Bondi Rescue producer Ben Davies talks Health and Safety

by Brendan Torazzi

Oct 18, 2018

Brendan: welcome to Episode 4 of the Australian Health and Safety Business Podcast. I’m Brendan Torazzi, the founder of OHS.com.au. Today, I’m here with Ben Davies who is the founder and producer of Bondi Rescue. Good day Ben.

Ben: hi Brendan. How are you going?

Brendan: I’m well. Thanks for coming along today.

Ben: no worries.

Brendan: we just wanted to I guess explore a little bit about Bondi Rescue and how you got into it and how long it's been going on for? Just tell us a little bit about the show and how you got to where you are?

Ben: yes. It’s been running for 14 years. It was a show that I came up with 14 years ago obviously and partly by fluke. I was in the TV business but also a local boy in the area. It was kind of a tradition to become a lifeguard if you're a surfer for a lot of guys. I was doing that causally over one summer. I thought I could marry this into my real job which is TV. I just went around and pitched it. I partnered up with a friend who at the time was much more senior to me and I needed his I supposed experience to get the project off the ground with a broadcaster. It was my first show at the time. We partnered up and Channel 10 picked it up. We went from there.

Brendan: it's in its 14th season now?

Ben: 14th yes.

Brendan: that is amazing. Do you think that the I guess the level of rescues have increased, has gone more popular or how has things changed for the last 14 years?

Ben: the lifeguards I would say are doing less rescues now. There’s a couple of reasons for that. They’re only theories but I would say the first is that people have seen the show and they have learned to swim between the flags or you might end up on TV in an embarrassing situation. They are aware and conscious of that. I think that is probably the most indicative in the UK travelers because the show applies really well to audiences over there. It’s quite popular and if they come to Australia they have seen Bondi Rescue and they know all right, I’m swimming between the flags. We’ve seen quite a downward trend in the number of rescues on British, Irish, Scotts.

The other reason I would say is that the cameras being there have put a lot of the lifeguards on notice that they're being filmed in their performance. You’ve got a lot of young guys that have come through. They’re very vigilant about keeping people in the flags. I think in the past there was a level of vigilance but it was also about if they get into trouble we'd go out and rescue them. Now it's like let's get them in the flags so we don’t have to rescue them.

Brendan: anything that is on the show now is a real deal like it's actually someone getting themselves into trouble?

Ben: it's always been the real deal. Plenty of people do say to me. Is anything set up? There is a whole lot of reasons why we wouldn’t have to and don’t need to. First of all the lifeguards, they do this as a job. They would not accept us cultivating or manufacturing or anything. The other thing is that just the volume of people. The rescues that are performed down there is minimum a thousand a summer. It’s sometimes up as many as 2500. What we put on the show is maybe about 20 rescues. We probably film about 400 to 500. We just pick the ones that are the most dramatic out of that. The reason I think people go oh you know anything is set up because there’s so many cameras that was mounted all over the place. They think surely they can’t have filmed that. The cameras are just rolling. We’ve got GoPros that are just rolling for 10 hours a day. Probably about 20 of them mounted around the beach on rescue boards and jet skis and buggies and things like that. That is the nuts and bolts of it.

Brendan: it's quite an amazing thing that you have that commercial success and it's actually in group safety.

Ben: there was a study done by New South Wales University and they analyzed what effects Bondi Rescues had on the public and on the viewers. It was very clear that it has had a very strong surf safety message. People have done everything from knowing to observing flags, put their hand up, don’t panic. Go with the rip rather than against it. Then we've had situations where people performed CPR on their kids after pulling them out of swimming pools because they've seen it on TV. It was all quantified and qualified if you like in this New South Wales University study. Yes, it had a big impact on safety.

Brendan: what were some of the early challenges that you had to get in the show up and running? For example did you have to get the council on board? What are some of the barriers?

Ben: the lifeguards are employed by the council so we had to get council approval. We have to undergo that every year. There’s that approval process for us to come on to the beach and film. I think the main thing though for the council is that so long as we respect the kind of key guidelines it's a positive thing for the council because of the surf safety messages that come out of it. It’s also a very strong and positive message for the lifeguard service and they’re representing the council. It’s a win-win.

Brendan: Bondi has now become a national surfing reserve. Does that change anything for the show?

Ben: no. The surfing reserve is a great thing but it's most emblematic or symbolic. It doesn’t actually change how anyone behaves or conducts themselves at the beach but it's certainly a positive thing to say that we respect the beach in such a way that we see it as a reserve and something that can’t be changed by putting pontoons out or developments across the water.

Brendan: you've got another show on tele at the moment on the iView called bulling. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that one and what the concept is on that? What are some of the I guess health and considerations that you need to take into account.

Ben: Gun Ringer is about bulls. As you said so it's in ABC iView now. It’s another what we call observational docu series. It follows the guys and girls, a bunch of women that catch feral bulls and buffalo. They catch them live sometimes by hand on horseback or motorbike a lot of the time in these kind of crazy vehicles that are called bull catchers. It’s an extremely dangerous work. It’s tricky for us to shoot that. We’ve got these helicopters, four wheel drives going very fast through scrub with no roads and we just need to make sure that our crew are safe before going on about any filming. The GoPro certainly helped but it's extremely advantageous to have a camera man there as well. Camerawoman hanging out of a vehicle. I don’t want to say hanging out. They need to be strapped in with a harness.

These vehicles if you look at them online, just write up bull catching vehicle. It’s sort of Mad Max looking four wheel drives with everything stripped out. They strip everything out that is not used because they're not registered. They have no roof on them and no headlights. The only wiring is to start the vehicle and make things run that they need. They tear through the bush like an absolute madman. You’d never believe it unless you saw it. It doesn’t really do justice as much as you tried as filmmakers. You don’t know how fast and furious it is until you see it yourself. It’s extremely dangerous. Those guys get gored by bulls and vehicles roll. They’ve all had a lot of injuries. One guy we met he's had hundreds of stitches and he's been gored by a bull through his groin so far. It punctured his lung. He’s had I think it was six broken legs and three broken arms. It’s pretty wild stuff.

Brendan: this is in a way a little bit similar to Bondi Rescue that these are guys and girls doing their real job and you're just happy to go along for the ride.

Ben: that is right, yes. That is where we different extremely from reality TV. We don’t create a world and then populate it with people. It’s a world that exists and we ask if we can come along to film it and represent it on TV.

Brendan: that sounds amazing. Is that in its first season?

Ben: that is a short form series on iView now. We’re anticipating a long form series next dry season so next year for release in 2020 so eight by one hours.

Brendan: that would be amazing. I would imagine that sort of thing would have another potential big audience overseas. Crazy Australians catching bulls around the Northern Territory.

Ben: it doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world and there's only one outback so yes, it's definitely got good currency for international audiences.

Brendan: that seems really cool. I’m just going to ask you a couple more questions. Any other new ideas or concepts that you can share at the moment?

Ben: nothing that involves health and safety. I’ve got a studio show coming up which is the only danger is someone getting hit by a prop or something like that. It’s quite small. It’s not like Ninja Warrior. It’s called Show Me the Movie! with Rove McManus. It’s on Channel 10. The second series is coming up beginning next year and not much in the way of safety in that for sure. A lot of stress and anxiety. We might need a psychologist to come in every now and then.

Brendan: I guess those shows in the heat of danger would probably, there's some excitement around those.

Ben: yes, there is for sure. Going into the outback is a good example of that. We have to get a safety officer to do a safety report on how we're going to be filming from choppers and the vehicles. Everywhere he goes in there you've got sat phones and first aid kits. It’s completely self-sufficient because these guys are in the middle of nowhere. You’ve got to bring your own camping gear, your water, your food, your vehicles, your cooking equipment.

Brendan: we're going to wrap out now and I’m just going to ask you a few outro questions. How old are you?

Ben: 46.

Brendan: what do you do to keep fit?

Ben: not much at the moment. I’m going to get a Cortisone shot in my neck so that I start to try to do a bit more exercise. I’m getting that on Thursday but I like to surf when the body still permits.

Brendan: I know you've got four kids. How many hours of sleep are you getting on average?

Ben: all fine mate. We’ve got a good nanny. She’s leaving tomorrow. Normally it's all good. My wife is in Europe at the moment at a wedding with a girlfriend. I should say it with caution that everything is all good but I’m getting plenty of sleep for now.

Brendan: have you got any personal goals that you're looking to achieve in the next 12 months?

Ben: that is a big, hard question. Yes, absolutely. I’ve got a couple of shows that I’m developing. It’s just about at pitch stage. That would be my key goals for the next 12 months.

Brendan: then finally on a business front what would you like to be most remembered for?

Ben: I’m not so much as a businessman so to speak. I’m kind of, I don’t want to be used to call himself a creative but I supposed I’m a businessman. I’ve got to run a business but I want to be remembered for making sure that I was passionate about shows that are just putting volume through the business to help the bottomline because there's not enough money on TV as much as everyone thinks otherwise. If you're doing it for the money you could be sadly disappointed. You could be doing something else.

Brendan: better to have an artistic spin on that.

Ben: you've got to be enjoying it and 90% of the time you don’t because it's hard slog but that 10%. It’s like kids really. I think 80% to 90% of the time it's hard work but that 10% just makes the rest of it worthwhile.

Brendan: very true. We’ll wrap up now. If people want to catch up with your work so Bondi Rescue Channel 10.

Ben: Bondi Rescue Channel 10, Gun Ringer on ABC iView and Show Me the Movie! On Channel 10 beginning next year at some stage with Rove.

Brendan: thanks very much for coming in Ben.

Ben: good on you mate, thanks for listening to my monitor for the last 10 or so minutes.

Brendan: bye.

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