SYDNEY, June 26 (To help keep herself safe and
sane while making television dramas in Afghanistan, Australian
producer Trudi-Ann Tierney devised an ever-more elaborate game
of hide-and-seek in her head in case the Taliban launched a
Imagining what it would be like to hide in the top of a
wardrobe, the middle of a lake or buried among a herd of goats,
she mentally weighed the pros and cons of them all, as she
explains in her new book "Making Soapies in Kabul".
A chain smoker who lived in the most polluted city in the
world, she endured typhoid, six different types of stomach bugs
and pneumonia during what she said was the most exhilarating
experience of her life.
Tierney spoke to Reuters recently about living and working
in war-torn Afghanistan which led to her first book.
Q: What were you doing there?
A: My first job in television in Kabul was to write an eight
part drama serial for our Pashtun audience sponsored by a
foreign embassy. It was to contain messages to counter
narcotics. This concept of doing messaging through drama serials
as opposed to a billboard was a very new idea in Afghanistan,
where 86 percent of the country is illiterate.
Q: How does producing a TV series in Australia differ from
A: In Australia you've got plenty of resources and
experienced and trained staff. In Afghanistan we had mainly
untrained young people because television was banned for 10
years under the Taliban. The average age of our company was 24
Q: What were some of the hardships?
A: Intense heat, working through Ramadan and crews working
strictly to rule. Initially I thought I could lead by example,
I'd lug a beach umbrella and a makeup kit up a hill in 40-degree
(104 F) heat. I coaxed, I wheedled, I joked, I jabbed ... and
finally, I yelled!
My crew stood waist deep in streams to get the best angles,
trudged up mountains at 4 a.m. to film sunrise. They were very
young, enthusiastic, hard-working young people with a
willingness to learn how to make television.
Q: Were you successful?
A: "Eagle Four" (our mission to portray the Afghan National
Police as professional, hard-working and honest), was the
biggest television drama production ever mounted in Afghanistan.
We received an international award for this. Also, there was a
spike in police recruitment during the course of "Eagle Four".
Forty-five percent of Afghans have access to television, so it's
definitely seen as the most effective tool to education,
entertainment because illiteracy rates are so high.
Q: Any embarrassing moments you remember?
A: We were doing an incredibly tough shoot and we had 15
child extras. Children on set at the best of times are difficult
to deal with. Here were 15 Afghan children who probably barely
watched television, let alone appeared on it. They had no
concept of not looking at the camera. We were behind schedule
and all the kids started wandering away. I called to my producer
and said, "Where are those kids going?" She said, "They're going
to school". I just completely lost my mind and I screamed,
"Nobody is going to school today - alright!" All the kids
stopped and I literally stopped these kids from going to school.
I felt absolutely awful. I thought, "Here I am, I've come over
here to try and help these people and I'm basically stopping the
kids from getting an education!"
Q: During long shoots, how did you pass the time?
A: One of my favourite games was "What would you do if the
Taliban came now?" We would go to some location in the middle
of nowhere, there'd be a bit of a mountain and a few trees and
I'd literally think, "What would I do if the Taliban turned up?"
You had to be inventive. It was something to pass the time but
also something that stuck in the back of your mind.
My favorite was the bamboo stick and I honestly believed
that could work. You'd get under the water and use the stick as
a snorkel. The only trouble was I wouldn't know when the Taliban
had left and I could be under the water for hours and get bitten
by a fish - that was the only setback with that one.
Q: What are some of your memorable moments?
A: There were constantly people walking around the office
looking like the walking wounded because our makeup artist had
to practise her craft. It got a little bit exciting because
everyone wanted to have a stab wound and everyone wanted to have
a bullet wound. I'd have to say, "No! The makeup kit is going
away for today" because I thought we're going to run out of
latex and have to get another makeup kit.
"Making Soapies in Kabul" is published by Allen & Unwin.
(Reporting by Pauline Askin; Editing by Michael Roddy and