Ambulances fitted with mini-studios feature in new TEN ob-doc

• Hi-tech invested gives viewers incredible insights during Ambulance Australia

Network Ten premieres its new documentary series Ambulance Australia on Tuesday October 16 at 7.30pm.

The series is promising to take viewers through every step of the medical emergency, from the moment the call takers answer the triple zero call at the control centre, to the dispatchers managing the logistics of getting crews to the patients, and on the road with the paramedics as they respond to the emergency and treat the injured and the ill.

The new series is screening not long after Nine premiered its series Paramedics from production house WTFN.

Ambulance Australia executive producer Sarah Thornton has been working with Network Ten since early in 2018, where she is working under chief content officer Beverley McGarvey.

Sarah Thornton

For the past 15 years Thornton has been working in TV production in the UK in a number of roles for Discovery, BBC, C4 and Sky, spending time with broadcasters and freelancing.

Ambulance Australia is a licensed format from the British series that TEN has been screening.

Talking about the original, Thornton told Mediaweek: “It is a high-end, premium entertainment factual that has been produced in the UK for five years. Taking the format gives producers access to the technology and the way the stories are packaged, the music etc.”

The series is made by Dragonfly in the UK, which is part of the Endemol Shine group, with Endemol Shine the production company behind the Australian version.

“The executive producer at Endemol Shine is Tony de la Pena and what they have been able to do is get incredible access, which is a major challenge,” said Thornton.

“What we were asking for was different from the usual sort of access. We don’t want to just send a crew along to shadow someone.

“We have rigged five ambulances with fixed cameras and almost a mini-control room. We have spent 72 hours across the busy period of weekends for eight weeks in the control room following the call centre characters.

“We have put the best characters the Ambulance service has to offer in these ambulances and followed them as they go out on calls.

It was a very ambitious undertaking – for every episode we have five ambulances across New South Wales rigged with over 30 cameras. We had people stationed in all the control centres. There is so much footage, which enables us to tell very personal stories about the paramedics in a way you don’t get if you just dip in and out of the odd shift.”

The access was negotiated with Ambulance NSW with ambulances in several Sydney suburbs.

Thornton was keen to point out the producers didn’t film anyone without receiving prior consent. “There was a very detailed process we followed and we employed someone to work with Ambulance NSW to deal with consent.”

Thornton explained the thing about the rig on the ambulances was that with cameras set up nobody had cameras in their faces. “There was never any talking to patients – we had a field producer on location who would often ride in a car behind with a senior paramedic.

“The consent was always requested by the paramedics before they entered people’s properties.”

Not everybody agreed to take part. Thornton: “As many said no as said yes. Sometimes people weren’t contactable afterwards.”

Each ambulance used in the series was fitted out with around $50,000 of equipment, with cutting edge cameras imported from Germany.

The series runs for eight episodes and Thornton paid tribute to the Endemol Shine production team who worked a minimum of 72-hour weekends for more than two months. “It was a pretty intense couple of months with the busy times late night and early morning on weekends.

“The very passionate ambos would not do anything else.”

With other medical ob docs currently on offer, Thornton said TEN took some time to decide whether to commission their series. “This is not unlike what we have had on the channel in the past with the likes of Bondi Vet and Bondi Rescue. We felt this again was not your average documentary, as I noted earlier – more of a premium entertainment offering.”

Another series telling authentic Australian stories is Secret Life Of Four-Year-Olds. It airs after Ambulance and is being made for Ten by Screentime. Thornton is also EP on this for Ten with Jennifer Collins her counterpart at Screentime.

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