The hiring of Sally Caplan as head of production at Screen Australia has prompted several producers to ask IF: How can a Brit who has never worked in Australia get up to speed with the complexities of the Oz screen industry?

Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason acknowledges that Caplan will not be familiar with the “minutiae” of some local screen projects but he is supremely confident her skills, experience and knowledge of global development, production, distribution and acquisition are precisely what the agency needs.

“”She will be aware of the Australian films and programs and formats that have been successfully exported,” Mason tells IF. “She has worked with a wide variety of filmmakers and genres, from Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to Streetdance 3D and The King’s Speech, from the art-house and speciality arena to wide multiplex releases.

“She has proved she can work incredibly well with culturally-specific material. The job is exactly the role she had at the UK Film Council.”

A former entertainment lawyer, Caplan worked with Mason for five years from the mid-1990s. They were colleagues at Polygram Filmed Entertainment in the UK and later at Universal Pictures International where she was senior VP, worldwide acquisitions, and he was her boss.

Caplan headed the UK Film Council’s Premiere Fund for five years until 2010, responsible for funding and overseeing the production from script stage of more than 45 films, including The King’s Speech, Brighton Rock, Tamara Drewe, Another Year, Happy-Go-Lucky, Death Defying Acts, Tracker, Made in Dagenham, Harry Brown and Nowhere Boy.

Screen Producers Australia president Brian Rosen rejects any suggestion that Caplan’s nationality and lack of on-the-ground involvement in the Australian industry are drawbacks.

“She’s a very experienced executive in film and TV and she knows the international market very well,” said Rosen, who knew Caplan when she ran the Premiere Fund and he was CEO of the Film Finance Corp.

“She would be aware of the Australian theatrical market. She may not be able to drill down into the politics and infrastructure of the industry but she will have investment and development managers who are right across the industry to brief her. It won’t take her long to get up to speed.

“I think she will embrace the industry, and listen, in the same way that Graeme does. She’s very personable, fair and equitable.”

Mason confirmed there were “loads” of applicants for the job. Outlining his core goal at Screen Australia, he said, “We want to help writers, directors and producers to make the most of their stories, and that’s what Sally brings.” She’ll start in early February.