I’ve got this nagging feeling that my mother will outlive me. That is not supposed to happen but genetic inheritance builds some people tougher than others. So when Burning Bright Productions, a TV video production company, contacted me saying they wanted to film an episode in the Philippines for a show called 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy I felt a connection. I am pretty sure nothing can kill my mom before her time so what do they know that I don’t?
Louise McGregor, the Assistant Producer for Burning Bright Productions, assured me the show was not nearly as sinister as the title. The basic premise is that Baz Ashmawy, Irish radio and television personality specializing in travel adventure shows, decides to bring his mom (or “mammy” in Irish) along to share his adventures and well… make a TV show about it. The title comes about from an idiom we have all heard when we talk someone into doing something (usually something stupid) they are not comfortable with – “Are you trying to kill me!”
In this case Baz’s mother is a 70 plus year old stay-at-home-and-bakes-the-best-fruit-pies kind of mother. Watching Baz sweet talk, and sometimes down right trick her, into doing things she is “not-comfortable-with” is touching and hilarious at the same time. The show works so wonderfully well because of the suspense and tension built up when they don’t tell Baz’s Mammy, Nancy, what she will be doing in advance. It’s always a surprise. Barry Egan, the Director, explains that it works on two levels because for one; she has less time to fret and get cold feet and two; they can capture her genuine and unaffected response.
I know the routine because I have been sweet talking my wife into a host of memorable adventures for the past 40 years: flying through blizzards across the Canadian prairies, diving underwater into limestone caverns of the Yasawa Islands in Fiji, kayak surfing offshore of Outrigger reef, on a break called “Pops”, in Hawaii during a red flag surf day, bottom fishing for halibut from a single engine seaplane miles offshore of Nootka Sound on the BC coast, and helicopter flying, with the doors off, over hundreds of alligators in the Florida Everglades just to name a few.
The first day of filming wasn’t a good start because a nasty storm had just swung past leaving us with rain and large swells in the Manila South Harbour. So when I cancelled the day’s flight they had not yet told Mama the plans. The crew took advantage of the “lost” day by letting Nancy do something she wanted to do – visit a Filipino friend. I wasn’t very optimistic that the next day’s weather would be any better but we agreed to set up the camera and microphone locations on the airplane including a couple of GoPros on the dashboard.
When the filming crew showed up I asked, “Where’s the rest?” I was accustom to American style productions with 30 or more technicians. This film crew, consisting of one cameraman, one cameraman assistant and one sound recordist, is more like Tillie The Little Engine That Could locomotive with their determination and optimism.
Overnight the winds died and the next morning the sky was clear.
I only saw this after Sky 1 TV released the full video but when Baz led Nancy down to the jetty her first reaction to flying on a seaplane was rather subdued. She reacted without fear and instead seemed to look forward to this new adventure. “I’ve never been on a seaplane.”
My usual answer to that is “That’s OK, neither have I.”
Herein lies the dilemma. I always do everything in my power to make people feel safe when they fly with me. No steep turns – no low flying – no sudden descents – avoid rain and turbulence. What could Mamma possibly be scared of? Of course she wouldn’t, beforehand, know that. If she was going to think the worst then this would be the time to do so.
From what I understood, however, the premise of the show, and what makes it work on an emotional level, is that Mammy is supposed to be scared. She is supposed to resist Baz’s attempts to get her to do something new and daring and scary. And “being afraid” is her most endearing character trait. The hovering “no skateboard for you young man” because “you’ll skin your knees” kind of mother. The “wear your mittens” because “you’ll freeze your fingers” worry-to-much about everything kind of mother.
To make the show work, however, Baz also knows when to wind her up. Again I really connected with how he deals with his mother because I do the same with my mom. Oh how I love to wind her up just like my son seems to like winding up his mother. The tension mounts when she begins to clue in with what is about to happen and when Baz begins to reel her in.
When she approached the seaplane, however, her only concern was whether she could climb up the floatplane steps into the cabin. Even when we told her she would be taking the front seat she didn’t blink an eye. In trying to get her going Baz asked her if she worried about flying with a typhoon close by and she answered: “I have a very good pilot why would I be worried?”
Thanks Nancy. Got to love that gal!
To shoot the air-to-air scenes we flew two planes. I flew Nancy and Baz, with the GoPros in my face, and chatted with Nancy on the headsets. She was a perfect passenger. Baz tried everything to get her to “confess” being scared but in fact she was totally relaxed. I even gave her some flying lessons and let her fly some descents, climbs and turns. She did great. In the TV video I found this part hilarious because of the way they filmed and edited the scenes. As reality TV likes to do the editors added drama where there was none, but they did it in a tongue-in-cheek way that came off as more funny than dramatic.
As we approached Coron Island the sky cover was broken with mixed cloud and sunshine. I could see that the water was calm. A perfect day for a seaplane landing near the Twin Lagoons. We flew around the island twice to let the chase plane film us skirting the edges of the island. At one point I flew past the cliffs of the highest peak by only a few hundred meters and Nancy did not flinch. Ian, the backseat co-pilot, encouraged Nancy to help out the Captain and do her co-pilot duties by reading the Before Landing Checklist – a task she completed perfectly.
I was wondering how Baz would handle the fact that Nancy wasn’t scared or even the slightest bit nervous about flying up front with me in the seaplane to such a remote and unique sea landing in the Philippines. Would that mess up their basic premise of the show? After watching Season Two – Episode One, however, I can safely say that the energy that makes the show work is not that Baz is trying to find a way to scare the wits out of this mother but the fact that Baz gets to find out as much about his mother, throughout the filming, as we do. This is not your average scripted reality TV show. There is no script. Baz not knowing 100% how his mother will react creates a tension and pushes us to the limits of our how-he-plans-to-deal-with-his-mother’s-fear-factor comfort zone. Yes you read that right. Our comfort zones. And he does it superbly.
I believe this is true about any “unscripted” relationship, whether it is between mother and son, brother and sister or husband and wife. Travelling together and pushing your limits and encouraging your partner to push their limits not only tests your meddle but helps each other to fully explore each other’s true self. As a result we not only learn more about each other’s tolerances and abilities but we also learn about when we need to reach out and support each other. That is the most endearing formula of this show; Baz’s ability to reach out and hold his mom’s hand when she is not fully in her comfort zone.
50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy Video. The entire show is worth watching but if you want to skip to the seaplane part go to minute 34.
50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy courtesy of Vidzi.tv
“That is the most real, authentic, hysterical laugh of my entire life…” Rocket
If the above link does not work try 50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy courtesy of Vimeo.com. Password “50waysphili”