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Podcast – Documentary funding and AIDC

Screen Australia’s Head of Documentary Alex West discusses the ins and outs of documentary funding while AIDC CEO Natasha Gadd speaks to opportunities and pressure points.

Alex West, Natasha Gadd


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

Screen Australia Head of Documentary Alex West says a goal for the team going forward is to continue to maximise the diversity of the slate, whether that’s formats or practitioners.

“That’s what makes the job interesting and it’s what makes it challenging, because it is challenging to try to support everything from emerging and new practitioners working in an online space, through to establish practitioners working in a strongly commercial space and an international space,” he says. “So all of that has to be taken into account.”

West, who joined Screen Australia in 2021, speaks on the latest episode of the Screen Australia Podcast about available funding, advice for applicants and takeaways from the World Congress of Science & Factual Producers, which he attended in December 2022. Speaking just ahead of Australian International Documentary Conference, he also notes the significance of the event for the local sector.

“It’s the one forum that is national where documentary and the factual industry come together. It’s where you can take the temperature of where the collective headspace is in terms of the kind of content, the interest in content, the innovative content, where the buyers and the market – both domestic and international – what they think are the priorities and what they want essentially,” he says. “It’s a really useful deep dive into the scene.”

AIDC CEO and Creative Director Natasha Gadd also joins the episode to give an insight into the conference this year as well as opportunities and pressure points for the sector.

Gadd says the theatrical doc space still poses some challenges with audience viewing habits changing and so much incredible content on streaming services, but that the documentary sector is broadly in a strong place.

“Seeing the recent Screen Australia projects supported, there are so many feature doc opportunities and features being funded with the streamers. Whilst that has disrupted I guess the market and the public broadcasters in some sense, there are just so many more homes for documentaries now,” she says. “So I think if you're a documentary maker wanting to tell longform character driven stories, for example, there are still valuable funds available… And if you're someone who wants to be creating documentary series there's enormous opportunity to be doing that with the funders.”

To hear more, listen to the full episode on the Screen Australia Podcast.

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 various countries you are all listening in from: the unceded lands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This podcast has been created on the lands of the Gadigal people of the larger Eora Nation and I've had the great privilege to be a visitor and be able to work on these lands during my years at Screen Australia. Always was, always will be. For this episode of the podcast, we are putting the focus on documentary in Australia. First up, we'll be joined by the Head of Documentary at Screen Australia, Alex West, who talks about the funding available, advice for anyone putting in an application and takeaways from the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers. Next up, we're joined by Natasha Gadd, the CEO and creative director of the Australian International Documentary Conference, which takes place in Melbourne this year from the fifth to the eighth of March. Speaking just ahead of the conference kicking off, Natasha talks about how AIDC has changed since she first attended, some of the programs and sessions available, particularly for emerging voices and her thoughts more broadly on the opportunities and pressure points for the sector. Remember, you can subscribe to the podcast through places like Spotify and iTunes where you can leave a rating and review. Any feedback sent to [email protected] and don't forget, you can also subscribe to Screen Australia's industry eNews for the latest funding announcements, opportunities, videos and more. Now here is Screen Australia's Head of Documentary Alex West. So first of all, Alex, can you tell me a bit about your role in the industry and also your background in the industry?

[00:01:53] Alex West Background, I started many years ago working in the US, so I made a film about slavery and that film got picked up by the BBC. Long-story-short, having been raised in the UK, I then went back to the UK and worked for the BBC. I then went freelance and I always worked in essentially what is called specialist factual documentary and factual television. I've made series ranging from art, art-history, history, science, dinosaurs, engineering, all these kind of abstract subjects at one level. For many years, I worked at a production company in London called Wall to Wall Media, and there I worked on series like Who Do You Think You Are? which I was a first exec[utive] producer of and created that original format, which has gone on to big success. I then migrated to Australia in 2005 and worked at the previous federal agency to Screen Australia, Film Australia. And I've been an independent producer for many years, making large scale series for ABC, SBS and some independent work and some feature length work. I made a series called The Serengeti Rules. It wasn't a series, it's a one off theatrically released documentary in 2019-20 with John Battsek's Passion [Pictures] productions in London, which won an Emmy for the Best Nature documentary. So I've been across a lot of range in terms of subject matter, and I've got a lot of road behind me, but still some stretching out, I hope.

[00:03:40] Caris Bizzaca And your role now?

[00:03:42] Alex West Well, I'm head of documentary Screen Australia, obviously. I've been in the role since July 2021 and it's gone incredibly quickly. I manage a team of investment managers and the slate of projects which applicants apply for across a number of funding programs that we manage. Currently this year we've done fifty-nine projects already. We're just about to announce the release twenty-four new projects recently approved and there's lots going on.

[00:04:16] Caris Bizzaca Can I just clarify, fifty-nine projects this year? So we're in February...? 

[00:04:23] Alex West Yep, we're busy. It's interesting with documentary and factual, by volume we do a huge amount. I anticipate that fifty-nine will rise to near one hundred. It was ninety-five last year, and documentary projects tend to be more varied, obviously, compared to scripted and feature films. They're less expensive and so we get a lot of bang for our buck relatively in terms of being able to fund projects out there.

[00:04:55] Caris Bizzaca You mean financial year, right?

[00:04:56] Alex West The financial year, July to July.

[00:05:01] Caris Bizzaca I was [thinking] that's a lot for a month and a half.

[00:05:03] Alex West I am busy, but not that busy.

[00:05:07] Caris Bizzaca What are some of your goals with Screen Australia's Documentary Unit?

[00:05:12] Alex West Since I've been in the role, when I came into the role we were just in still in COVID and COVID, it was incredibly disruptive. Obviously. We also faced a lot of legislative uncertainty around the settings that would be applied to the Producer Offset. So I'm not the kind of person who kind of comes in and by default wants to kind of smash things up. I spent some time looking at how the system works and having been in a previous federal agency, I see that broadly Screen Australia's mechanism for delivering funds to the sector is largely fit for purpose. So I spent some time looking, learning, thinking, listening. And in the first year, given there'd been so much disruption, you know, essentially said, well, we'll let the thing flow as it is currently flowing and then we'll see what might become emergent in terms of needs later on. So the strategy remains that but those kind of thoughts about the nature of the programs and how they're structured and how they operate is now much more kind of front of mind. We're working on that. There's nothing to announce at this point, but we're still working on that. So in terms of the goals, I'd say it's to continue to really maximise the diversity. The system without having diversity is weaker overall and that's what makes the the job interesting and it's what makes it challenging because it is challenging to try to support everything from, you know, emerging and new practitioners working an online space through to established practitioners, working in a strongly commercial space and an international space. So all of that has to be taken into account and that is ultimately the work we do.

[00:06:57] Caris Bizzaca In terms of the projects that the unit supports or funds, can you give us a bit of an idea, or give the people listening who might be wanting to apply a bit of an idea of the kind of projects the unit funds?

[00:07:10] Alex West Well, we fund across a range like I say, so we've got everything from like very short multiple episode digital series through our collaboration with Screen Australia's online department under the Skip Ahead banner. We see a growing number of factual producers, content makers inhabiting that space and interested in the aspects of life, society, politics, which particularly younger people are drawn to. So that's a space and we've just done some interesting stuff in Skip Ahead. So, you know, things like we've done a series just now called Design Revolution, which is about how design and art and architecture can really help change things. It's by a group of people who have recently done another project in online. It's 12 episodes by one minute, so very short content, but equally at the top end and I say the top end advisely - the opposite end of the spectrum. You know, we might fund major television series such as The Australian Wars made by Blackfella Films, written and presented by Rachel Perkins, which is a significant piece of cultural content around the true story of the frontier violence that spread across Australia following white settlement and invasion in the late 18th century. And in between that, there are smaller projects like 60 minute one offs for television, and we've got projects with the ABC, some of which are returning. But we've got projects like designing a legacy with Tim Ross, which  Tim Ross has done other series on architecture on the ABC, but it's about how design influences the culture and reveals surprising insights into Australian history. We've got a suite of wildlife and natural history documentaries from the more campaigning style like Endangered Generation, which is about partly the science of climate change. But we've also got what you might call traditional natural history, we've got a film about the Tassie Devil, we got film about dolphins, all of which are in the television orbit. In the non TV orbit, there's lots of interesting one off films. We are doing a couple of sports titles, but when we fund sports titles and this is important because we see a lot of them, we're looking for a kind of additional social or cultural narrative. We're not looking for a profile of a sporting person or a sport or, you know, a description of a competition. We're looking for individuals or groups who have changed things through the axis of sport. So we have a film currently on in the project called Breakaway Femmes, which tells the story of the female Tour de France and the Tour de France, and that cycling competition was incredibly sexist back in the day, and a group of pioneering women kind of broke that gender barrier and it's their story. And very prominent was The Australian Dream, which told the story of Adam Goodes and his time at the Sydney AFL team and the racism and the issues with that on a broader canvas than simply what might be reported in in the news, for example. We get a lot of applications around sport because it is of interest to people obviously, but we're seeing how they must have social meaning. I referred to the film about female cycling. We're also funding a project called Rose Gold about Patty Mills is a prominent NBA player in the US, he's Indigenous and that's an observational documentary about him, about his work, about his Indigeneity within the context of this global multi billion dollar sports industry. So we're looking for those kind of things in sport, but there are many other areas. It's absolutely not just about sport, but regardless of the area, be it environment, history, science, we're looking for insight and a sense of cultural value.

[00:11:19] Caris Bizzaca And on the reverse, is there anything that Screen Australia won't fund?

[00:11:26] Alex West Yeah, we in our guidelines which are online, it's possible to see we don't do brand funded, we don't do lifestyle programming, we don't do food programming in the sense of someone cooking food and showing you how to do it. In lifestyle would come travel, would come makeover. But, you know, we do series on architecture and design, we do it on fashion as well, but it's really an analysis of the history and state of fashion and the creation of fashion from the point of view of artists, for example. So that's the difference. Strictly kind of programs about stuff in that way are not what we found in a general sense.

[00:12:06] Caris Bizzaca Also with that funding, what is some of the funding that's available? Is it development, production? Can you talk to that?

[00:12:12] Alex West Well, Screen Australia's documentary funds divided into four areas. We fund development. We can fund up to $30,000 for a development project that is open year round. And we meet and we assess and we approve or decline on a regular cycle. We have three production funds, the first of which is called PEP, the Producer Equity Fund, where we apply a fairly low level of detailed assessment. It's for projects that are broadly under $500,000, so they don't qualify for Producer Offset. And as long as they meet the criteria of having Australian content, a pathway to audience and various other factors in the guidelines, we will approve that, up to 20% of that amount of money, so that we would issue a grant of up to $100,000 on a project up to $500,000. And then there's the two large major production funds. The first is the producer program. And essentially the producer program is for any documentary project, largely in the feature theatrical festival space, but not exclusively. It Includes co-productions and can include material that ends up on television. It may start in cinema and go to television, etc.. That is a fund which is competitively assessed four times a year and we will fund at and ask, the upper limit on that I think is $750,000. There is no lower limit on it currently, but the purpose there is for us to assess projects on merit and to be the first into a finance plan, the purpose being to signal to the market that there's support for this from our perspective because it meets our aims and goals and mission, and then producers then have several months to complete the funding. And so that market signal is very important given the complexity and competitiveness of documentary funding. And then the final program is called the Commissioned Program, and that's when producers and a broadcaster or a platform and it can be any broadcaster domestically, work together to conceive and develop an idea, broadcast or platform. And it can be, you know, Amazon, Stan, SBS, ABC, Channel Nine, Ten, Seven. It doesn't really matter which. It's like if you have a presale agreement from the broadcaster and a finance plan that's coherent, you can bring it in to us and discuss that with us and we will assess that. And those are done on an ongoing basis. So that's for specifically what you'd call generically broadcast platforms. But of course we're seeing an increasing number of projects through the streaming platforms coming in. We are doing projects with the major commercial free to airs: Channel Nine for example, and a really important and really prominent project that's a unique first between NITV and Channel Ten, a project from Ronde Productions called First Inventors, which is the story of Indigenous technological achievement. It's a major series, beautifully shot, and will drop on both of those networks a bit later in 2023.

[00:15:30] Caris Bizzaca In terms of the team at the moment, can you give us a bit of an idea who's in the team?

[00:15:34] Alex West Well, the team is small but perfectly formed, I would say. It's five of us. Me, obviously, but then four investment managers led by Jeni McMahon, who is a veteran of screen agencies in Screen Victoria, a producer of note in her own right. We also have Sally Chesher, who's an experienced commissioner and mentor and executive producer with time at the ABC and others. Cieron Cody is an investment manager and former commissioning editor at NITV National Indigenous Television. And the most recent addition is Daniella Ortega, who is an award winning documentary filmmaker, most recently known for a great film called Carbon: The Unauthorised Biography. And all of us have a strong basis in production and we are very experienced in terms of making films. We're very understanding because we've all lived with the challenges that documentary and factual producers face and we understand what they are and we like to work with people in the sector coming at it from that same perspective. So we're not underestimating the challenge of getting a project funded across the complexity of it. And we like to be really clear about working with you to achieve outcomes.

[00:17:01] Caris Bizzaca You mentioned challenges before. I was wondering what are your thoughts on the documentary sector in Australia at the moment, whether challenges or opportunities?

[00:17:11] Alex West Well, my thoughts on the documentary sector, given that I have this wonderful position of being able to see so much across it from this, from this viewpoint, is it's in a very good place creatively. I mean, I've studied and been a part of Australian documentary for, you know, over 15 years now and the upscaling craft, quality, business acumen, creative ingenuity has just gone up and up and up and up. So the sheer quality of films, the sheer importance and the sheer impact and visibility of them has gone into a really good space that is starting to get traction internationally. We'd like more of that. There's a steady stream of high quality projects on television, online and then cinema release and festival release. So on the creative side, it's in a really good space and that's really good to see. And that's really a testament to the to the chops of producers working in the sector who have creatively, what you might say, professionalised, organised themselves in a way that's more sustainable than it used to be. I think the challenges remain and it's interesting, the challenges are the same internationally. It's a very competitive market for content. There is money around, but that money is now sliced ever more thinly across various kinds of content and you've got an enormous and growing diversity in the kind of levels. And we're seeing, obviously it goes without saying. We've seen the profound influence of streaming globally to viewing habits. It's been a really good thing in many ways for documentary making. But I also like to say, you know, it's also something of a sugar rush into the industry. And producers need to be really aware that no one solution to these problems is is really the way to go. I think it's like anything, it's about having a broad spectrum approach to the content, to the audience, and finding ways through rather than putting all your eggs into a particular basket, for example.

[00:19:31] Caris Bizzaca In terms of having that overarching view, as you were saying, when it comes to applications that are coming through Screen Australia, what are you hoping to see more of? What are you hoping to see less of?

[00:19:45] Alex West I think what I'd like to see more of is producers talking to us. We are open, we are approachable. Before anyone wants to fill in an application form, it's a really, really good idea to pick up the phone, drop us an email and have a conversation. I can't stress that enough, frankly. When we see projects coming in without that conversation, they will often have made strategic errors in the the form which make it less competitive, either in the way they describe the project. There are certain really key things that we are looking at. So an example of that is where you're working in a in a space that requires due attention to diversity and inclusion. You need to work with people in that space. The same goes for First Nations content. If we see projects coming in that hasn't properly engaged with First Nations community at various levels in terms of on the ground, creatively, where there's an absolute sense of equity from the get go, that can be a really big issue. So preparation and conversation and that goes whether it's asking for, you know, $20,000 for development or $200,000 for a film project. Communication. I'd like to see more of that. And that's what our role is: our job is to help you and it's to give you information and insight on what makes the best application, given that it is competitive and ultimately we don't have funds to fund every single project that comes at us, unfortunately. I would like in an editorial sense, we see a lot of people describing what are essentially reports about issues and they're not telling stories. So you may be very passionate about a particular issue, which is a very, very important issue. That goes without saying, and we really agree with that. But what is important in terms of making a film about something is to tell a story. And I often say to doc makers that it's very important that you think about your story in terms of how you might think about a scripted or fiction film. There are characters, there is a plot, there are antagonists and protagonists, there are potential twists. There are these forms of storytelling because it's screen that it's really important that you think about. So if you just write down a report about something going on in the world which is of interest to you or you have a strong feeling about, that is not enough to make it a good film potentially. And so it's really important that you look at your story in that way. And the theme, the thing that you want to speak about - the issue - should be emergent from that story so that the audience going into a room or TV to watch it, go, 'Oh', and it occurs to them what it is you're trying to communicate.

[00:22:51] Caris Bizzaca What advice would you have for anyone putting an application into Screen Australia?

[00:22:56] Alex West Well, same: talk to us before you do it as far as is possible. Make sure that you read through it all. It is actually quite striking how we see often quite established producers do not particularly good applications, as in the clarity of what it is and the sense of the market for it. And sometimes there's too much assumed knowledge. You have to, rather like your audience. Don't assume that we know what your film's about, what's of interest about it. You need to kind of lead us through the process. So to be as clear as possible about the film and the importance, I think, thinking about why now is really important about documentaries. And so there are lots of, you know, there are technical aspects of the film and our programme operations (PROPS) department can answer questions - there are sometimes questions about eligibility, there are sometimes questions about budgets and finance plans, which is all the technical aspects which we're here to help with too. But broadly, I would advise people to really drill into describing what it is they want to do with no assumed knowledge from from us. And I think that's really important. And of course talk to us.

[00:24:12] Caris Bizzaca Last year you attended World Congress, what takeaways would you be able to share with the sector from that trip?

[00:24:20] Alex West Yeah, well, the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers is a major international gathering that takes place in a different city every every year. It gathers together a big range of international filmmakers in this space. It was quite interesting. It was the first face to face meeting that had been possible since COVID. And it was very interesting to hear that even in international markets where compared to Australia, there's greater volume and scale, producers were all facing the same issues of the competitiveness, the struggle to get dollars out of commissioning platforms, the notion of how to develop funding plans. I think one interesting thing is that I perceive that there's a greater willingness than other times to do co-production deals because people are searching for funds. There have been times in the past where the instinct to co-produce and to share falls away slightly because, you know, people in one territory, they get focused on that territory. But in a time where money is increasingly challenging to find, it behoves people to do that. So I noted that from a range, whether it's Canadians, Americans, Europeans, people from the UK, etc. So an emerging time for co-production and sharing and I don't necessarily mean official treaty co-production, I mean people coming together to share IP and to seek funding in their own territories for projects of merit and the overall high demand for content, which is a good thing. But the very, very competitive nature of it.

[00:26:07] Caris Bizzaca Another event that is on the calendar every year but is an Australian focus, is AIDC. So Screen Australia has a joint initiative that they're working with AIDC on this year called Fresh Cuts. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

[00:26:23] Alex West So the AIDC Australian International Documentary Conference is the premier documentary industry and creative event in Australia. It's very important for our unit because it's really where the documentary tribe comes together to, you know, talk, debate, share, do business and so on and so forth. So it's a significant event. We are doing two things there: we're doing a session, which is primarily an information session called Ask Screen Australia, which on Monday the 6th of March, where people can ask questions. And, we'll do our best to answer them on stage. The other thing is Fresh Cuts initiative. Now that came out of our response to an increasing kind of diversity of content making - digital and other forms - but also the emergence of newer, younger audiences. So we've got together with AIDC to fund five groups with interesting projects to pitch to industry, a broad range of industry from online platforms to traditional broadcast platforms, to give them the opportunity to work with mentors, to really hone their concept and their ability to sell their concepts in a pitch environment. And those pitches will happen at AIDC on its Innovation Day on Sunday the 5th of March, and the projects which are successful in terms of the panels approval and like energy around them, Screen Australia will then fund the development of those projects to take them forward, and that is part of our strategy to kind of move documentary support into these emerging areas, which is a definitely a work in progress. It's exciting at the same time as being a kind of a sense of the unknown of where this content and these types of content and these practitioners will go. But it's certainly, we consider it really important that groups of people of that kind, kind of intersect with the wider industry to get experience and connectivity within it.

[00:28:32] Caris Bizzaca You mentioned there about why AIDC is significant from [a] Screen Australia perspective and the team going, but what is significant in your mind about AIDC on a broader level for the Australian documentary sector?

[00:28:47] Alex West AIDC is the is the one forum which is national where documentary and the factual industry come together. So it's kind of it's where you can kind of take the temperature of where the collective headspace is in terms of the kind of content, the interest in content, the innovative content, it's where you can get a sense of where the buyers, the market, both domestic and international, what they think are the priorities, what they want essentially. So there's really good sessions where broadcasters and internationals speak about their work. And the other really great thing is that really prominent films that have been released in the last couple of years, both overseas and Australian, are showcased so Fire of Love, which is an Oscar nominated film, the filmmaker will be attending and various others to talk about making the content that they make, how it's done, their trials and tribulations of getting it made, getting it to market and so on and so forth. So it's a really useful deep dive into the scene. And it does draw a decent and significant level of international participation too so I'd always recommend people to go to AIDC if they can. And it's in Melbourne currently every March.

[00:30:12] Caris Bizzaca That was Alex West, the head of documentary at Screen Australia. And you can find more about the funding available to documentarians through the link in the show notes. Also worth noting is that Alex mentioned documentaries with First Nations content, so titles like The Australian Dream, The Australian Wars and the First Inventors, which the unit funded. But there is also specific development and production funding for First Nations documentarians through Screen Australia's First Nations Department. So they have funded documentaries including the Logie award winning Incarceration Nation and also run initiatives such as the one that's currently open called First Facts, which is in partnership with Network Ten and various state agencies and is for ideas for short documentaries that would screen on TenPlay and Network Ten's social media channels. So we've put a link in the show notes to those various funding pages as well. Now, as Alex was saying, the Australian International Documentary Conference or AIDC, is a significant event for the local documentary sector. To explain more, here is AIDC CEO and creative director Natasha Gadd talking first about her background in the industry.

[00:31:22] Natasha Gadd I've been working in, I guess screen culture and also screen production for over twenty years. I have been passionately involved in documentary across film festivals, distribution, programming of film sessions when I was at ACMI in film programs team and also making documentaries. So I feel that this sort of culmination of working passionately around documentaries for so many years made sense to take this sort of next step in driving the Australian International Documentary Conference over the next few years to try to support and elevate documentary and factual storytelling.

[00:32:11] Caris Bizzaca  I was just wondering with AIDC, what is the goal for you with the conference?

[00:32:18] Natasha Gadd Well, the main reason for our being is to really support and elevate the documentary and factual community. And we do that by connecting the Australian sector with the international community. So we have, you know, a suite of really incredible buyers that we bring to AIDC each year representing broadcasters, distributors, sales agents, commissioners, platforms, streamers, etc. and we curate meetings between projects and those decision makers with the aim of trying to help get projects sort of greenlit or at least get supported through different phases of development. We also have a suite of over 40 sessions that are celebrating the craft and business of doc and factual storytelling. So that's really, you know, about bringing incredible creatives to AIDC to discuss their craft. And this year we're really excited to have three of the five Oscar nominees speaking about their recent films. So Sara Dosa, who's the director of Fire of Love, Shaunak Sen, who's the director of All That Breathes, and Daniel Roher, who's the director of Navalny, all amazing feature length documentaries. But we also have sessions that are really about, you know, the business side of things as well. So featuring the commissioners who are looking for content across the public broadcasters, across the streamers and screenings as well. So really a whole wrap around. We're the sort of largest major sort of doc and factual event in the southern hemisphere and the only one in Australia that really focuses on non-fiction storytelling. But we also look outside the box as well. So thinking about innovations in the form, so not just traditional feature docs or series, but also interactive works, immersive works, VR, AI, and how that intersects with documentary. And also more and more we're looking into audio docs and you know, there's so much interest now for really powerful audio documentaries. So we're each year bringing more and more buyers to the table for that as well.

[00:34:34] Caris Bizzaca When you say audio docs, are you meaning ones like the Teacher's Pet, the podcast series, things like that?

[00:34:41] Natasha Gadd Yeah, I guess we we tend to call them audio documentaries because they are, I guess, distinguishing them from a podcast that might be, you know, with a presenter and have a series of guests answering questions.

[00:34:56] Caris Bizzaca Yes, this podcast is not a documentary.

[00:34:59] Natasha Gadd It's not an audio documentary! That's what we need to call this podcast. More in terms of that longer form process potentially has more of an investigative form or storytelling over time.

[00:35:17] Caris Bizzaca AIDC is, of course, an annual conference. I was wondering, did you attend in the years prior to working with the conference? And if so, how do you think it's changed over the years?

[00:35:29] Natasha Gadd I did. I attended, it would have been 20 years ago. I went to a number of different AIDC events. It actually used to be held every second year. Sometimes it was every year, sometimes it was every second year and it would move states. So I went to an AIDC in Perth, a number in Adelaide, one in Byron Bay. And so much has changed since then. I really think when I was sort of in my early twenties and first attending AIDC, I was so overwhelmed. It almost felt impenetrable. You know, there were experienced filmmakers, there were all of the decision makers, so the buyers and the commissioners, I didn't know how to navigate making meetings or approaching people, and I felt like very much on the outer. So what I think AIDC is doing really well now is we're creating these really great sort of pathways for emerging practitioners to come to AIDC but be wrapped around a program that has formal structures in place where those people can meet with the decision makers and have access to them. So we have a great program called Leading Lights, which is a philanthropic program which we invite industry representatives from production companies and broadcasters and state agencies to effectively provide a donation, which is the value of a pass. And with those pass donations, we call for emerging filmmakers CaLD, Indigenous, and who have not been to AIDC before to apply. And we've had, including this year's cohort, over 200 people come through that program. And, you know, effectively, we're sort of hoping to usher in the next generation of talent, like bringing them into the fold, but giving them a really structured introduction to AIDC, opportunities to meet with decision makers. You know, there's a sort of ready made connection to community through that program. So those people do not feel so alone and are not having to kind of try and navigate, AIDC on their own. We also have a really strong Indigenous program, so we have a First Nations producer this year is Laurrie Brannigan-Onato and Laurrie has curated a suite of sessions that are by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Global First Nations practitioners to discuss the issues that are specifically facing First Nations practitioners when creating stories. And that program has just been growing so strong over the last few years. And, you know, so I think that since I was attending 20 years ago, we're noticing just a lot more emerging practitioners coming into the fold. We are seeing a much greater diversity in terms of cultural diversity, but also experience levels and also really a broad representation from across the sector, not sort of I think probably 20 years ago there would have been public broadcasters and sort of feature filmmakers and more of the buyers on the theatrical end of the spectrum. But now we're seeing real engagement from the streamers and the commercial networks as well. So, you know, it's not just really confined to independent feature docs - we're sort of all things to all people. We're looking at the really auteur driven feature length documentary, we're looking at popular series around dating. So, you know, Matchmakers and Better Date Than Never. And we're looking at documentaries like sports documentaries and series which are taking off so a real cross-section of non-fiction stories across all forms.

[00:39:37] Caris Bizzaca You mentioned there some of the programs or sessions that are tailored to emerging creatives. Alex West, who was just on the podcast, spoke to Fresh Cuts and I was wondering if you could talk to that and also to sessions like the TikTok session in trying to create opportunities for creators to break into the documentary space.

[00:40:01] Natasha Gadd Well, one thing that we've really realised over the last few years is that whilst we've been creating a lot of opportunities for features and more so series, we didn't really have a place for short documentaries. And that's something not just short linear one offs, but even sort of opportunities for web series and social media docs. So we've worked with Screen Australia to develop a great new initiative called the Fresh Cuts Pitch. And basically we did a call out for short films that reflect the hopes, dreams and concerns of the young adult experience for young adults. And that audience is sort of the 15 to 35 audience. So that's been really great. We've selected five projects that will be pitching live at AIDC to a panel of local and international decision makers with the ability for those films to potentially receive $30,000 of development funding from Screen Australia. We're also doing a the session that's around TikTok and documentaries, I guess, bite sized documentaries, and we know that these documentaries don't take the sort of form, obviously the duration that we would usually see in our sector and be supporting through funds and initiatives. But we know that that's where young people are going and we know that they're watching a lot of non-fiction content on TikTok and Instagram. And so  with this session we're featuring a number of sort of, I guess, social media content creators and talking about, you know, what they're creating, what the potential is and also thinking about ancillary content on those channels as well for for documentaries. So definitely a new focus at AIDC and I think a lot of people are really excited to hear more about that.

[00:41:55] Caris Bizzaca You were saying before about how AIDC has changed over the years, which is reflective of how documentary has changed as well. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the Australian documentary sector at this point in time.

[00:42:11] Natasha Gadd I think it's actually pretty strong at the moment. Seeing the kind of recent Screen Australia projects supported there's so many feature doc opportunities and features being funded with the sort of streamers. Whilst that has disrupted, I guess the market and the public broadcasters in some sense there are just so many more homes for documentaries now. In The past, you know, if you were a documentary creator or even just a viewer, like a lover of documentaries, you'd kind of be waiting around each year for the annual film festival to be able to see really great documentaries outside of the ABC/SBS documentary slot. So the fact that now we have on so many different platforms on demand have got access to incredible documentaries, the main thing is making sure that those streamers are commissioning Australian content and I think the quotas will help increase that production that happens. So I think in terms of if you're a documentary maker wanting to tell long form, character driven stories, for example, there are still valuable funds available to be able to do that. And if you're someone who wants to be creating documentary series, there's enormous opportunity to be doing that with the funders. So, yeah, I think we're in a good place. I think the theatrical documentary market is still a tough one. Although documentaries still represent a really high percentage of theatrical content in Australia, so Australia and New Zealand documentaries in particular. So that's that's great. But you know, we are seeing a shift away from people going to the cinemas and obviously now being able to access content online on demand. But yes, I think, I mean it's an interesting problem to have and one that I don't know if we've had before, but with the streamers being here and creating these new opportunities, what people are noticing is a real shortage of crews being able to support the amount of opportunities that are going around in terms of production. So, you know, that's something that needs to be addressed. But I think we're in a good place.

[00:44:26] Caris Bizzaca For anyone that's listening that is working in the documentary sector, I was wondering if you had any advice - it could be on the emerging side of things or more experienced documentary creatives. Any advice?

[00:44:41] Natasha Gadd Well, when I first started making films, I didn't go to film school, so I wasn't trained. And so, you know, everything that I did was sort of learning, I guess, on the job or learning from my mistakes, mostly. I would say if you can attend an AIDC, it's just such a great way to effectively see all different projects at different stages of the sort of development and production process. Meet people who are working on projects at every stage, learn about the art of the pitch, learn about how to create an elevator pitch, learn how to write a one, you know, one page and develop a treatment. Like you can just get so much valuable information from that week alone. But also don't be disheartened. Rejection is part of the process and it hurts and it can feel so hard when you've worked so hard to try and get a project up and it can feel very personal. But you know, speaking from experience, some projects that might have had, you know, three different rejections by broadcasters then required that further bit of development and eventually found their home and got their commission. And so perseverance, commitment to your project. But also as much as sometimes it can be hard to hear, listen to the feedback that people give when they're providing feedback and especially if it's not if it's, you know, constructive criticism. You don't always have to take it on. But it is really good to step away and think about it from that perspective, especially when you're working with commissioners. And initially you can build up that wall of protection and think that you don't want to take on that advice. But I think sometimes when you step away and you hear it and you think about it from their perspective, which is about finding that audience, you should hopefully be able to find a middle ground without compromising your artistic integrity.

[00:46:32] Caris Bizzaca That was Natasha Gadd, the CEO and creative director of AIDC, and thanks to Natasha and Alex West for joining me on the podcast. Find out more about AIDC through their website, which we have popped a link to in the show notes. If you're enjoying this podcast, you can subscribe to it through places like Spotify and iTunes, and you can also subscribe to the fortnightly Screen Australia newsletter to keep up to date with new initiatives, opportunities, videos, articles and more. Thanks for listening.