Rabbit jumping is an actual thing. This is something you’d know if you were an aficionado of Hamish Blake and Andy Lee’s Gap Year series. In Euro Gap Year, as part of a trip to Sweden, they buy a bunny – its name is Socks, which they quickly change to Lenny Rabbitz – and enter it in a jumping competition. It’s a bit like showjumping for horses, but with rabbits on leashes leaping over not insubstantial obstacles instead. Yes, it is completely absurd and, in the hands of the comedians, absolutely hilarious.
“It was my very first shoot with the boys in Europe,” says freelance television producer Frank Bruzzese. “We put on the rabbit jumping event so we could participate. No one was really there and it wasn’t as grand as I thought it would be. In hindsight, I was thinking, ‘How many people are into rabbit jumping?’”
Thankfully, due to the wonders of filming, the powers of post-production, the natural charisma of the hosts and an inadvertently hilarious cottontail (you can find the segment on YouTube), it turned out all right on the night.
“It’s interesting to see the stories I’ve enjoyed on the day, how they’re shaped in the edit, and which stories kind of take on a life of their own in that process,” continues Bruzzese. “It’s really lovely to be able to go and do the travelling then to see it right through to the final product. You get to nurture it all the way.”
In a notoriously tough industry, Frank Bruzzese seems to have struck gold. While studying at La Trobe University he was fortunate enough to do a placement on Neighbours. From the contacts he made there he went on to work on The X Factor, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, 1 vs. 100, Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? and Rove. That’s where he met Blake and Lee and, before long, he found himself on the production team for Euro Gap Year and the Hamish and Andy series that followed: Gap Year Asia, Caravan of Courage and Gap Year South America.
“It does, on the outside, look like the best job in the world,” says Bruzzese, “and there are times where I feel extremely fortunate to be doing what I’m doing. But there are times where you just go, ‘I don’t want to go to another airport.’”
There’s certainly not a lot of time to kick back and enjoy the exotic locales. After pitching ideas as a team and sitting with a map trying to work out what stories might be achievable, Bruzzese and another producer head off on a three-to four-week recce (that’s the industry term for reconnaissance) to see if the ideas on paper can be transformed into television gold. The pair is then joined by the rest of the team and shooting commences, usually for another four or five weeks. In the space of a couple of months, Frank covers a lot of ground.
“In Europe, with the recce and shooting combined, I did 37 flights in 43 days,” he says. “That’s a lot of airports. And when you’re travelling with 23 bags, it’s a lot of time checking in. We have to arrive two-and-a-half hours early at every airport, so once you factor that into your day, it really blows them out. We often have to film on those days too.”
As well as the infinite delays that occur on the road while you’re actually moving, there’s also the uncertainty of dealing with people who aren’t necessarily on the same wavelength when it comes to production schedules. On a recce, Bruzzese meets all the people who’ll be involved in shooting a five-minute segment and, after briefing Lee and Blake on what to expect, ensures all the building blocks are there to make it happen.
“There are times when people won’t turn up,” he says of the more frustrating aspects of filming. “They’re not actors, just everyday people. In Russia, for instance, I was warned, ‘well, they’ll turn up when they want to turn up.’ So people would arrive two or three hours late, not realising that we’re structured so tightly that three hours hurts us, because we probably have to catch a flight later that day.”
For all the organising though – of people, luggage, schedules and meals – there’s still plenty of adventure to be had. Bruzzese once found himself lost underground. “I found myself on a recce meeting a cataphile, one of the young guys who basically carves out their own maps in the labyrinth of catacombs beneath Paris,” he explains. “It’s midnight and the next thing I know I’m squeezing through a hole 60 centimetres wide and five metres below Paris with a guy who doesn’t speak English and a fixer who does speak English. Then we got lost for about 45 minutes. They were bickering in French and I was going, ‘I just want to get out of here.’ That was an interesting phone call back to the office the next day: ‘I was stuck in the bowels of Paris for a good hour.’”
Then there are the countries that, had he been planning a holiday, would never make it on to the itinerary. There are good reasons for some of them to never appear on anyone’s must-do list, but others are complete gems. For Bruzzese that place is Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. There he met a sporting team made up of men who’d been victims of the bloody war and are now the world champions of sit-down volleyball. “We got to meet these incredible guys who are just living their lives and are hugely successful,” he explains. “You can’t get away from it [the war] there. Driving around, there are buildings that still have huge shrapnel wounds. It was really humbling. I’ve never been to a place like that before.
“Just the history there blew me away. I wasn’t expecting to feel that way about Bosnia – I had no expectations, really – but I left knowing I definitely needed to go back.”