Quite often, the best ideas are spurred on by a seemingly innocuous moment that sets off a chain reaction of events.
For Augusto, such a moment occurred several years ago when the cousin of co-founder Leon Kirkbeck found himself sleeping on the sofa of a rescue helicopter pilot who spent every climbing season saving mountaineers in the Himalayas.
“Woody [Mark Woodward, the cousin] told us that Jason Laing [the helicopter pilot]is an amazing guy and that we should do something with him,” remembers executive producer Cass Avery.
Not long thereafter the team at Augusto met legendary pilot Mike Allsop, something of a legend in the rescue space, and they decided to get the ball rolling on an ambitious series about helicopter pilots in Nepal that would eventually come be known as Everest Rescue (currently airing on Sky).
— SKY New Zealand (@SKYNZ) February 20, 2017
But things didn’t exactly go according to plan from there. In 2014, the year they intended to start filming, the avalanche struck, taking the lives of 16 sherpas and mountaineers. Then, in April 2015, an enormous earthquake wreaked havoc in the lives of thousands living in the around the Himalayas.
Fortunately, none of the Augusto team were present during either of these events, but there were some serious question marks over whether or not they would pursue the project at all.
However, the team didn’t give up. The team at Augusto believed there was still a story worth telling—particularly, given the horrors of the previous two years.
(Sealy and Avery shortly after landing at Lukla, Nepal, often dubbed ‘the most dangerous airport in the world’)
“The whole thing sounded completely nuts,” says Sealy. “Pilots flying as high as camp three with people dangling from the bottom of helicopters that have had the doors and seats removed so as to fly even higher. We knew we had to make this show.”
Discovery agreed that it was an idea worth backing, especially in light of the dearth of documentary footage caused by the fact that filming became incredibly difficult in the aftermath of the earthquake.
Adding further intrigue to the whole scenario was the fact that it follows a collection of protagonists—one of which is Kiwi—mad enough to risk their lives every time they suit up for work.
As Avery says: “They all do it for different reasons, but they generally have very altruistic motivations.”
She says that the job for many pilots doesn’t end when all the rescues have been made. Because the roads are in a constant state of disrepair—or sometimes non-existent—helicopters play an important role in transporting people and goods from one area to the next. This, in turn, leads to the pilots being very involved in the day-to-day lives of everyone on the ground. All of which adds additional layers of narrative perspective to a concept that’s already strong enough on its own.
This is, of course, not the first documentary series that Augusto has worked on. Just last year, the agency worked closely with Richie McCaw to produce the hugely successful Chasing Great feature-length film (also set to air on Sky this Sunday).
Avery says the team is eager to do more long-form work in the coming years.
“It’s definitely been one of our focuses,” she says. “We’ve already done a lot of comedic pieces, TV shows and documentaries, and we have more in the pipeline.”
In addition to providing an additional source of revenue, Sealy also points out that this kind of work also benefits the commercial side of the business because of the talent it attracts.
He says the best talent joins Augusto because they know they’ll have the opportunity to work on big, ambitious projects in the future.
This same talent can then also applied their carefully honed skills to the ads and content produced for brands.
Sealy believes that this point of difference helps Augusto to have conversations about quality rather than price—something which hasn’t been easy, at a time when many clients want as much content for as cheap as possible.
“It’s been a real struggle in recent years to have that discussion about quality, but we are now finally seeing clients approach us because of the quality stuff we’ve produced,” Sealy says.
And in terms of those big quality projects, Sealy says there’s another pretty substantial project on the cards.
“We’re in late discussions with another US broadcaster about the global release of another project,” he says.
Asked for additional information, Sealy laughs and simply says: “We can’t confirm or deny anything at this stage.”