DUBBED ‘Britain’s worst football team’, Scottish Highland League side, Fort William, are the subject of an observational documentary, The Fort – made by IMG Productions Scotland and being broadcast on BBC Scotland, 11pm on Sunday August 18, and thereafter on BBC iPlayer.
Here, director, Alex Gale, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the documentary?
The film was commissioned by David Harron for BBC Scotland and he was also the executive for the BBC.
The Fort is a documentary about the people behind a football club in an existential crisis, following their struggles to survive on and off the pitch. I wanted to explore what drives these people that are keeping the club going.
It took me a while to decide to go to Fort William. This was because I could see a number of challenges and pitfalls. I visited the club to meet the committee members to try and secure access and in the same visit to film the seven-minute tape I used to sell the idea to David.
I’d enjoyed reading the print stories that neatly captured the club’s predicament but, I wondered, would there be strong enough characters to carry a long form film? I feared the team might start winning, which would scupper one of my key narratives.
There was also the question of access. Even if I could secure the club’s confidence, I worried things might change halfway through the season and I’d be left without a film. I took a risk and decided to show the taster tape to the club in the hope it would persuade them that I’d portray them in a fair light and grant me permission to film. Luckily it worked.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s look and feel
I wanted to make a warm, authentic and funny film that truly reflected every side to the club. This is why I felt strongly about making the film without narration. The idea was to film enough actuality (we filmed a lot) so we would have enough eventful content in which viewers could see genuine team dynamics and make up their own mind about characters and situations rather than be pointed in directions by a voiceover.
I especially wanted to avoid poking fun at the cast, which, whilst delivering easy gags, would have been mean-spirited.
Who are the key personnel and how were they recruited?
The brilliant Noel Nelis was the film editor who helped me bring this story to life with a refined humanity and deftness of tonal touch. He spots all the good moments I miss and makes you wonder what you’d ever have done without them. I owe director, John MacLaverty, more than a few beers for introducing me to him.
My production wing man in all this was the great David MacCormack, who did a brilliant job as a shooting director, producer, researcher and general all-round production talent. David built relationships with the cast and captured some intimate moments in often very wet and challenging circumstances.
Post production was done at Arteus in Glasgow, mixed expertly by John Cobban.
Ian Ballantyne did a wonderful job marrying some material less than perfectly shot by myself, with GoPro, DSLR footage and our core C300 media. Ian brought out the seasonal changes in our wonderful Highland backdrops captured by the talented DOP, Fraser Rice, and cameraman, Rory Dunning.
What kit and software?
Most filming was done using Canon C300 cameras although GoPros were used to ensure we capture goals that we couldn’t be sure to and edited in Avid. Fraser Rice did a fine job of capturing the tone and mood of grassroots football in the Highlands using a tasty set of expensive prime glass.
What were the main production challenges?
Of course I’d have liked to have five cameras on every matchday over the season but that was never to be – and Barcelona, this wasn’t.
I made the early decision that we would only use snippets of match action intercut with characters off the pitch.
Filming a team over a season stretched the budget in all sorts of ways. We couldn’t afford to film at every game. I had sleepless nights fearing we’d miss a win. I spread resources as best I could over the season but what paid off was the cumulative amount of time we spent with the team rather than covering off specific moments.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
Ultimately, I jumped in and decided to film a story I didn’t know the end to.
Stressful and enjoyable in equal measure, it was a calculated risk that I think paid off as some of the main characters developed and opened up in a way I hadn’t imagined – revealing intimate personal struggles in their lives that only came out once we’d built a strong relationship with them, which took time and was rewarding.
I count many of the guys at the club as friends now. The team ‘played ball’ (badly), going without victory for the entire season we were filming, which was at least a win for the story.