THE heart of Scotland’s snow tourism – Aviemore and Cairngorm – is the focus of a new six-part observational documentary series, The Mountain, the second episode of which is being broadcast this evening, on BBC One Scotland, at 1930.
Made by Tern TV, the series – which started last Monday – focuses on the lives of people who battle to keep the mountain slopes open throughout the winter, and those in the town whose livelihoods depend on a great winter season.
Colin Cameron, series producer of The Mountain, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the programme?
Ewan Angus, at BBC Scotland, commissioned the series with David Harron, executive producer (commissioning), taking the project on as exec. Tern had previously worked with David very closely on The Harbour in Aberdeen and it was great to have an ongoing understanding of what we were looking to do with these observational documentary series.
We hope and believe they are shedding light on industries, people, and aspects of contemporary Scotland which people are aware of, but may not actually know much about.
We aim to provide an insight into the lives and workings of vital communities across Scotland.
Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’.
The series looks fantastic, with breathtaking scenery, but it aims to convey the sheer determination of a community which is battling to make a living against such contrary conditions.
It mixes the gritty actuality of daily life on the mountain with stunning landscapes, supplemented by swooping aerial views.
We particularly wanted to convey the immense graft that the mountain teams put in on a daily basis, to get the resort open for the public.
However, it’s not just about the world of the mountain, but an entire resort in the village as well, observing the struggle of small businesses to deal with a fickle season.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
The key man is Steven Todd, who filmed, directed and produced the series, living and working out of Aviemore for the full six months of the winter season. Steven had come to know the personnel on Cairngorm through working on a previous series there, and it was his drive and determination that convinced us that there was a great world here, populated with fascinating characters.
He lived and breathed the series for the best part of a year, and built lasting trust and relationships with the mountain teams.
His ability to ski backwards and film at the same time won him much respect!
On location, he was supported by director, Jenny Stock, who concentrated on the Aviemore sequences, and by second unit director and ski-nut, Katrina Inkster.
They were out in all weathers, and at all times of day and night. Ian Stroud brought his unique creativity to the editing of the series, and we were all excellently supported at base by Tern’s head of production, Diane Dunbar.
What kit and software?
The series was all shot on Sony PMW200s and augmented with numerous Go Pros. It was edited on Avid.
What were the main production challenges?
The weather! It was filmed over the winter of 2013/14. Meteorologically, it was a very strange season, and the Cairngorm team say they’ve never been through a year quite like it.
First, there was a lack of snow and then masses of it, almost more than they could bear.
Then the winds blew it all off.
So the weather was a constant challenge for us. We had expected it to be but not just quite in the way it worked out. Steven and Kat often had to cope with cameras freezing, and find ways of protecting them from the cold and wet, while still capturing all the action as it happened.
That included a night for Steven, sitting in the Cairngorm carpark with a take-away pizza, capturing the glorious spectacle of the Northern Lights.
The series runs chronologically, roughly a month per episode, which did give a challenge of storytelling in the edit, as sometimes the best bits didn’t happen quite when you wanted them to!
The Mountain presented the challenge of getting under the skin of what in some ways is an ‘enclosed’ setting, but one that has a very wide, very open-air parameter across mountain, ski slopes, businesses and livelihoods.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
We learned that digging out the funicular tunnel by hand is VERY hard work, and that the snow may blow back in as soon as it’s cleared!
We all thoroughly enjoyed working on the series, with a great cast of characters both on the hill and in Aviemore.
I first filmed in the area as a (very) young director back in 1975, well before all of my team was born, and while the landscape stays immutable and the people change, the spirit that brings them to this unique part of the world doesn’t.
I hope and believe that we have made a series about life outside our urban centres that will be truly enlightening to most of our viewers, and that will encourage them to explore anew the glorious environment Scotland has to offer.