DESCRIBED by BBC Scotland as “an illuminating but also humorous insight into the life of a modern crofting family in the Scottish Highlands”, Power to the Pococks is a documentary about Iain and Sasha Pocock and their four children – plus 19 horses, 12 sheep, geese, chickens, five pigs, six dogs and two cows – living in the middle of one Scotland’s last wildernesses at their croft beside Glen Affric national nature reserve.
It is being broadcast this evening on BBC Two Scotland, from 2100.
Here, Arlene Jeffrey, of makers, Timeline Films, answers the questions (with help from producer-director, Stephen Bennett)…
Who commissioned the programme?
The programme was commissioned by Ewan Angus at BBC Scotland after some initial filming and a subsequent taster in August last year, and our executive producer is David Harron.
We had come across the Pocock family during the making of our popular series, ‘Grand Tours of Scotland’, and thought that they would make good subjects for a film about their lives on their remote croft, with no mains electricity.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s look and feel?
From the outset, we believed that we couldn’t tell the family’s story in a short period of time, so we decided on a longitudinal observational documentary shot over the period of a calendar year, thus taking in the four seasons. We knew it had to feel immersive and character-based but not too worthy as that would run against the spirit of the family.
Slowly, the look and feel of the film began to show itself as Stephen got to know the family, and them him. Soon that gave way to trust, and then the individual traits and stories of every family member began to reveal themselves.
Back in the office, we continually discussed how to turn the seasons into ‘characters’ but equally how to elevate the sometimes mundane daily life into something bigger, so that it could make the viewer compare and contrast their own lives: namely there was enough in common, but enough differences to make it of interest.
After many such chats, perhaps the biggest Eureka moment was in January when we hit (read ‘stumbled’) upon the unusual step of having Sasha Pocock actually record the voiceover. From that moment on, the film seemed to bond – at least in our minds – but it wasn’t until nearly six months later in the edit we would see whether it was the right instinct.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
Executive producer for Timeline Films is Kathryn Ross. As production executive, I approached Stephen Bennett, a BAFTA-winning producer-director, with whom I had worked previously. Kathryn and I had been looking for a project to attach Stephen to for some time and this project felt right, from the start.
Stephen went to meet the family and shot a taster tape in August last year and it was obvious he had the rapport to bring out the best in them. Stephen is an one-man production band – he produced, directed, shot and recorded the sound on location at the family croft.
It was brilliantly edited by David Archibald, coloured a treat by Ian Ballantyne and dubbed to perfection by John Cobban at 422 Facilities.
What kit and software?
We shot on a Canon XF305, with senheiser 416 boom and radio mics; and edited on Avid.
What have been the main production challenges?
On location, there was the slightly unusual elements of no electricity, no mobile phone signal nor street lights and scarily icy forestry road tracks during the Winter, but these soon became the norm.
By far, the edit was the main real challenge. In one telly hour we wanted to cram in so much: seasonal chapters, personal stories for each of the contributors, the narrative of trying to get mains electricity following the massive electrical pylon line being built in the family’s back yard, etc.Giving enough screen time for each, as well as conveying enough of the differences and similarities to make an audience wonder about their own 21st-century fast-paced life was hard.
In the edit, we seemed to go round and round in circles whilst at the same time wondering whether Sasha could and would record the narration. And if so what were the logic implications – she can’t narrate what she doesn’t know, etc. Slowly, it took shape under the keen eye of Kathryn, Arlene, David and others, with the narration being based on the many on-and-off camera conversations between Sasha and Stephen.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
Writes Stephen Bennent: I learned that time is everything, in the thinking process during the production and whilst editing.
The travel time between the office in Glasgow and the Highlands afforded a lot of time to ponder, but – given the distance – once I was up, it was easier to stay there for days, sometimes weeks.
I also learned to slow down and watch more. Sometimes, telly can be a ferocious beast, with a need to get footage, that will make the final cut, as soon as possible. Working and living so close to nature allowed time for me to reflect more than I normally do, perhaps. Being happily given a couple of extra edit days at the very end of the edit seemed to turn a corner, exponentially.
Personally, I saw this film as my ode to family life, however corny that might sound. Previously, I have made a lot of documentaries with harder subject matter. This film seemed to come at a time when I was beginning to wonder about my own family life and what I was showing my children about the world around them, which seeped into the fabric of the edit.
Witnessing, first-hand, the contributor’s children working so hard on the croft was inspirational, so we endeavoured to maximise this.
As for enjoyment, a personal career highlight was riding out into the Glen Affric mountains on horseback whilst filming for three days, solid. Given I had previously clocked up a not very impressive five hours on a pony during my whole life – and even then never with a camera and rucksack in tow – was quite something. The horse only threw me off once – it wanted to jump a burn as it trotted up a hill as I decided to go ‘down’.
If the Pocock family taught me one thing, it’s that sometimes it’s the falling that makes you feel most alive.