Made Here: NC 500 – Le Anne Lundon, BBC ALBA

NC 500 – Le Anne Lundon is a four-part travel series looking at the relatively new tourist route, North Coast 500, which circles the north of Scotland, starting and finishing in Inverness.

Episode one was broadcast last Tuesday, May 16 at 8.30pm, on BBC ALBA.

Episode two is tomorrow evening.

Here, producer/ director, Calum Angus Mackay, answers the questions…

Who commissioned the series

The production company is Mast-Ard Studio. The series was commissioned by BBC ALBA and the channel’s head of service, Margaret Mary Murray.

The pitch was submitted roughly whilst the North Coast 500 route was very much in its infancy – a new project, with a new perspective on Scotland (plus a strong presenter in a relatively new role), were key factors in securing the series commission: 4 x 29-minutes.

Mast-Ard Studio and BBC ALBA could see the real strength and appeal of the brand, which has been proved correct by what the North Coast 500 has gone onto achieve.

Explain the thinking behind the productions ‘look and feel’

As a primary objective I wanted the presenter role to be fairly dominant – her responses to experiences on the journey, being ad hoc and natural, rather than overly scripted – not always easy in Gaelic because we tend to rely so heavily on documentary structure.

In travelogue genre, I really enjoy the style of Simon Reeve – close to the subject, strong natural observation.

Anne Lundon is a highly-experienced presenter, who is very skilled in dealing with the unexpected – all travel shows require an element of surprise. The key is to take the audience with you.

In terms of landscape and coastal seascape, I was spoilt; though in terms of the iconic ‘Highland’ image, I was constantly looking for balance – the instantly recognisable, against the slightly off-field.

Over the 500-mile route, I had four or five contributors offering their own story, their own connection to the places Anne passed through.

Also, each day, I made allowance for the unexpected interviewee. Everything was one set-up, one take – the intention being to maintain a natural, fluid feel. I was less concerned about the cliché of doing something ‘different and new’ – more an awareness of recording a travel series pretty much as a tourist would come across the same experiences.

One element of presenter narrative, which I feel Anne Lundon did really well, was using the Go-Pro as a presenter tool, to ‘show’ the audience her immediate emotions and reactions at key sites, such as Corriesheallach Gorge and Smoo cave. Again, it was my insistence that this was one take-only, and no ‘walk-through’ beforehand – as real an experience as possible.

Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?

I was producer/ director and second camera for the series.

Anne Lundon, as presenter, was key to the success of the product. Indeed, the series would be authored by her.

Anne’s role with BBC ALBA current affairs series, Eòrpa, and its busy schedule, was an initial challenge to negotiate and navigate through, but both myself and BBC ALBA executive producers knew she was the best screen talent for the role.

My executive producer for BBC ALBA was Margaret Mary Murray, who, from the outset, was highly supportive in ensuring the talent matched the real potential.

The camera operator was Jim Hope. He was only on his second full first camera project, but I liked his attention to shooting detail, and his sensitivity to landscape.

What kit and software?

I shot main camera Sony F700 with an on-board mic and radio mics. Second camera was Canon 305f – plus GoPro Hero 4, and Nexto Dashcam as emergency driving shots back-up. We also used a drone camera, Inspire Pro with 4k lenses.

Many car mounts and motion shooting devices used – but I constantly had to remind myself, and the crew, that this was NOT a car show, so focus on presenter and landscape, and not to get carried away with fancy car angles/shots that I’d never use anyway.

What were the main production challenges?

The main production challenges were daily schedules and timing. For example, leaving Inverness in morning traffic and knowing you have to be wrapped by 7.00pm in Applecross – where do you stop, and for how long, not forgetting that you have possibly four contributors waiting for you en route!

Some disciplined director decisions have to be made.

Another issue, very much of its time, is media management and back-up. With four different camera sources (some with huge files running for hours), being careful with corresponding time-codes, labelling and battery charging is an absolute priority on the road – production planning was vital.

An authored series is naturally fairly demanding of the presenter. As days go on I had to ensure a healthy balance of trying to manage Anne’s time with contributor set-ups, against the natural conversations and reactions of being on the road.

The Scottish Highlands are an epic location – I had originally intended that key areas would be filmed with camera filters, classic skies/seas, etc… but time dictated that this could not happen.

The gamble was that the more ‘epic’ views would be covered weeks later by drone shots. Would weather, light, September colours, etc, remain the same? I was very lucky in all areas. Drone is not overly used, more as an additional ‘light touch’.

What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?

Between research, pick-ups, main filming and drone, I did the North Coast 500 route three times in two months – a privilege, really!

But what I learnt most is the pleasure of a really strong team; we didn’t even lose five minutes due to adverse weather – we had some, but we always found a way round it. Everyone fully committed to the end product.