Producer Leonie Lowe remembers that day well Street of the fight it aired on SBS in 2015.
Attracting 925,000 tube viewers, it became the largest documentary SBS had ever screened.
“I remember (SBS doco executive) John Godfrey calling up and saying, ‘This is amazing.’ But there were also panic stations, because by then the garbage trucks were circling SBS! she says TV tonight.
The publicity surrounding the controversial series, especially driven by stories from the Daily Telegraph, had propelled it into Sydney’s number one spot. But garbage trucks from western Sydney protested outside SBS headquarters in Artarmon, demanding the broadcaster pull the “poverty porn” show.
Newspaper articles even published details of SBS chief executive Michael Ebeid and Lowe’s property, claiming their homes were nowhere near Street of the fightit is the location of Mount Druitt.
Since 2015 Lowe’s Lune Media has produced titles including War of Waste, Brain Eisteddfod by Shaun Micallef, Osher Günsberg: a matter of life and death, taboo, bulliedAND Fight for planet A.
Tonight Nine premieres Lune Media’s latest series, Police save Australia, a 6-part observation series gave camera access to the NSW Police Bomb Disposal and Rescue Unit.
“We were looking to branch out into more ob docs and looked at what was on the air and what was missing and this turned out to be the police rescue unit. We also looked into the Police Mounties, but that’s a much smaller unit,” she explains.
“I had been pitching it for a good 12-18 months. Nine were interested but they just didn’t have the budget and then all of a sudden I spoke to Hamish (Turner, Director 9Now and Programming) and he was like, “Yeah, let’s go ahead.”
“(The show is) exactly as we presented it. Working with Tina Diaz (Nine Executive Producer) and Adrian Swift (Nine Head of Content, Production and Development), it was truly a fun production to work on with Nine. We have always been on the same page with the content.
Narrated by actor, writer and director Brendan Cowell, the series marks the first time NSW Police has agreed a series with Rescue and Bomb Disposal Units, negotiated over a 12-month period via the Police Media Unit .
“Once they got to know us and saw what we did, they were happy that we had full access. We were warned that some people just didn’t want to be on TV,” recalls Lowe.
“If they didn’t want to participate, they would hang around it, but if they were, they were happy to wear GoPro cameras and it was all very harmonious. We were incorporated as part of their team, but they set the boundaries.”
There is some pixelation of the faces of those who have not agreed to participate, including members of the public.
“Sometimes, particularly in the mountains, some people were embarrassed and didn’t want to get involved, so we just blurred their faces. It’s actually the police rescue unit that does a fantastic job of rescuing them, so for us the story remains the same whether we see their face or not.
With its stunning Blue Mountains scenery, sieges, bomb disposal and abseiling down the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the series benefits from action and visuals, filmed by an agile crew. The producers also have access to GoPro footage worn by rescue unit personnel.
“The vision is spectacular. We had a really great two-man crew up there – a shooter/producer and a second camera – and they made all the beautiful pictures,” says Lowe.
“Some of the stories in later episodes are long hikes. There are a couple where they go out early in the morning and don’t come back until dark. The police rescue unit is absolutely amazing. They are the heroes.
“Only the New South Wales Police Rescue Unit wears white and that’s how the Rescue Unit sets itself apart from everyone else. They often work with the NSW Ambulance Service and the Fire Brigade. Once they are called to work, they are responsible.”
The series also showcases the work of the Tactical Bomb Unit, including mandatory explosions.
“They get a lot of bombs from garages that they have to get rid of. I think in episode two all the bombs that they have collected, which are sealed, they are taken to a rural area and they detonate them. So we capture it,” she continues.
“There’s a bomb story in the city, where people are being evacuated from office space. But overall, there’s not a huge amount of bombs that we cover.”
Lowe says the biggest challenge for the producers was getting the crew to the locations before the police.
“The boys go in their trucks. We followed it in a separate car, but of course we don’t have sirens.
“I don’t think we missed out on much because the Police Rescue guys were so good at work. They captured a lot of the footage for us,” she reveals.
“Let’s face it. I don’t think there will be garbage trucks around the police relief headquarters. Like all productions, there are obstacles, but nothing insurmountable.
“I really want this to be part of Lune’s library of quality content… just to be able to show, Police Rescue Unit and have that access is an absolute privilege.”
Police save Australia 9pm Monday out of nine.