THE Forest is a new documentary series on BBC ONE Scotland that follows the men and women of Scotland’s largest forest, The Galloway Forest, over a summer season in a ‘factory like no other’.
The six-part series is made by Tern TV.
It is being broadcast, starting on Monday, January 8 at 19.30, on BBC ONE Scotland.
Here, The Forest’s executive producer, Harry Bell, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the programme?
The programme was commissioned by BBC Scotland commissioning executive, David Harron, at the beginning of last year after we’d shot a ‘taster’ film with the Forestry Commission in Dumfries and Galloway Forest.
David saw the potential in a number of compelling characters working in a little-known part of Scotland and set against a backdrop of some of Scotland’s most beautiful landscapes.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’.
We wanted to cover the variety of life – both wildlife and human – who work, live and play in this unique part of Scotland. It’s a very big forest indeed but we wanted a ‘precinct’ feel, so opted to use drone aerials to showcase as much of it as possible and several self-shooting producer/directors to follow stories all over the place.
We knew, from making The Mountain, that audiences respond well to a few key things in this slot: big characters with stories that are both humorous and edgy, extreme weather, extraordinary machines, beautiful landscapes and wildlife – so, we targeted these areas.
We wanted to mix a glossy cinematic approach to capture the majesty of the seasons and the enormity of the forest with an intimate access-led observational approach to cover the character lives we were following.
The mix of drone shots, specially-shot GV’s, wide shots and time-lapse gives the look a gloss whilst the single camera storylines add energy and a feeling of very closely-observed, day-to-day authenticity.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
Jack Warrender led a brilliant team of self-shooters, including Emma Fentiman and Ruth Mulcahy. Jack’s skill as a camera/director, and graduate of the NFTS, meant that, for him, pictures were just as important as chasing dramatic storylines. And we wanted to ‘raise the bar’ for these kind of ob-docs with a look that would give the whole production a much higher level of cinematography than normal.
He shot on prime lenses and often spent days chasing certain shots.
Emma had just finished our previous successful series, The River, and was keen to go again with a new world and set of characters. Her experience in knowing where stories might emerge and which characters an audience might love was second to none.
Ruth was also a Tern ‘old hand’ and wanted to gain experience in documentary having been working on our archive shows for a year. She threw herself into it and her incredible people-skills ensured that everyone felt at ease on and off camera.
Julia Shannon was senior story producer and, dotting between Glasgow and Galloway, she skilfully and charmingly orchestrated the very tricky transference of production to post-production.
Semeon Ogryzko was the chief editor and led from the front with his incisive grasp of character, humour and story. It was an edit of over 24 weeks, so he lovingly watched everything the team shot and crafted long assemble edits which were then whittled into long cuts, rough cuts and fine cuts. Not easy to wrangle over 200 hours of rushes into three.
What kit and software?
The A camera was a Sony Fs7 and the B camera was a Sony Sf5.
Cannon lenses: 16-35 f2.8, 24-105 f4, 70-200 f2.8
Sound: Sennheiser radio mics, 416 top mic
Tripod: Sachtler FSB10
Camera rig: Easy-rig mini (strong)
What were the main production challenges?
As always, the biggest challenge is getting people who have never been filmed before to, first, trust our team and relax into their day-to-day lives, behaving as if the camera isn’t there.
Harder than it looks for all sides. However, the results speak for themselves and, as ever, some of the ‘characters’ who emerge were the ones who were most nervous to start with.
The density of the woods were an issue as we simply worried the pictures would be too dark. But we were fine, because we were following people often using forest tracks, roads and clearings.
The Forestry Commission were absolutely amazing to work with. They gave us access to all areas and helped us to film in some really tough and dangerous places. We filmed them blowing up a new quarry to supply rocks for access roads and using high-tech explosives this was dramatic and a visual highlight.
Some of the machinery that the contractors use is specially-designed and can rip up and strip monster trees in seconds; so filming with these challenges means having your wits about you at all times.
The access roads in a lot of the forests are single track and one way so it’s not a case of being able to get from one location to another quickly. Plus, these roads often have huge articulated logger lorries thundering along them so you don’t want to be going the wrong way.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
We discovered a truly wonderful and little-known corner of Scotland which is proud of its rich forest heritage.
Given the immense size and importance of this ‘factory’ to the Scottish economy, it’s amazing how many people we met, who enjoy the forest throughout the year, but aren’t really aware that it’s a working forest.