It’s time to “Baewatch” in hit Channel 4 reality series
Sean Carswell was only 19 when he left his home of New Zealand to “seek his fortune” and follow his dreams. He landed in Sydney, unsure of where his life would take him, and got a job as a Camera Assistant at Australia’s Channel Ten in the Newsroom. Almost immediately, he ended up being handed a camera with minimum preparation or warning during heavy flooding in the Australian Outback. It was fate; he discovered an innate talent. He ended up being the youngest ever Cameraman for the network at the time.
After a few years learning the industry, Carswell once again packed his bags, this time heading to the United Kingdom. He began working at WTN, (now APTV) covering the war in Bosnia, Russia and the Middle East. The more he worked behind the camera, the more he fell in love, establishing himself as a dominant director of photography in the UK’s entertainment industry. In 2010, he started his company Base Films, and has since been a part of several hit documentary and reality series, including George Clark’s Amazing Spaces, Secret Admirer/Secret Crush, James May:Our Man in Japan, The Greatest Dancer, and so many more.
“I’ve reached a point in my career where I feel hugely privileged and grateful to do this for a living. Every single shoot is an adventure. My children ask me where I haven’t been, not where I have. Sometimes I reflect that I’ve been part of the craziest adventures, traveling all around the world for 30 odd years and being paid for it. I get to go off and play with the most insanely expensive camera toys in the most beautiful locations with the most creative and entertaining people. On top of that, no matter what, we’re never satisfied with what we come back with so it's a relentless process of trying to be better, technically and creatively,” he said.
Last year, Carswell’s work was once again a hit on televisions across the UK with Baewatch: Parental Guidance. In this captivating reality series, self-styled “perfect” couples put their relationships to the test on a romantic getaway in the sun. What they do not realize is that secretly doing the testing are their own families, who want to find out more about their loved one's relationship.
“It was a fun project that really didn't set out to judge at all. It’s easy to do something like this and make something quite seedy and judgemental, but it wasn't the point and I feel that Fremantle found a great balance, humanizing people. After all, we’re all fundamentally the same,” said Carswell.
Over the last 10 to 15 years of his esteemed career, Carswell has developed a reputation for going into the first season to help develop the visual signature of a new show. His work on reality shows like Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, and various dating series make this evident, and with Baewatch, it was all of those genres in one. He was the ideal DoP to turn this unique and fun idea into a visually stunning and successful television series.
Carswell typically had his work cut out for him on the shoot. It was initially an enormous undertaking; he had to manage and oversee the two sizeable teams to maintain a constant look within the show and ensure the different approaches (fixed rig, roving and produced reality over multiple locations, indoors and out), held together nicely while remaining the key operator and sole drone pilot for both units.
“It was like mental gymnastics everyday but it’s precisely the logistical challenge I enjoy. It’s like shifting pieces around on a chessboard while being one of them yourself. Thankfully my skill set and experience means I’m able to do it,” he said.
The show involved two multi-camera units, drone work, and elaborately lit scenes. They were filming on live sets with cameras on the cast, but also high-tech hidden camera setups. This was ideal for Carswell, as it had every challenge he would want wrapped into one project. It was ambitious, meaning he had the opportunity to really sink his teeth into coming up with innovative and creative solutions to these technical filming problems. That, for Carswell, is what makes any new project fun.
“Other than the sheer volume of technicality, this was a rare show where I really loved my team. The older I get the more I realize that despite any of my personal abilities, I simply cannot rise without a great team of people supporting me. That's why it's so important to invest in projects and people and give that back. It's all about the love! I honestly have no time for individual egos, TV isn’t like that anymore, there’s simply no room. It's full of educated, intelligent and talented people. We’ve been disrupted like every other business, so you pick your teams, and you back them, and you’re blessed when they back you in return,” said Carswell.
Baewatch: Parental Guidance premiered on Britain’s Channel 4 in March of 2019, and was an instant hit. The series is still available online to stream, so if you haven’t already, get ready to binge.