Crew filming at the beach.Picture Zanele Zulu.30/12/2014
Crew filming at the beach.Picture Zanele Zulu.30/12/2014
Crew filming at the beach.Picture Zanele Zulu.30/12/2014
Crew filming at the beach.Picture Zanele Zulu.30/12/2014

DURBAN – Local lifeguards are to become the stars of a documentary series on the Travel Channel this year.

The series, Heat Wave, is the brainchild of Australian-born director Eddie Edwards, and was expected to wrap up shooting today, after the busy New Year’s Day.

The concept was born when Edwards visited the city and saw the throngs of people who descended on the Golden Mile during the festive season.

“I started speaking to some of the lifeguards and found their back stories so interesting. It is through these characters that the series narrates this ‘phenomenon’.

Four years later, things finally fell into place for shooting to start.

Speaking to the Daily News this week, the executive produ-cer, Bronwyn Berry, said this was the best part of the process. “Pre-production and securing funding and permission is such a grind. There is a story here that we have to tap into, and we have really infiltrated and become part of the beach scene.”

Berry said because they were filming reality, there was no guarantee of action, so they had a contingency plan. But with more than 30 incidents documented in the past six weeks of filming, the storylines for the 10 episode series was coming together perfectly.

The rescue of 150 swimmers caught in a large wave on The Day of Goodwill is likely to provide some of the series’ most dramatic footage.

Series line producer Clint McLean said the mass rescue was an awe-inspiring experience to witness, and a prime example of lifeguards working together.

“Every member of the crew left there absolutely amazed at the lifeguards. They came from other beaches in boats and jet skis, they were jumping into the water from every vessel you can think of. They truly do guard people’s lives.”

Beyond the profession, the personal lives of some of the lifeguards are used as a narrative. “It could their big personality, a long-serving lifeguard with interesting stories to tell, a ripped man of steel who will get the girls excited, an anonymous lifeguard who then heroically springs into action when something happens, it all makes for an amazing storyline,” said McLean.

They were chosen primarily from the Golden Mile, but the series will also feature lifeguards from beaches all along the eThekwini coast.

The film crew of about 25 people have made a municipal building on the beachfront their makeshift headquarters, keeping a low profile so as not to attract too much attention.

But their five camera units have become a familiar sight along the promenade.

At any given time, they were out shooting a planned scene, like Mayor James Nxumalo’s beach walkabout on Tuesday, or out doing surveillance. “That’s when they go to a certain spot and just observe and film. At times it’s like, boom! Something happens,” said McLean.

As a Durbanite, he said he was astonished at how much work had gone into preparation for the festive season rush.

“The SAPS and Metro police do an unbelievable job managing the beach. Fesmac (Festive Season Management Committee) is so professional and organised. Durban people don’t give anyone credit for the planning and safety, clean-up and other measures put into place during this time,” he said.

After screening on the Travel Channel, the team would like to see the documentary series go to other parts of Africa, and then global.

“Africa is a hot topic internationally, there is a lot of interest in us, and here is this series about a contemporary African city,” said McLean.

Although the crew has had “good vibes” from the public, they have had challenges filming during the busiest time of the year. “Everything we shoot we have to get permission for. Where we are stuck, the Durban Film Office has assisted us.”

McLean said the office also helped them secure “the Golden Letter” from the municipality. Edwards and Berry wore a copy of the letter on their film crew tags around the necks, joking it was their key to the city.

“The city is one of our partners on the project; it’s really great to have their support,” said Berry.