WHAT'S NEW - A Day In The Life Of: David Osborne At The Rila Mountains, Bulgaria (Pilgrimage - Series 3)

A Day In The Life Of: David Osborne At The Rila Mountains, Bulgaria (Pilgrimage - Series 3)

by Vandana Thanki

1. Tell us about yourself

I'm a Remote Areas Medic, Safety Advisor & Hostile Environments instructor specialising in providing medical, safety, security and operational support to film crews in working in remote and extreme environments. 

My initial career leading survival and conservation expeditions for a UK NGO in Belize & Borneo developed a passion for working in remote areas - especially tropical rainforest and mountain regions. I returned to UK in 2008 to complete a range of Mountain Leader, First Aid, Medical and Emergency rescue qualifications – with the view to undertaking increasingly challenging expeditions. 

An immediate job in West Africa however changed everything. I was tasked with providing first aid, security and jungle safety support to a film crew working in Ghana’s northern gold mine region. The complex challenges of simultaneously providing the life support systems required to operate in that austere area, protect the safety of the contributors, crew and kit, whilst also facilitating the crews creative and editorial aims was both all-consuming and fascinating. 

I’ve since spent the last seven years training, advising and directly supporting TV, Film & Media crews operating in a wide variety of demanding environments from the vast north African deserts to the remote highland jungles of Papua New Guinea on over 15 major international TV series productions. 

2. What was the project you were working on in Bulgaria?

It was an ambitious mobile series shoot which essentially involved a very mixed group of British celebrities trekking major parts of a historical pilgrimage route across Europe. Part of this route included the beautiful, but very challenging, Rhodope and Rila mountain ranges in Bulgaria. I was tasked with providing safety advice and medical support for both the cast and crew throughout this physically challenging phase. 

3. What were some of the safety procedures that had to be put in place before the treks?

Firstly, I ensured that the two local guides knew the areas well, had previously trekked the proposed routes and were able to suggest appropriate timings and alternative routes for the carefully filmed team treks. The guides and I then independently trekked each route - in advance of the cast and crew - in order to identify all possible hazards, collate GPS & timing information, establish vehicle extraction points in case of any emergencies and assess the overall safety of leading both the highly varied cast and large camera crew along each route. We also carefully monitored the weather forecasts and adapted the trek routes and times to avoid exposure to several severe lighting storms predicted. 

Finally, we provided detailed Health, Safety & Trek briefings before each trek – covering key areas such as required clothing, hydration, kit transport, radio protocols and evacuation procedures.  

4. What sort of health and safety equipment did you take along with you on the treks?

  • First Aid & Trauma Medical Kit
  • Portable Kevlar Stretcher
  • Automated External Defibrillator (AED)
  • Evacuation Plan & Emergency Contacts List
  • Radio, Mobile Phone, Satellite Phone & InReach Device
  • GPS, Map & Compass
  • 30m Confidence Rope 
  • Food & Water (4 litres)
  • Lightweight wind stopper/waterproof
  • Emergency Survival Kit. 
5. Did you have any risky situations in the climb? How did you overcome these situations?

Assessing the trek route, conditions and carefully planning out the treks in advance helped avoid any serious situations. 

Additional areas I focused on throughout the treks were the safety surrounding a blind contributor and the camera operators - including ‘spotting’ (providing direct support), and carefully monitoring both the ever-changing mountain weather conditions and physical condition of each member of the unit.  

6. What did you enjoy about this project?

The crew were awesome and worked so hard to capture great content, in difficult conditions, whilst continually on the move. The complex location moves each day were very well managed, and the well-being and morale of the entire unit was ensured by a great production team.

I personally really enjoyed being able to utilise previous experience in leading mountain and jungle treks ensure the unit’s overall safety, assist with team management and provide a few creative ideas. Best of all, of course, was just being able to trek across those beautiful alpine mountains – especially the stunning drop-off of ‘Eagles Peak’.

7. In view of the COVID19 pandemic, will these kinds of shoots be possible in future?

The pandemic has, of course, changed life as we knew it across the globe. There will be unprecedented health and safety challenges for Production companies moving forward. Ensuring both the safety of employees, contributors and the general public while generating high quality content will be more important than ever. 

Perhaps one of most difficult genres to reinitiate will be filming overseas – especially in remote and wilderness locations. The challenges range from the immediate travel restrictions required, potential pre- and post-shoot crew quarantines, the varied country-specific medical and safety requirements, potentially reduced crew sizes, and the ethical necessity to protect the shoot locations. I’m very glad to be part of First Option – who are not only carefully assessing these complex areas, but driving best practice in these areas going forward.