AN eight-part TV series on BBC ALBA, Eileanan Fraoich follows Islay-born Heather Dewar – artist, cook and gardener – meeting local people on neighbouring Scalpay, Rum, Tiree, Gigha, Eigg, Raasay, Rathlin and Lismore.
Episode one is being broadcast between 2030 and 2100 this evening.
Here, Faye MacLean, series producer with the programme makers, Caledonia TV, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the series?
Eileanan Fraoich is an eight-part series commissioned by MG ALBA, for BBC ALBA. The series forms part of an output deal we have with the channel, to deliver eight hours per year – which has been a great development for Caledonia TV, allowing us to employ an extra member of staff and therefore increase the critical mass of talent within the company.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’
The premise was to introduce our presenter, Heather Dewar – a Gaelic speaker from Islay – to life on eight different islands. A professional artist and cook with a passion for gardening and history, Heather has travelled the world. She’d been to Outer Mongolia but not the Outer Hebrides! Through her eyes, we explore life on eight of the beautiful islands on her doorstep – Scalpay, Rum, Tiree, Gigha, Raasay, Eigg, Lismore and Rathlin.
In terms of the ‘look and feel’, the aim was quite simple – to create a series that looked beautiful and featured an array of interesting and engaging islanders who would tell the story of life on these different islands. On Scalpay, Heather visited the beautiful Eilean Glas Lighthouse, one of the original four lights commissioned by the Commissioners of the Northern Lights, and the very first in the Hebrides. On Rum, she sketched the island’s native ponies, including a newly born foal. In Tiree, she and pensioner Seonaid Brown attended the screening of a romantic movie – in the not-so-romantic location of the island’s cattle mart where a cattle sale had been held a week earlier!
The execution had to be simple and time efficient as we only had two days in which to film each programme.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
The idea for the series was very much built around our presenter. We’d interviewed Heather a number of times in the past and always thought she’d make a great presenter so we were keen to come up with a format to showcase her skills. She’s great with people and is knowledgeable about a broad range of subjects. We realised that although she’s travelled extensively and is extremely proud to be an islander, she’s actually visited very few of the Scottish Islands. It was from this that we came up with the idea for ‘Eileanan Fraoich’, Heather’s Islands.
The series was filmed by in-house staff – we’ve been regularly self-shooting since 2006. It’s also an aspect of the job that we all really enjoy although the advent of HD cameras has presented many challenges and lessons.
What kit and software?
The series was shot on two cameras – a Sony PMW200 and Canon XF300. We generally had a crew of three people on location – two people filming the interviews and PTCs and a third person shooting GVs of each island. The series was edited on our in-house AVID (version 6) and onlined and dubbed at Edit 123.
What were the main production challenges?
Apart from the midges, which are often very challenging when filming in the Highlands, we endured a particularly unpleasant journey to Tiree, departing Oban at 7am and finding ourselves back in Oban at 5pm with the ferry having been unable to berth in Tiree because of poor weather conditions. We made it to Tiree the following day, though, and arrived on the island just as the sun began to shine.
Overall, the lack of shooting time was the greatest problem we had but we were generally very lucky with the weather which enabled us to get as much as possible out of each day. Thanks to some great contributors, beautiful scenery and a presenter with a genuine curiosity about the places she visited and people she met, we – to quote the series director, Les Wilson – “got off with it again”!
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
We learned that a lot can be achieved in only two days and that you can never have too many GVs.
Also, we were working with a new presenter and, while it took a little time for us all to figure out how best to work together, filming with Heather was hugely enjoyable. Any notion she had of television being glamorous was quickly dispelled when she found herself overnighting in a bunkhouse on the Isle of Rum and sharing a room with three other people. She coped admirably well with the midges and the bunk beds.
But, of course, the most enjoyable aspect of it all was meeting lots of really nice people and spending time on some beautiful, interesting islands. Population decline has seen many of these islands change hugely over recent decades but they continue to be fantastic places to live.