Bombs away: shooting TV drama under duress
Producing a TV drama series in a third world country can be a hazardous undertaking- particularly when Molotov cocktails are detonated in the city nearly every night.
That was one of the risks that Australian producer Mark Ruse faced when he spent the past year in the Bangladesh capital Dakar producing a 16-part series for the national broadcaster BTV.
Other occupational hazards included 100 days of strikes, violent street demonstrations, cars and buses being set on fire, and a cyclone. Despite all that Ruse tells IF, “It was a lots of fun working around all these things to make a drama series.”
He is partnered with Stephen Luby in Ruby Entertainment; their credits include Bed of Roses, Let Loose Live, The Murray Whelan telemovies and the movie The Extra.
Ruse was commissioned to create the series by the BBC, which produces TV projects in third world countries via its BBC Media Action program, funded by the British government.
The only stipulations were that he had to employ a local cast and crew and to ensure the storyline dealt in part with the issue of improving women’s health in the country.
Ruse says it’s common in the Muslim country of 160 million people for girls to enter into arranged marriages as young as 14 or 16, which means they are forced to give up school and live with their husband’s parents, often as a virtual slave to their mother-in-law.
The series, whose English title is Swimming Against the Tide, focuses on two brothers aged 18-20 who vie for the same girl and end up marrying two sisters.
The only other foreigner employed on the production was story editor Sophia Rashid, who was script editor on EastEnders. Ruse used two directors, one experienced, one a novice, six writers and an experienced cast of about 20 to shoot the 16 half-hour episodes, all in the local Bangla language.
“There is quite a thriving although low-grade TV industry and a small amount of features,” says Ruse.
Ruse, his wife and teenage son were evacuated to London for three weeks, where he was asked to take part in a hazardous country commando course run by the BBC High Risk Unit, simulating dangerous situations such as being abducted or finding a safe place when a bomb goes off.
In Dakar they were advised not to venture out after dark or to travel to rural areas, and to inform the local BBC security force of their movements. He says political parties paid people to chuck Molotov cocktails as a tactic of intimidation, escalating in the lead-up to the elections last month.
The show will launch on BTV in April and the broadcaster has commissioned a further two series, but Ruse won’t be involved. He’s back in Melbourne with Luby working on The Secret River, a four-hour miniseries based on the Kate Grenville novel, for the ABC. The director is Daina Reid (INXS: Never Tear Us Apart, Nowhere Boys, Paper Giants: Magazine Wars) and the writers are Jan Sardi and Mac Gudgeon.
The saga of an Englishman who is transported to NSW for theft in 1806, is pardoned and become embroiled in a dispute over land with the Darug people, it’s due to start shooting in the Hawkesbury region and in Victoria mid-year