PUBLIC toilet cleaning is far from glamorous, but someone’s got to do it.
‘Trusadh: Gaisgich nan Goireasan – The Ladies and Gents’ is – say the programme-makers, MacTV – a “lighthearted” insight into what it’s like to be a public toilet cleaner in Scotland in the run-up to the 25th annual ‘Loo of the Year Awards 2012’.
It’s being broadcast this evening, on BBC ALBA, at 2100.
Here, Elly Welch, programme director, MacTV, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the series?
Trusadh is a fortnightly, hour-long documentary strand commissioned by BBC ALBA and made by MacTV, on the Isle of Lewis.
Compelling, contemporary stories rooted in, or linked to, the Gaelic world, or with cultural links, are key.
Over the last five years, MacTV has made around 100 documentaries in this strand, which has a Monday evening slot at 9pm on BBC ALBA with a repeat the following night.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’
The concept of a toilets documentary brought a few raised eyebrows among the team. Was it a step too far for the audience or would viewers think it ‘a bit of a giggle’? I argued that a lighthearted feel could carry a serious ‘watermark’ by referencing the decline in public conveniences and their attendants and the broader implications of that.
Initially, it was going to be more factual: a history of the public lavvy in Scotland, from Neolithic times to the modern day. Experts on sewers, historic urinals and public health were all lined up. But the journey to the ‘loo awards’ proved the better televisual angle, and sadly some of the quirkier history didn’t make it to the final cut.
And, of course, toilets don’t talk, whilst their attendants certainly can. And so the human interest-led Gaisgeach nan Goireasan – The Ladies and Gents was born…
I wanted a confessional tribute by and for the stalwarts of the stalls – a bit of a celebration, nostalgic in a time of change, and a bit of a laugh. All carried along by the competition story.
I was working on a limited timescale but wanted to create an intimate feel, where possible, and I was lucky that my characters were so honest and open. An hour is a long time in television so I used the ‘loo awards’ story as the backbone of the programme, with music carrying things along to the grand finale.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
As I was the most convinced by the programme idea, I was tasked to make it (with non-invasive support from MacTV’s wider production team). This was only my second directing job so it was a bit ‘seat of my pants’ but a great way to learn how to do it – and how not to.
The producer on the programme was Mairi MacLean of MacTV.
I worked with a mix of cameramen due to the wide geographic spread of our locations. Luckily, they were all happy to squeeze into the stalls and film ‘on the hoof’, in dark, cold, winter conditions. They will probably be shocked to see some of the shots I have included. But somehow, these shots say more. The camera team included Skye and Glasgow-based freelance cameraman, Magnus Graham, MacTV’s Alasdair Maclean and James McLaughlin, of Shootscotland in Glasgow.
I edited with MacTV’s in house editor, Craig Nicol. Fortunately, we share a sense of humour. The sound dub was done by Colin MacKay at Obh Obh! in Stornoway. He is now an expert on the timbre of automatic toilet flushes.
What kit and software?
The programme was shot interlaced on a mixture of mini DV – Panasonic P2 – and Sony XD Cam. We used a Go Pro for the ‘toilet cam’. Editing was in-house using Avid. Basically, I kept it simple in terms of kit: story, personality and sound are the priority – without these you’ve really got nothing.
What have been the main production challenges?
Working with just two of a crew in tricky, very small, badly-lit spaces in the middle of winter whilst managing sound, contributors, camera and scheduling.
I was in the edit within two days of filming the ‘loo awards’, so there wasn’t a lot of time to have a good think.
Because a lot of toilet cleaning has now been contracted out to private agencies, we had some problems getting access. But those who agreed were all very supportive.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
My belief in the wonderful ways of humans was reconfirmed.
I love being allowed into another person’s world and walking away without judgement from either side. It’s a great feeling when people open up on camera within half an hour of your arrival.
I also vowed that I would start learning to use a camera – and now I am doing that.