With TVNZ’s reality cop caper Police Ten 7 celebrating 500 episodes tonight, Alex Casey put some questions to one of the show’s longest-serving camera operators.
What is the training process to be a Police Ten 7 camera operator like? Did you have to go through some intense sort of boot camp?
I’m a director and had already spent a few years directing on Ten 7, so I didn’t undergo training as such. The common scenario for a new shooter learning the ropes would be shadowing someone already experienced with filming.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how technically good you are at using a camera. You have to be able to earn the trust of the police officers you’re working with because you start as a stranger – with a camera – following their every move.
Can you describe your average shift?
The phrase, ‘hurry up and wait’ pretty much sums it up. There can be long hours of just driving around and waiting to be called to a job. When it does happen – it’s all on. That’s when you need to be on your game, because you only ever get one crack at the shot.
You always have to be vigilant. Even the most mundane and routine jobs, like stopping to say hello to a stranger, can suddenly turn into something much more serious. You can be sprinting down the street at a moment’s notice, or desperately trying to dodge a stream of vomit that’s heading your way.
What’s the busiest night you’ve ever experienced?
There have been so many, but one that comes to mind started with a successful search and rescue operation in the Waitakere Ranges. On the way back, there was a foot chase with a burglar, followed by a domestic incident, then we were called to deal with squatters huffing in a vacant building. Leaving there, there were some drunk teens starting to mouth off on the street.
While dealing with them, a guy asked us to help him get his drunk flat mate home. As we got them in the door, the drunk teens reappeared and started to beat each other up. The officers finally got that under control, then there was another pursuit to round off the night.
The main thing that has stayed in my mind was the night I spent filming our police in the Solomon Islands after some civil unrest. Family violence is a big problem over there. The first job I went to was a domestic between a man and his wife. By the time we got there – a lot of these communities are very remote – we found half the local village were already out with machetes, trying to find the husband who had beaten his pregnant wife.
Thankfully, the locals hold the NZ police in high regard so it was brought under control quite quickly. We also had NZ Army patrol with us, so their medics took care of the woman and rushed her to hospital.
That same night, a local police station was shot at mere minutes before we arrived. We also came across a drunk driver being dragged out of his car window by angry locals after he narrowly missed hitting some kids.
Have you ever had to take justice into your own hands like a vigilante?
No, never. I’m just there to record what happens the police take care of the rest.
How does the consent process work with filming? Does everyone have to sign release forms?
It depends on the scenario really. Basically, we can film in a public place. If you end up on camera and want your face on the programme, then you have to sign a form – otherwise you’ll be blurred out.
What is the biggest laugh that you have had working on the show?
Harmless drunks always make for great entertainment. There are also the ‘hard core’ guys who think nothing of mouthing off to the police, or acting hard, but are absolutely terrified of their mums. Many of them would rather sleep in the cells that have the police call their mum to come and get them. That happens quite a bit.
Have you ever had a truly terrifying experience whilst on the job?
I have had people try to attack me, I’ve been verbally abused, spat at, had bottles thrown at me and I’ve been in a police car when it was rammed during a pursuit. I’ve never really been terrified though, because we’re always with highly trained and experienced police. We work in teams and always have each others back – but most importantly of all we know our limits.
If things look dangerous, we stop filming and leave the police to it.
What’s the most important thing you have learned from working on the show?
That alcohol has a lot to answer for.
Ever considered dropping the camera and being a police officer yourself?
I have considered it but, by working on Police Ten 7, I get the best of both worlds.
The 500th episode of Police Ten 7 airs tonight on TV2, click here for our shocking scientific expose on the Always Blow on the Pie theory