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How High Can He Go? – Interview with Baz Ashmawy
26 Jan 2015 : Seán Brosnan
With game show ‘The Fanatics’ currently airing on Sky One and rumours adrift of a second season of ‘50 Ways to Kill Your Mammy’ – IFTN catches up with Baz Ashmawy to talk about a busy year for the Irish presenter.

It has been a decade since Baz Ashmawy first shot to fame in Ireland with ‘How Low Can You Go’ – the RTÉ cult-travel series that saw Baz, Michael Hayes and Mark O’Neill travel the world attempting to stay in cities at as low a cost as possible – but it has been the past 12 months that have really seen Baz’s star rise with not one but two Sky shows breaking the UK.

‘The Fanatics’, which airs on Wednesday nights on Sky One at 8pm, is described as a celebration of the intense passion of the super-fan, and pits three contestants against each other in a bid to be proven the most devoted.

‘It’s like ‘Mastermind’ without the scary music!, said Baz, who shot the eight episodes of the show over the course of one week in Manchester.‘The topics are a bit broader so you just get people who are obsessed with Arsenal Football Club or chocolate or ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Harry Potter’ or wrestling or whatever and then these guys compete against each other to win a prize. And it’s a prize that they choose themselves so it’s a little different to what people have seen before.’

While Baz admits himself that he favours presenter-led documentaries, he states that he fit in well to the game show format on ‘The Fanatics’.

‘I was just myself – I mean I am always being myself anyway. I never vary too far off what I am – I mean on this show – these contestants are a little different to what you normally see – they can be quite neurotic and I love that. I can be quite neurotic myself! So, yeah I was just myself around them - this show is really about them after all - they make it happen. I just ask them questions and have a bit of fun with them and it was a lot of fun making it.’

With Baz’s hit show of 2014 – ‘50 Ways to Kill your Mammy’ – proving a hit with British audiences – Baz lets us in on the genesis of the show stating that elements of ‘50 Ways’ can be traced back to the travel genre roots of ‘How Low Can You Go’.

‘For me, it was re-hashing work I had done in the travel genre before and trying to find what’s new because it’s all been seen before. And I wanted it to be about family as well – I wanted it to be funny, heartfelt but ultimately real – for two people to have a real relationship in front of the camera. We never banked on how good my Mum would be – I mean I knew she’d be great but I didn’t think she’d be just as brilliant as she was. She really made it. We were delighted it went down so well. You never know with these things. We had all the elements to make a good show but you never know.’

And will anything come of the rumours of the second series of ‘50 Ways’?

‘There’s rumours of it alright, yeah! Nothing confirmed yet but it’s looking very positive. Everybody was very happy with last season so we’re going in the right direction, definitely.’

With Baz undoubtedly breaking the UK over the past 12 months, and having a fruitful decade before that working in Ireland, does he think there are many differences between working in the two countries?

‘Not really – I think there’s an abundance of talent in Ireland. It’s massive. Everyone always tries to get me to have a dig at RTÉ and that is never the case. I have loads of praise for them – they gave me loads of jobs and they have fantastic presenters. But they are just one player and it’s always good to have other avenues – it’s good to do other things – it’s good for the presenter and it’s good for the industry and the viewers. The only thing I will say is the budgets are bigger in the UK so with bigger budgets you know, you get things like your big helicopter shots, perhaps an extra week or two in the editing room and technical things like that but in general there is not a big difference. And that’s evidenced by us getting Egg Post Production here in Dublin to post ‘50 Ways’. There’s so much talent here in Ireland and we didn’t feel the need to go anywhere else.’

Even with his two shows airing prominently on one of the UK’s most foremost broadcaster, Baz states that he still doesn’t feel he has made it a presenter.

‘You have never really made it as a presenter. It’s a craft. I think you need to have a certain amount of self-belief and you almost need to have a kind of producer’s head and you will learn that as you get older as a presenter. I have learned that you can’t just wait for other people to come up with ideas of stuff for you to present – try to think up your own ideas. It’s great when you’re working but the work dries up sometimes. It’s a funny profession but I love it – I love meeting people and getting access to worlds you wouldn’t normally see – opportunities I would not have gotten if I wasn’t for my life on television. I get up every day and I am happy to be doing what I’m doing. I clap my hands and say ‘let’s do it!’.

Despite this, Baz states that he is now at that sought after point in his career where he gets to pick and choose projects.

‘I have done stuff in the past where I wasn’t really into what I was doing and I mean I still did it – because it was my job. I tend to do the presenter-led stuff and I try to do only do stuff that I would enjoy and watch myself – that’s my parameter. That’s the sort of stuff I do now – I have the luxury of doing that now. There’s a couple of scripts for shows I am looking at – hopefully another ’50 ways’ series. Lots of projects in the pipeline but it’s just about finding the right one and putting my heart into it so I will find something!’

With the CAO deadline around the corner (February 1st), Baz had some very practical advice for anyone yearning to get into presenting.

‘From a professional point of view, a course like ‘Acting for Camera’ would be fantastic. It makes you aware of the camera and how it works. It’s good to go in and see how a camera works, how sound works, what a runner does, what a producer does. You get that from just throwing your CV out to places and doing everything you can. There are so many opportunities out there now but you have to look at it in a very broad way. It’s a hard industry but you just have to be positive. Have a strong chin, be ready to hear no – be ready to hear a lot of no’s! And keep at it!’

‘The Fanatic’s’ hosted by Baz Ashmawy is currently airing on Sky One on Wednesday nights at 8pm.





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