Outback Ringer with Ben Davies: How to produce a series with outback bull-catchers and survive!
Produced by Bondi Rescue’s Ben Davies, Outback Ringer follows the highs and lows of four bull-catching teams in the remote Australian outback. We go behind-the-scenes with Ben to learn how his team to learn about a high-risk, high-reward job, and how they wrangled this wild production!
How did you come across the story of Outback Ringer?
Tom Lawrence, a producer from the Northern Territory, was working for me on Bondi Rescue and spoke to me about bull-catchers as an idea for a TV series. By the time cameras rolled on the series, Tommy and I travelled well over 10,000 kilometres, meeting people who appear in the series.
Can you tell us about the challenges you faced while filming this 10-part series?
The apt words to describe the challenges are ‘major’ and ‘sh*tloads’. It was the toughest show I’ve ever made.
The people in Outback Ringer are great, and part of the reason they make such good TV is the remoteness of their world, but the sheer distances made for very difficult production.
These people didn’t care whether we filmed them – and so they don’t pick up their satellite phones to call you back for weeks at a time. They were completely uncontactable. Given that we had a schedule, this was terrifying. Ultimately, we had no option but to send crews over a thousand kilometres from Darwin deep into the outback – to places with no towns, no buildings, no roads, hoping that the bull-catchers would be where we thought they might be.
Our crews cost serious money each day. We’d turn up to locations to find that the talent had postponed the bull-catching work for two weeks or have packed up for the year - because one of their deals had fallen through. We would then send the crew hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres to a new location, knowing that the same risks could be repeated.
I once had to fly from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland – two days on three flights (the last plane was a seven-seater), to find a guy so I could have a conversation with him. Once I landed, I convinced a local elder to drive me out to the guy, who was off hunting. Finally after two more trips back out there, we eventually tracked him down by the side of a dirt road. His eyes popped out of his head when I got out and told him – “Hey it’s Benny Davies the TV producer guy from Sydney who’s been calling your sat phone!”.
This is quite a departure from Bondi Rescue. What attracted you to tell this story?
This ‘world’ and sub-culture doesn’t exist anywhere else on the planet. You can go to another country and find more familiarity to Sydney or Melbourne than you will with the outback.
There series is shot across many locations in Australia. What kind of discussions did you have to gain access to the locations in the film?
I had to obtain many traditional land-owner approvals, mostly through the Northern Land Council.
How did you capture the action given you were filming on such rugged terrain?
We started with separate crews of seven or more people, which was big for the remoteness and the distances, but it proved too risky, since we were turning up to places and finding the bull-catchers gone or not catching at all. So, we decided to break them up into satellite crews of two to three people. Then the crews spread out and then bunkered down with bull-catchers in their camps to find out what they were up to. Once we had much more reliable information, we could join crews back together in the places where the action was, then split them up again after. That was the new pattern and it worked.
Did you require special film equipment to film in remote areas where areas weren’t accessible by road?
All crews carried major GoPro kits with mounts, including special CASA approved chopper mounts. The crews had serious 4WDs, with generators, fridges, sat phones, CB radios, camping equipment, and heaps of spare tyres. We got better at preserving the gear very quickly, thanks to the talent teaching us how important that is – since there’s no-one to fix your broken gear, except yourself.
Watch Outback Ringer on demand on ABC + iview.
Watch the trailer.
What is a Ringer?
Image: Photo by Mike Bennett, courtesy of ABC/Ronde.