Where did the thought process behind Sally's exit storyline come from?
Sally went through so much trauma in her time on the show, I knew I didn't want her to go out in a traumatic way. I wanted her to experience huge dramatic things along the way to the exit to give the fans some excitement (ergo the return of Johnny), but I knew I wanted everything to be calm, wonderful and positive by the time she left. I also wanted the departure to reflect both Kate and Sally.
So just as Kate was leaving the show to go out in to the big wide world to find a new life away from Summer Bay, I felt it would be great if Sally did the same thing. But what would make her do this?, I had to ask myself. So I decided upon the profound near death experience and the talk she had with Tom to make her see her future in a different light. I had a friend who went through a near death experience, the whole walking in to the white light and seeing relatives thing, and they were never the same again after that. I sort of used that as the real life basis for the story.
long ago did the idea about Milco/Miles come to you? Was there ever any
thinking back in 1988 that this imaginary friend you wrote about, could one day
turn out to be real person?
I felt we had to somehow keep the spirit of Sally in the show after she had gone and I was wondering who could take her place at the heart of Summer Bay House. And a little voice from the creative void whispered in my ear "Milco". And that was the start of the whole thing. There had never been any thought ever prior to that moment of Milco being real. But how could Milco be real and how could he come back in to Sally's life and stay in Summer Bay after she had gone? That was the challenge and, with the help of the casting of the amazing Josh Quong Tart, we pulled it off better than I could ever have imagined.
Were the links to Sally's past insecurities, and her retaking control, intentional?
Absolutely. I wanted her departure to be a story of empowerment and I felt it was. Especially with the news that comes to the Bay after her departure that she has gone to Phuket, to say a prayer for Miles' dead wife and daughter, and stayed on there to teach in an orphanage, no doubt containing some children of local tsunami victims. For me it is a noble and inspirational place for Sally to find herself, especially with little Pippa and Cassie by her side.
Did Kate have any input into her exit storyline, or indeed the speech at her farewell concert?
Kate saw over the whole thing and made various very good and welcome suggestions. She was very happy with how it panned out. The speech at the farewell concert was scripted, but the fact that it so resonated with Kate's own situation obviously brought something very special and personal to her performance. The whole thing of not knowing where Sally ended and Kate began in that scene was totally intentional. It was as much Kate saying farewell to the viewers as it was Sally saying goodbye to the people in the hall. That is what I set out to do on the day I plotted it.
you pleased with the end result, and by the reactions to Kate's final
I was very happy with most of the end result. Personally, I (like the fans) would have loved to have SEEN those Caravan Park farewells that we scripted but did not see. I think we made all the right calls all along the way, but they did finally lead to a certain sense of something missing. Losing that Caravan Park scene also made the final episode seem a bit Jack heavy earlier on, given that it was Sally's departure. Had that scene stayed in, we would have had enough time in the episode to have allowed us to cut one of the earlier Jack scenes which I think was one Jack scene too many.
I hope the fans trust me though when I say that the version they saw was much better for having that scene out, otherwise we would never have cut it. We were torn between choosing the lesser of evils and I know we chose right. Whatever else it meant, nothing should have remained that detracted from the Alf and Sally farewell. And with the caravan park farewell scene in the Alf/Sally farewell just wasn't as moving. You were on departure overload by the time you got there. But cutting it did mean we lost farewells that it was not possible to put in elsewhere due to the demands of on-going production. That I regret.
The other thing I regret, because those sorts of little mistakes do my head in, is the continuity error that slipped through the system regarding Cassie driving. It was a rewrite done at the last minute. Cassie was originally going to leave at the same time as Sally, but the director felt (correctly) that Sharni got short shrift by not having her own dedicated farewell. A quick rewrite was done at the last minute to shift her farewell in to the previous episode, on the basis that she would drive the car up to Pippa's to save Sally the long trip in the car with car sick prone little Pippa.
In the rush of doing this as a last minute amendment, no one involved (including Sharni) remembered that she'd had her license suspended for a year. I was off at that stage working on my new show, so was unaware of the change until I saw the completed episode. The continuity error came charging out at me from the screen, as it did for some of the fans. But that's not a criticism of those who were working long and hard in there at the time. These things are done at a rush, in the middle of the many demands of massive sixty hour plus work weeks. It is simply human that sometimes these things, regrettable as they are, will slip through.
It's easy to see them when you're sitting in your living room with nothing else to distract you, but when you're drowning in paper, plotting one week, reading release scripts for another, reading scene breakdowns from another, reading first drafts from another, dealing with amendments for another and trying to keep the continuity clear in your head for all characters from the past, things can sometimes get a bit muddy. To be honest, the surprising things is not that continuity errors sometimes happen, it's that they don't happen a lot more often given the huge amount the writers need to keep in their heads to keep continuity perfect. That's not an excuse, just an observation.
In hindsight, do you think that maybe there could have been a different approach used in order to see Sally farewelling Ric, Leah etc.? Such as in the episode before?
The original approach we took, as I hope you see in the
text of the cut scene, was fine. It's just that when it was put together
it spoiled the farewell with Alf, which to me was the most important one.
By the time of the edit when we recognized that, given the demands
of five half hour a week production it was too late to go back in and rewrite
or shoot new material to cover those farewells. Compromise is a constant
part of five half hour a week production. We all know how we would have
liked it to be, but it simply was not possible to make that happen.