The making of Frantic Family Rescue

11 Aug, 2015

Production Story – Frantic Family Rescue ABCTV August 11th 9.20pm

Making a show with real families isn't as simple as pointing a camera at a person and hoping that they give you enough ‘gold’ to string a show together. Producer and director Tosca Looby speaks candidly to Screen NSW about the process of developing and shooting Frantic Family Rescue for the ABC.

Coming up with a concept

My co-director/producer Alex Tarney and I knew the ABC was looking to populate a series on the subject of ‘Families’.  We’d done the hard yards – three children each, years of parenting research etched into our hands and faces. This was something we didn’t need to Google.

In an act of flagrant navel gazing we decided to concentrate on issues facing middle-class families like our own. Families with the opportunity to fill their children’s lives with one action packed adventure after another. Families with the time to ‘hover’ over children.

We found a man who has travelled the world exploring the issue of over parenting and found it cavorting in middle class societies across the globe. London based author Carl Honoré has become an ambassador for the slow movement and a well-recognised advocate for ‘slow parenting’. His book Under Pressure: Rescuing our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting is an international best seller and Carl jets the planet [slowly], soothing audiences full of anxious parents with his observations and advice.

We knew he was a great speaker who had a killer instinct for great sound bytes but he’d never presented on television and, perhaps more critically, he’d never turned his theories into practice.

Starting the challenge - casting families

And so the challenge began – to turn a ‘self-help manual’ into a televised social experiment. Carl was up for it and so was the ABC.

We needed to cast three Australian families who each practiced their own version of ‘hyper parenting’. Family members had to agree to take part in a ‘slow fix’ – four weeks during which they threw away existing schedules and replaced them with a bespoke plan created by Carl. They all had to want to slow down.

Alex worked full-time for five months to find our families. She sent the call out through schools, sporting associations, parenting magazines and ABC online. It proved a major headache finding families in which all members were keen to take part. Then we had to interrogate their motivation – were they just ambitious to be on television or interested in exploring a different way of functioning as a family?

Alex’s persistence eventually landed us three diverse families from across Sydney who questioned the pace at which they were living, and wondered if it might be possible to back off the pace.

Literally hundreds of emails were exchanged as we struggled to find four weeks when all three families, and Carl, could commit to our ‘experiment’.

Alex, Carl and me Skyped into the small hours as we plotted a practical plan – tailored to each family – based on Carl’s theories.

One family was tricky from the beginning. The father decided he didn’t want to be involved. His wife however was very keen, as were the two children and, on the strength of their characters (and their ability to demonstrate the thesis) we proceeded regardless. As the experiment began, the mother found it impossible to withdraw her son from his overwhelming round of commitments, even just for four weeks. She worried he’d fall behind and be lost in the race. Carl tried artful negotiation and heated discussion – nothing worked. She seemed convinced Carl’s ‘slow’ was a close relative of ‘failure’ and it wouldn’t help the family but hobble them.

For us, her struggles with the experiment spoke volumes about the psychology for parents more broadly who, to different degrees, are desperately working to best position their children for a future that’s difficult to predict.

Life/work balance

Meanwhile, Alex and I neglected our own families as we juggled a logistically complicated and time-consuming project. While we spent our days bathed in the merit of Carl’s arguments to ‘reconnect as a family’ we practiced the very opposite. More evidence – if we needed it – that for everyone’s good intentions, slowing down is harder than it looks...

The crew

The production was graced by the cinematography of Peter Coleman who multi-tasked on his F5 and go-pros for most shoots. I did extra filming on an EX160 (all of which matched up well in post).

Sound operator Leo Sullivan had the unenviable task of recording every family member in difficult spaces and usually on the move. Karin Steininger is – as editors so often are – the quiet hero behind the scenes who turned multiple story strands into a cohesive whole. She was supported by Two Dogs Production House in Annandale. Another great score was dreamt up by Antony Partos who gave each family a theme that epitomised their energy and experience on the ‘slow fix’. 

Frantic Family Rescue was expertly executive produced by Sally Ingleton at 360 Degree Films and production managed by the multi-talented Jessica Cook.

Tosca Looby (Co-director/Producer)

Tosca Looby is a Sydney based writer and director of social and natural history documentary. She has worked in the industry for over 25 years creating award-winning documentaries in Europe, Asia and Australia.

Frantic Family Rescue was produced by 360 Degree Films. It was developed and financed in association with Screen NSW, developed and produced in association with the ABC and the Principal Investor was Screen Australia.

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