Made Here: Riding the Ridge, BBC One Scotland

AT the time of writing, a just-released video featuring well-known Scots ‘street trials’ cyclist, Danny MacAskill, has had over 12 million views on YouTube.

It shows him ‘riding’ the Cuillin Ridge, on his native Isle of Skye.

And how the film was made is the subject of a programme – Riding the Ridge – being broadcast this evening on BBC One Scotland, at 1930.

Here, Stu Thomson, founder of Cut Media – based near Glasgow and the makers of both Danny’s film and Riding the Ridge – answers the questions…

Who commissioned the series?

The documentary was commissioned by BBC Scotland, initially by Ewan Angus and David Harron. David was appointed as the BBC executive producer.

Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’

The idea of the film was to demonstrate the time and effort that goes into one of the Danny MacAskill viral films. It intercuts fly-on-the-wall-style ‘ob doc’ footage and interviews combined with the beautiful, polished footage that appear’s in the final viral film.

The film follows a simple narrative of the crew’s time on Skye, following them on long days hiking and filming in the Cuillin mountain range with an insight into both Danny’s challenge to ride and film in such an extreme location.

There is some truly beautiful footage in the film; however it is also combined with the ‘run-and-gun clips’ as the crew toil to access filming locations and deal with the challenges ahead.

The programme builds throughout, teasing little clips from the viral but not giving anything away. Then the final seven minutes of the programme reveal the viral and let the viewers experience the final result.

Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?

I filmed and directed the viral film along with the crew at Cut Media, which included additional footage by Scott Marshall and Lec Park.

I then also took on the documentary to direct the edit after we had finished filming.

Paul Diffley was our camera op/location director for the documentary; he was recruited due to his vast experience making climbing films and working in locations such as the Cuillin Ridge.

The documentary was edited by Benjie Bateman who was a fantastic addition to the process as his experience combines many long-form documentaries but also some short form ‘extreme’ sports work. So he understood both the narrative side and the methods behind the viral filmmaking.

The documentary was a co-production between Cut Media and IWC with Hamish Barbour coming on board with his hugely influential experience as an executive producer.

What kit and software?

There is a broad range of formats and footage featured in the film. It combines the beautiful ’SLR’-style footage from the viral with more traditional ‘run-and-gun’-style footage. The ‘viral’ crew were shooting on C300 plus Panasonic GH4’s that were used on a drone and MoVi rig. This was perfect for the big, ‘beauty’ shots that you will see in the production.

A GoPro was also an essential tool, demonstrating Danny’s point of view and also capturing the audio from his reactions in those difficult-to-access places!

Paul, who was shooting the ‘ob doc’ footage, used a Sony PMW 150, which lends itself far better to capturing those fly-on-the-wall moments. The documentary was cut on Avid while the viral film on Adobe Premiere.

What were the main production challenges?

Primarily, the access to the Cuillin mountains. It is a place for experienced hikers and mountaineers only, so the crew all had to be extremely fit and prepared for long days on the hill. All of the crew are experienced in the mountains, from either a climbing or mountain biking background – which was essential. Our longest day on the hill was from 8am to 1am and this included nearly eight hours of hiking. For the viral film, in particular, the challenge of hiking in the equipment was huge, given the amount of equipment we had. Carrying a drone on two-broom poles for four-to-eight hours a day, up to 900m summits, was certainly a challenge.

What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?

I learned that fortune favours the brave! The whole production had certainly been a huge challenge and risk, given the extreme location and unpredictable Skye weather.

We entered into the process knowing that it was going to be very difficult to pull off, but in the end it more than delivered on our expectations.

I think, for myself, I strongly believe that when you put a crew of like-minded people together, who are passionate about what they are doing, then amazing things can happen.

Everyone in the production was desperate to be there and loved the experience despite the physical undertaking and I think it shows in the final result.