BEGINS the BBC (here): “Johann Sebastian Bach’s majestic Cello Suites are among the world’s best-loved pieces of music – but did another Bach write them? Australian musical sleuth, Martin Jarvis, explosively claims the suites were composed not by Bach, but by his much-loved second wife, Anna Magdalena.”
‘Written by Mrs Bach’ is being broadcast this evening on BBC Four, at 2000.
Here, Alex McCall, of Glasgow Films and director of ‘Written By Mrs Bach’, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the programme?
The programme was acquired by Carol Sennett and Jan Younghusband at BBC Four, but was initially commissioned by SRF (Switzerland) and MDR (Germany).
Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’.
The real challenge was to convert a 600-page PhD thesis into a film. Then, once the basic story was identified, to plot the key ‘turning points’. In the end, we decided the premise would be ‘The Da Vinci Code’ meets ‘Amadeus’.
Including Scotland, there were five other key international locations. The trick was to make them clearly identifiable, but to keep the overall ‘look’ of the film feel the same.
The purpose of the film was to show that there are creative female composers who have been hidden from history and robustly challenge the myth of the sole male creator – using modern forensic techniques to substantiate that premise.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
Roughly 50 per cent of the filming was carried out in Scotland, including two key interviewees and all the reconstructions and graphics.
In Scotland, Douglas Campbell was the DoP and Allan Young the sound recordist, both having worked for Glasgow Films on a regular basis.
The reconstructions and graphics were designed by Jason and Vicki Brown of Greenlight Creative and the actors used were all from Scotland.
All post-production was carried out at Edit123 in Glasgow under the supervision of Colin Seeley and edited by Richard Vint who provided the creative flair and the expert colourist capabilities we were looking for.
June Toner managed the UK production while Sally Beamish, a composer herself, and based in Glasgow, was the obvious choice as narrator.
Robert Beedham of Glasgow Films wrote the narrative and was also producer. Most were recruited because of previous association with the company. Executive producer was Pamela Kaufman, who is London-based.
What kit and software?
XDCAM and HDCAM for the shoot and Avid for the post-production.
What were the main production challenges?
I think the main challenge was satisfying the respective briefs and the needs of three major commissioning bodies and, of course, the distillation of a 600-page PhD thesis and converting that into a film.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
The learning curve was of epic proportions and the pressure was most definitely ‘full-on’. But every single member of the team got a massive adrenaline ‘rush’ from such ‘sharp-end’ exposure – especially when working in foreign countries with different languages with local staff.
Filmmaking is always a bittersweet experience but the rewards can be fantastic.