge culture, and their upcoming series Safe Home. Created by acclaimed playwright Anna Barnes, Safe Home is a 4 x 1 hour series written by Barnes, Michelle Law and Jean Tong, about a young woman leaves a job at a prominent law firm to work at a struggling family violence legal centre. It stars Aisha Dee, Virginia Gay and Mabel Li, is directed by Stevie Cruz-Martin (The TailingsPulse) and produced by Imogen Banks as the first series under her new production company Kindling Pictures.

“I’m super proud of it. It’s my first commission,” Eckersley says.

“It’s got a thriller element to it, it’s really well plotted… it’s a story that we say will change everything you think about family violence, but it’s not a show that’s earnest or trying to force the hand of a social issue. It really is a great story about a bunch of women.”

Safe Home will release on SBS in 2023.

Email the Scripted commissioning team through [email protected]

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

Audio Transcript

[00:00:05] Caris Bizzaca Welcome to the Screen Australia Podcast. I'm Caris Bizzaca, a journalist with Screen Australia's online publication Screen News. I'd like to firstly acknowledge the countries on which we meet 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've been able to work during my years at Screen Australia. It is a true privilege to be a visitor on this land of the Gadigal people. Always was, always will be. On this episode of the podcast, we are joined by Julie Eckersley, the head of Scripted at SBS, who joined the national broadcaster in 2021. Julie's previous experience, both as a producer and in development, includes working internationally with the likes of Netflix and NBCU International, as well as nine years at Matchbox Pictures, where she worked on Australian series, including the Family Law, Glitch and Maximum Choppage. As head of Scripted at SBS. Julie oversees development and production of scripted content across SBS channels and platforms. And so throughout the podcast she talks about a range of topics, including the strategy going forward TV ratings, binge culture, what SBS are and aren't looking for and how to pitch an idea to them, which is exactly what playwright Anna Barnes did with the upcoming Screen Australia/SBS series Safe Home. Julie also talks about creating resources and pathways into the industry for emerging talent, whether that's through initiatives like SBS and Screen Australia's Digital Originals, producing a guide for how to make a pitch deck or launching the monthly TV lunch sessions with the SBS scripted commissioning team. Before we get to the chat, remember you can subscribe to the Screen Australia podcast through places like Spotify and iTunes. Feedback can be sent to [email protected] and subscribe to Screen Australia's Industry News for all the latest from the local industry. Now here's SBS Head of Scripted Julie Eckersley.

[00:02:04] Caris Bizzaca So first of all, can you tell me a bit about your background, some of your previous roles in the industry?

[00:02:11] Julie Eckersley Yeah, I came to the industry through being an actor, which, you know, everyone has a different pathway. That was my way. I did a lot of acting, did TV acting, did done a few years with Rebel Wilson on The Wedge and couple of years with Shaun Micallef in Newstopia, which was an early version of a show now on ABC. And then I sort of, you know, was doing my masters and things and I just always have had a real a passion for pushing myself and for finding great stories and just wanted to do more of it - was feeling that, you know, I was sort of hungry to do more. So I went back and trained at AFTRS and RMIT and did a sort of degree at both of them at the same time. One of them was producing and the other was professional writing and editing and then got in with Matchbox Pictures on a Film Victoria six month placement actually taking over from Polly Staniford, from Aquarius Pictures fame and then happened to come into Matchbox at a really great time where they were growing a lot as a company and forever grateful to Rob Connelly for recommending me for that job. And also Michael McMahon and Tony Ayres and that leadership team at Matchbox who let me forge a pathway there. So ended up nine years at Matchbox and got to produce some fantastic shows and work with incredible creatives at a time where, you know, the company was blossoming and, you know, so aspirational for so many people. So it was wonderful to be a part of and headed up for a lot of that time by Chris Oliver-Taylor We used to call it the Cult of Matchbox, and with wonderful Chris being our overlord that we all joyfully served. And from then now come to SBS as Head of Scripted.

[00:03:44] Caris Bizzaca Great and so Head of Scripted. When did you join SBS as Head of Scripted and what does that role entail?

[00:03:52] Julie Eckersley I've been at SBS for just over a year now. The role is such a brilliant job. It really is the most exciting job and I'll describe it. But I think it's just, you know, it's the best job in the industry right now. Certainly my dream job at this moment. I get to work with my team, there's four of us, Catherine Kelleher, Loani Arman, who's doing maternity leave for Donna Chang and Penny Win. And we develop and commission content - original Australian content for the SBS network.

[00:04:21] Caris Bizzaca And so with SBS can you talk to your strategy going forward? The content strategy?

[00:04:29] Julie Eckersley Yeah, we've got a real fresh version of SBS. That's what my kind of key message is to the industry, that SBS has done some incredible things, has such a special place in the Australian landscape and the world of representation and diversity has really changed over the last few years in a fantastic way. I keep saying at SBS, 'we're finally trendy guys!' You know, what SBS has been doing for 40 years now everyone's doing so we wanted to freshen up that vision and we've made some real changes in that. Couple of them are previously we were doing 4 x 1 hours. We're now doing still 4 x 1 hours, but we're also doing 6 x 1 hours. And we're in the half hour drama space, which is super exciting because there's so much incredible content coming out globally in the half hour drama. [space]. And, you know, also part of my argument around that is what do you want to watch at 9:30 at night? I think a half hour drama is a great offering or even two half hour dramas and just really flexible storytelling. You know, you look at things like Atlanta, I May Destroy You, and they're in that half hour space and you can do really exciting things with it. It also gives us a lot more room to elevate new talent, which is another one of our passions. We're also pushing into genre, so we're doing sci fi, speculative fiction, magic realism, horror. We've got all these different shows in development from different genres and fantastic, exciting new voices with really fresh takes on story and on what it means to, you know, be part of this Australian community that we're in. We're also doing a steamy romance and some erotica. Another thiing I do like to say at SBS is 'I'm bringing sexy back guys' and so back to that whole 'sex before soccer SBS'. But you know, there's so much power in giving someone who hasn't had a sexual point of view in a story for a long, long time or ever, that point of view. I think other things that we're doing differently and in a fresh way is we're putting real money on the table for development - having being a producer, being in the industry, I know that you can not cheat that development process and it's something that I've heard bemoaned for a long time. So it's something I really wanted to address. Let's go deep, let's go really strong in that scripting phase so that we've got a fantastic story because you can't cheat that down the track. And once that momentum of production starts, it's really hard to change that. And we're also bringing in more money than ever. We're bringing in distribution advances, which I know a lot of people are doing, but we're working with producers to make sure we get that great distribution advance into our budget so our budgets can expand in the way they need to to make the best Australian content we can.

[00:06:53] Caris Bizzaca And so with, you know, scripted at SBS, what are some of the kind of key goals that you have going forward?

[00:07:00] Julie Eckersley At SBS Scropted we've got two key goals that are really clear. First is to make incredible, entertaining, inclusive stories that move hearts and minds in Australia but all across the world. That's our first thing. Second is to develop, elevate and escalate a tidal wave of talent from underrepresented backgrounds, both in front of and behind the camera. And we're really passionate about that.

[00:07:19] Caris Bizzaca And, I mean, there are a lot of platforms out there now. There's a lot of content being made. How are you looking to distinguish SBS content?

[00:07:30] Julie Eckersley Yeah, there's a few things we're doing that we feel like are really how we're distinguishing ourselves in the marketplace. Firstly, being edgy and bold so that while the streamers are getting a bit broader and needing to service broader audiences, we're really holding to that distinctiveness. The second is leaning into that distinctiveness in really fresh and entertaining and surprising ways. Thirdly, being a network that people want to work with because we take great care of them, we back them for development, we back creatives from beginning to end. And so that people want to work with us not once, but they want to come back. And we get a reputation for really looking after and supporting our creatives and all the people that we work with. And fourthly, being industry leaders in inclusion and representation and elevation of those new points of view - that we're bringing people up, but we're also doing it in fresh and exciting ways and hopefully in the slate that we start delivering next year, people will see that and it will excite people even more to keep pushing those boundaries moving forward.

[00:08:24] Caris Bizzaca And so with bringing those new voices in, as well as having the half hours and things like that, do initiatives play a big part at SBS in terms of scripted, things like Digital Originals?

[00:08:36] Julie Eckersley The Digital Originals programme is extraordinary and so many new talent are being launched through that. At the moment, one great example is Stevie Cruz-Martin. She directed The Tailings for us and now she's directing our new 4 x 1 hour, Safe Home. Digital Originals allows us to meet people, to develop them, and also then to track them. That's something that we're doing. We're really like, once we know you and we see your skills, not that you just work with us once, but we keep moving you through. So Digital Originals is extraordinary at doing that. And if you're listening to this and you're someone at that early to mid stage of your career, that is a programme that you want to get on. Last year we had 178 applications. We've taken 12 into first stage development and now seven into another stage of development, and then three will go into production. Also the Emerging Writers Initiative, that's our other big key initiative. But within that, I think elevating new voices is something we're doing every day on every project. It's not something that we just do in initiatives. Catherine Kelleher, our development manager, has a big spreadsheet and when new projects are announced, I just yesterday looked at the programme that had come out and, we'd go through it and go, who from here is not on our radar? And let's get them in, let's get them to have a meeting, let's get samples of them. And increasingly, one of the things that's working is that people are then coming to us saying, 'hey, we're working in this community. Or do you know anyone you know from this particular point of view that we can bring into a room' and we're able to really service that, not just for SBS, but for the broader community.

[00:10:07] Caris Bizzaca And since you've been at SBS, there's something that's called TV lunch sessions that have launched. Can you explain what that is as well?

[00:10:14] Julie Eckersley Yeah. One of the things that we're really passionate about in the scripted team is breaking down the barriers to entry. And particularly if you're in that early to mid-career point where a lot of the new talent from underrepresented backgrounds is currently at the moment, and we're changing that. That's exciting. But it's it's in motion. We wanted to make sure that we were giving them all the information they needed and they knew how to get to us. So a couple of things that we've done around that is we've launched the TV lunch initiative, which well, it's a conversation really. On the second Friday of every month on a Zoom link, the scripted team is there. You don't have to go through an agent or a production company to talk to us. You can come and talk directly to us. We have a kind of a theme that we offer up in terms of trying to offer value at the beginning. We might go through our pitch deck and talk about pitching or talk about the skills of being in a writer's room, just for sort of ten or 15 minutes, and the other 45 minutes is just talk to us. Like, tell us who you are. Ask us anything you want to know about the industry. And we will tell you that. We've also put on our website a pitch deck that people can download for free. I think there's a lot of mystery about 'what's a pitch deck, what do I need? How do I do it?' You know, again, particularly at that early to mid-career point, and we just wanted to answer that question and be really clear about it. And I think it's a great guide on what you need to think through in your story before you pitch for SBS. But I think even more broadly than that.

[00:11:36] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, it's a really fantastic resource and we'll put a link to it in the show notes, so definitely check that out because it has a lot of great questions and things for you to answer which can even just, not just help with the pitch, but I also just think help in understanding if your story is there, like if you have asked all the questions about characters and things like that.

[00:11:54] Julie Eckersley That's exactly how we designed it. So basically it takes you through really thinking through all levels of your story. So even if they don't end up in the pitch deck - you know, we're not being formulaic about it - they're going to come up in the questions with any commissioner. Have you thought through this part of your story and you want to be able to answer that before you walk in the door.

[00:12:14] Caris Bizzaca We'll get to pitching in a little bit, but just kind of some more like overarching questions still about SBS. So how important do you think it is for a company like SBS to have something like SBS on Demand and have had it for the period of time that you have had it?

[00:12:33] Julie Eckersley I mean, I think SBS on Demand is one of the greatest offerings to the Australian public that we have. To me, even the whole idea of SBS and the ABC - to me they're as great as Medicare in our country, that we've got these parts of our culture that we own. I think the forethought of people well before my time to see that going into streaming and to develop that means that that platform currently has over 12,000 hours of content free to the Australian public on it. I mean if that hadn't been seen at such an early stage, it wouldn't be that broad. That acquisitions team are so incredible, their connections. They go wide, they go deep. They have long term deep connections with people across the world and the Australian public benefits from that. For us as the overnight numbers go down, we all know that having a really established platform that runs really well, that people can watch our content on and make sure that we consolidate our numbers in ways that really reflect who's watching. Again, just a really important part of being a broadcaster in this current time and moving forward.

[00:13:41] Caris Bizzaca When you're talking about that. So with TV ratings, do you think that there is as much emphasis put on the overnights or are people starting to look more at these big numbers that include the kind of catch up service as well?

[00:13:56] Julie Eckersley It's such a great question and I was talking with Greer Simpkin from Bunya about this recently because we just did True Colours and I mean, the overnights were strong about really strong on NITV, but the catch-ups have been fantastic and I think there's still an emphasis on that kind of next day publicity to say what the overnights were. But they are really not the number that matters. And when you work in television, you know that and you want people to report on your seven day numbers, your 28 day numbers. That's where we want the reporting to go to because it just doesn't reflect whether a show has made a substantial impact on an audience to have those numbers. So I don't think on that 24 hour press cycle, we're quite at the point where we're reporting it with the urgency of when it really does matter, at that seven and 28 day numbers. But hopefully we're moving in that direction.

[00:14:48] Caris Bizzaca Because I feel like those longer numbers, the longer tail, also captures potentially a different audience demographic. The people that don't watch free to air, that only watch things on their phones or the iPads or on some kind of catch up service.

[00:15:01] Julie Eckersley Which is most of us, right?

[00:15:02] Caris Bizzaca Yeah, exactly. And so you mentioned acquisitions before. SBS does have a lot of acquisitions. Do you find that there is kind of a push to have a balance between having The Handmaid's Tale and Shrill and this great catalogue of movies as well as developing original Australian content.

[00:15:25] Julie Eckersley It's not going to be a balance because they both serve different purposes within SBS. Acquisitions, obviously if you're buying just the Australian rights for show, you can buy a lot more content than can be afford to be made, and you see that on every network. But what I've really found at SBS is an understanding of the importance of original drama. It's a great demonstration of what we stand for as a brand. It's important to our culture, it's part of what SBS is here to do. And one of the things that's great about doing work with SBS is we only need the Australian rights, you know, we can sell the rest of world rights and we do. But within the Australian market, because we're producing now, we're upping our appetite to 12 hours per year of output and all of those hours from a scripted point of view, get love and support from within the company. It's not just one of many shows. It really is something that we back, we care for and we, like across the company, support all the way through. So they're serving very different purposes. But scripted is in everyone's heart and is well-loved within the SBS network.

[00:16:33] Caris Bizzaca And you said 12 hours now. Can I ask what it was previously, what that increase has been?

[00:16:38] Julie Eckersley Yeah, there's always been an aspiration to have three shows out per year, 12 hours being sort of, you know, three by 4 (x 1 hour series). But that can be also, you know, one 8 x 30 minutes or a 6 x 1 hour. You know, it can be a variation of and so it's only ever got to two in one year before. So we're making sure from next year we've already got three shows coming through and that that will be our baseline moving forward. And hopefully a whole lot of manner of money falls from the sky and it can be even more because I have been so impressed with the incredible Australian ideas that you see being in this role. Like it is such a joy to see shows that I haven't seen on our screens before and to really have that assurance they're there. We have incredible creatives and when they're backed and given permission to be bold. We really our creatives to go there, really go there. I think we have the capacity within Australia to make better and better content and we're seeing that happen across the board. You know, SBS isn't the only place that's doing that, but giving permission and giving a space. It's just so exciting. I think the next five years are going to be incredibly exciting in terms of what we produce in Australia.

[00:17:43] Caris Bizzaca And you mentioned how you also, you know, sell these shows internationally as well as showing them to Australian audiences. Do you feel like the 6 x 1 hour and the half hour eps formats that you're looking at are potentially easier to sell internationally than the 4 x 1 hour, which is maybe less common around the world?

[00:18:07] Julie Eckersley At the moment, I think it comes down to great story. I think from being in Series Mania earlier this year and really listening to what's happening in Europe and across the world. Series are getting shorter. I think a 10 x 1 hour right now would be considered quite long. So I think the 4 x 1 hour in a way is come into its own and certainly with Safe Home, when we were selling that internationally with with Imogen Banks from Kindling that had a lot of interest in it, that project. So yeah, so there's certainly is a strong market for anything with a strong idea. 6 x 1 hours they do well and I think the half hours are going to do increasingly well. So next year, coming out in my slate, I'm hoping that two of the shows are in the half hour genre and they've both got international distributors on and have got great interest.

[00:18:55] Caris Bizzaca Yeah and I mean you look at previous 4 x 1 hours, Safe Harbour and things like that, massive sales as well.

[00:19:01] Julie Eckersley So yeah, but I think when Sue Masters and Marshall [Heald] started in that 4 x 1 hour, it was really groundbreaking and it was a really clever way to ensure that at a time where it wasn't sure whether SBS was going to stay in the scripted drama space, that they had a really clear point of view. And I think they were kind of before their time in thinking that. And I think that length has got even stronger now.

[00:19:23] Caris Bizzaca Great. And so what is also your view on the kind of binge culture of people like binge watching, dropping four eps, six eps of television for everyone to watch in one go or doing this kind of week by week release where people in need to wait for TV.

[00:19:43] Julie Eckersley You're just going straight to the big questions. I mean, my name is Julie Eckersley and I am a binge watcher. I love bingeing myself. I don't pretend to stand for the whole of Australia, but it's so interesting because obviously people are trying out all sorts of things and streamers are trying out all sorts of things. For me personally, and this is not based on the numbers, I do find that if something drops week by week, even if I'm loving it, I get distracted by other shiny things, other television shows. So I still do feel like when we want something and we're in it, we want it. But look, there's people, our programming team who look at the numbers and look at the actual statistics of what people who aren't me and my bingeing habit are watching. I don't think bingeing's going anywhere. I do think I think we love that. You know, you get lost in something for a weekend, dreaming about it and thinking about it. And in this current climate, I still feel like having that big drop is better, whether that's offset on some really big shows, by some water cooler conversation and the what's happening next. You know, maybe if you're doing Game of Thrones or Stranger Things and you've got that big global interest, then you know that people are going to come back to Stranger Things because, they're just not going to forget about that. But for other shows I'd back team binge.

[00:21:05] Caris Bizzaca I'm also a teen binge person, so-

[00:21:08] Julie Eckersley  Nice to meet you.

[00:21:09] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. Yeah, it's nice to meet a fellow binger. And so you talked about the SBS Scripted Pitch Deck Guide and we were saying what a great resource it is. So just to kind of jump into talking about pitching a little bit. So if someone thinks that they have a perfect idea for SBS, how do they go about pitching that and what are some of the things that they should be keeping in mind?

[00:21:35] Julie Eckersley Yeah, I mean definitely first thing download that deck and scour through it and there's links on there that you can click to things like our equity inclusion guidelines that we put a lot of thought into and basically put a line in the sand of how we want to make content with integrity moving forward. That's really important. And in terms of the story, I think really interrogating that. I think one of the things that's really important in story is a great emotional arc. I think at the end of the day, the hit that TV gives us is it takes us emotionally somewhere where we can experience lots of big emotions in a safe kind of way. So I really want to know what that journey is. One of my favourite writing quotes that I heard a writer say at Christmas time when they were talking about their biggest learnings for the year. And we put it in the deck because I felt it was so important is 'a character has an internal problem and an external problem and they can't solve their external problem until they've solved their internal problem'. Like to me that is just such a perfectly poetic summary of what a story is. So those are the story things that we want to see. You know that you know what the show's about, that you're passionate about it. I think passion is one of the key ingredients of making great shows, and you can't fake it. So that it has a unique world, great characters, a big story that goes somewhere, and also that it's got a point of difference. We're not looking for stories that are a version of something. You know, even something amazing. We don't want a version of Squid Game. We want the next Squid Game. You know, everyone's saying that, but we want to be a network where when you come to us with that, we we back you to really develop that idea. And then, once you've got that, I think also having a sense of tone and style and visuals is more important than ever. Like when you think of a lot of the shows that are cutting through internationally, you think of, Stranger Things or Handmaid's Tale or Game of Thrones, a visual comes to your mind. And sure, that is in part going to be the marketing down the track. But I think early on those images and knowing what is unique about the look and feel of your world is also really important. Like if you're pitching a show set in Brisbane, what Brisbane, which Brisbane, you know, there's so many shows set in New York City, for example, but they're all different versions. You know, the Girls version of New York City is very different to the Sex and the City version of it. So, being specific about place and world in terms of visuals and feeling. Anyway, these are all things that are written in the pitch deck, but we want you to have thought those through. Things that you don't need to do to come to us? You don't need to have a producer on board. We are happy to accept pitches from writers directly and if you have an agent, great - contact us through that. But also just email us at [email protected] it's an account that we look at everything that comes through and you know you can email us anytime. Again we're just trying to work to make that barrier of entry low. We don't want someone to spend a whole lot of time trying to get a producer on board when if it's a great idea and this happened with Anna Barnes with Safe Home that we've got in production at the moment. She came directly to us. She'd written a great deck and she'd written a pilot off her own back. She didn't wait for anyone to fund her. She'd just written it because she knew that story and believed in it and loved it so much that she was then able to go and meet with some different producers with the backing of SBS. So she's right in that central story as a writer and she is in that as the writer/creator all the way through. And her and Imogen Banks, have an incredible partnership. Imogen is one of the best producers in the country and obviously backs Anna to stay in that position of a real authorial voice. So that's something you don't need to worry about. Come to us directly if you've got a great idea. But I would just say, you get one chance at a first impression. So don't come to us when you haven't done the work. Don't come to us to do work you should have done. You know, if we're going to go into business with you, we want to know that you've got the talent to deliver it. If you are a new creative and you're a writer, I just think, why wouldn't you have written a pilot? Not that you have to, but just why wouldn't you? If that's what you want to do and you want to write, prove to us your story. Show us your story. That's what Anna did. She had written that pilot off her own back. It was so great and so compelling that we were in. And sure, it's then gone into a room and had other voices and people around it. And, the show that's being made might only have even a small percentage, I couldn't say, of that original script because it has gone into a rigorous development process. But she proved to us that she had the vision, she knew the story, and she sold us on it from her skill.

[00:26:14] Caris Bizzaca And so you're saying you only have one chance. So if you're going to be doing that email to SBS, make sure that you've got the pitch deck there, it is like solid, you've potentially got, you know, writing samples and things like that to support it that show that kind of tone and your voice and things like that as well?

[00:26:33] Julie Eckersley Yeah, look, I mean, if you're a newer talent and you want to write on that show, you're going to need to show us writing samples at some point. I mean, hopefully, you know, we're already tracking you and we already know you. You don't have to send it all at once. I mean, it is really a conversation like you don't have to have you know, brought in the dancing girls to pitch to us like we are here. We say all the time, we're not gatekeepers, we're gate-openers. We're here to serve our industry. We're here to get your great ideas on the screen. So we want to talk to you. We want to talk to you often, which is why we doing the TV lunch. We're all on the same side here. There should be no sense that we're a hierarchy or that we're hard to get to, like we are literally here in the public service of our great Australian stories. But what I mean by that I guess is don't come to us to do work that you should have done.

[00:27:26] Caris Bizzaca And for anyone that just doesn't know what a pitch deck is. Just in a quick summary, what is a pitch deck?

[00:27:33] Julie Eckersley Pitch deck for us is a document with words and pictures that summarises your idea.

[00:27:41] Caris Bizzaca Things like log line and stuff like that.

[00:27:43] Julie Eckersley What's the story? Why are you the person to tell it? You know, where does it go? What's the emotional arc? Who are the characters?

[00:27:51] Caris Bizzaca And for more information, check out the pitch deck guide. Don't know if we've mentioned it.

[00:27:57] Julie Eckersley Download it now for free.

[00:27:58] Caris Bizzaca Yeah. And so in terms of what you name some of the genres and different things that SBS is looking at now, which is a really broad scope. But is there anything in particular that you feel like SBS has a focus on at this point in time?

[00:28:14] Julie Eckersley Great stories. I mean, if we were to pull a vision out, we want to make stories that are as great and interesting and as well-made as HBO. We want to make stories that go into the Australian zeitgeist and create a new generation of heroes and heroes that are from different backgrounds,. We want to create stories where our heroes are queer, female, have disability, First Nations, you know, come from perspectives that we haven't seen enough heroes from in the past. And in our shows, they're the one that gets the girl, gets the boy, wins the day. That's really the heart of what we're doing.

[00:28:53] Caris Bizzaca And in terms of audiences, like any particular audiences that you're trying to or is, is it very broad?

[00:28:59] Julie Eckersley Yeah, we're a national broadcaster, so I think it has to be broad. I believe in 'build it and they will come'. I think that we need to make great stories that excite the hearts out of people and that they will find an audience. We're not doing a couple of things, which maybe is important to say. We're not doing children's, we're not doing YA, we're not doing comedy, we're not doing feature films and we're not overly looking at crime, just that there's a lot of that around and we are looking for points of difference.

[00:29:28] Caris Bizzaca Okay. And in terms of the pitches that you are seeing come through, is there some kind of things that you're seeing too much of, whether that's even like comps to, you know, 'my idea's just like this'. Yeah. Is there anything you're seeing too much of?

[00:29:45] Julie Eckersley I would say no. I'd say I'm blown away by how much talent there is in this country. Like, I think people are really loving the broadness of what we're looking for. They're loving a home for different genres. And so a lot of the shows that we've put into development, they're just shows that couldn't have even gone anywhere else, because no one else is looking at that kind of thing right now. So I think if you looked at our pitch deck as it is right now and we try and have about 12 shows in development at the moment, you would hopefully just be so excited with what's coming through. That we do have a sci fi. We do have horror. We're looking for a musical. That we do have a steamy romance like you've never seen before. That we do have an erotica that puts people from diverse points of view in the centre of their own stories. Those sorts of things to me feel like delivering on our place in the market in a really sexy, entertaining way. We know who we are, we're bold and we're fresh, we're SBS, we're forward thinking, we're leading the way in terms of representation on screen and that's embedded in every show in our slate.

[00:30:58] Caris Bizzaca And so you've talked a little bit about Safe Home in terms of the creatives involved. Can you tell me a bit about the show itself as well?

[00:31:07] Julie Eckersley Yeah, Safe Home is based on Anna Barne's play, Lethal Indifference, about her time working at a family violence legal centre. It's the story of a young woman played by Aisha Dee, who leaves a high flying job at a legal firm to come and work at that centre and her engagement with the people and what she experiences and trying to navigate that space, coming across people who aren't what they seem and trying to find her way through it. It's got a thriller element to it. It's really well plotted. I mean, Anna Barnes is an incredible storyteller and it also is written by Jean Tong and Michelle Law. And so I think it's a story that we say will change everything you think about family violence, but it's not a show that's earnest. It's not a show that is trying to force the hand of a social issue. It really is a great story about a bunch of women and I'm super proud of it. It's my first commission and it's a lot of women making the show too. You know, it's obviously family violence is not just an issue for women, but a lot of people, when they read the scripts, were so moved and drawn into the story that they just wanted to be part of making the show.

[00:32:21] Caris Bizzaca And so, I mean, you mentioned Aisha Dee and also it's an amazing, you've also got Mabel Li who was involved in The Tailings, which Stevie also directed and also was on New Gold Mountain. So two great SBS series.

[00:32:36] Julie Eckersley Yeah, Mabel Li is an extraordinary talent. Just watching those two women together and also Virginia Gay and, you know, so many other people in the cast. They've got real onscreen magic. And also Nathan Lloyd cast that show for us. And one of the elements of our equity and inclusion guidelines is to do with open casting and working with Nathan and Imogen and Stevie, of course, and Anna, making sure that that is all through the story, that there is no default white casting. That's not going to happen in an SBS show. Like we are open casting and making sure that the best person gets the role.

[00:33:12] Caris Bizzaca And so that's in production now?

[00:33:14] Julie Eckersley Yeah. Yeah, they're probably over halfway through the shoot and it'll be out next year.

[00:33:19] Caris Bizzaca Oh, fantastic. One to keep an eye out for. And in terms of kind of challenges in the industry at the moment, what do you see as some of the biggest challenges for SBS right now when it comes to scripted TV?

[00:33:33] Julie Eckersley I think that the streamers are doing great things and also providing challenges. It's great to have all this additional work. It's great to have more competition. But there pockets a deeper than SBS. So we've got to be smarter, we've got to be more distinct, we've got to find points of difference so that we can deliver free of charge Australian content, which is really important to who we are as a country. Obviously budgets are getting massive pressure because of the competition for crews, so we need to work out how to get more money on our shows so that producers can actually make them. We're not asking the impossible and also that they look as good as other shows from around the world and have as much time and love on them. Yeah, I think that's really important.

[00:34:25] Caris Bizzaca And in terms of any advice that you might have for Australian creatives who might be listening to this, I realise that you have already given a lot of advice throughout this interview, but yeah, any kind of final pieces of advice?

[00:34:38] Julie Eckersley To someone coming up in the industry or anywhere, I think persistence pays. I think that we are craftspeople. We're on the tools. And if you want to get good at this, you've got to stay on the tools, like a carpenter. My favourite writing teacher, Corey Mandell, he talks about writing, for example, in two parts that it's craft and it's intuition and you've got to equally develop those two parts. So if you're a writer, just get writing. Write all the time, write every day. Whatever your craft skill is that you're doing, practise it, practise it, practise it. And so when you get that opportunity, you are sharp on the tools and you deliver and make the most of it. As I mentioned before. Michael McMahon, Tony Ayres, and as Chris Oliver-Taylor, Rob Connelly, you know, these are people that open doors for me and I'm forever grateful to. We've all got them. And I try to be that person because I know how much difference it can make. And when someone opens a door, just jump through it with all your skill and might and give it your everything and don't take it for granted for a second because great craft, great attitude, being good to work with, being kind. All these things do actually matter.

[00:35:50] Caris Bizzaca Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time today. Really appreciate it.

[00:35:54] Julie Eckersley Thanks for having me.

[00:35:57] Caris Bizzaca That was Julie Eckersley, Head of Scripted at SBS. And as mentioned, keep an eye out for Safe Home coming to the broadcaster next year while True Colours, The Tailings, New Gold Mountain - all SBS series we mentioned throughout the chat - can be watched on SBS on Demand. Don't forget to subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australian newsletter to keep up to date with new initiatives, opportunities, videos, articles and more. Thanks for listening.