BEGINS the website of the Gaelic Media Service, MG ALBA (here): “A new landmark documentary on BBC ALBA is to provide a rare glimpse into the work of the offshore oil industry in Scotland.
“For decades, oil in Scotland has been the subject of thousands of column inches across the media but little is discussed about what it takes to work in this challenging and highly-technical sector.
“What is it like to leave the comfort of your own home and fly in a helicopter to work in the middle of the sea?
“What does it feel like to work 12-hour shifts for 14 days straight with no days off whilst away from family?”
Air na Rigs (Life Offshore) is being broadcast this evening, on BBC ALBA, at 2100.
Here, Patricia Macleod, with the programme makers, Midas Media, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the programme?
BBC ALBA commissioned Midas Media to produce this one-hour documentary funded by MG ALBA.
We had successfully pitched the idea in 2012 but had to put the project on hold as the installations we were visiting were undergoing a takeover.
We were able to resubmit our pitch in 2014 and the cameras first rolled on the Buzzard installation in September 2014.
Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’.
The programme is designed to be observational and the story is being told through the eyes of the people at the sharp end.
In order to make it look and feel real, we filmed most of it hand-held, saving the tripod for the scenic, establishing shots.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
Because it is an ‘ob doc’, we use a small production team.
Scott Brown was cameraman/director, with myself as producer who also asked all the questions on location.
We have worked together successfully as an ob doc team for a few years; eg Seo Am Pleana (Loganair), Eadar Duil is Dochas (Football Crazy), Donald Trump’s Golf War, and we are now on to our third series of Vets.
The key to acquiring good material for an ob doc is to capture reality as it is happening, ‘in the moment’, which produces an end result that looks very real, genuine and sincere.
As producer, one of the greatest skills is judging when to speak and when not – to allow things to evolve naturally in front of you.
The other key member of the team is Jonny Craigmile who is the editor, but he goes way beyond the role of just being the picture editor. He has a producer role too when constructing the programmes – so we give this joint role of producer/editor the great the new title of ‘preditor’!
He is exceptionally skilled at building the narrative and keeping the viewers engaged.
Timing and pace is key, plus the selection of good music to drive the emotion.
What kit and software?
We used a Canon 305 for all the filming, which we captured in HD 1080p.
Plus, we used a GoPro for those hard-to-reach places such as underwater for the survival training sequences, and on board the helicopter as it travelled offshore on a normal crew change flight when we would not be able to use the larger camera, for safety reasons.
Pictures are of course important, but I always feel that Sound is one of the most critical factors in a good ob doc.
We used a full-size Sennheiser 416 microphone, complete with Rycote shield and fluffy cover to cope with the windy conditions.
We also used a Sony radio mic for the key character we were following at any one time – something that allowed us to capture their story much more naturally.
Although the delivery requirement is SD, the offline edit was completed in HD on Avid Media Composer.
The sound dub was carried out by Gordon MacKenzie on ProTools.
What were the main production challenges?
The first and greatest challenge was securing access to go offshore in the first place.
A few years ago, I had said that I would love to go offshore, just for a day.
You need to be careful what you wish for, because I ended up doing just that.
Of course, I first had to complete a five-day offshore survival training course before I was allowed anywhere near an oil rig.
After that first experience, I was determined to see if we could persuade an oil company to allow us to do an ob doc to show people what it is really like to work offshore.
Once we got there, the greatest challenge was making the most of the time we had on the oil platforms, and the environment was far from ideal for filming.
Inside the accommodation blocks, there is the constant hum of the air handling system, and outside – on the decks – there was often a wind blowing as well as the noise from the pumps all around us.
Gordon had plenty of challenges in the sound dub.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
The thing I value most as a TV producer is the complete privilege we have in meeting people and getting access to places not normally available to the general public.
Producing this documentary was a great example of that.
Living in Aberdeen, you can’t avoid knowing a lot about oil and gas.
Getting to explore all aspects of offshore work – eg technicians, deck crew, chemists, managers, drillers, caterers, etc.
Standing on the drill floor and seeing the drilling process at first hand was a definite ‘moment’.
I learnt some interesting facts such as how hot oil can be as it comes on board – which shouldn’t be a surprise really as it is being extracted from deep below the earth’s crust.
I enjoyed meeting all the different disciplines offshore, and I know the programme will be of as much interest to those who work offshore as to those who have never been.
After working on a project for a long period, it is always a funny feeling releasing it out to the wider world – a mixture of nerves and excitement.
It’s been so personal to you for such a long time and suddenly it becomes public property.
I enjoyed being part of a team that had a unique chance to capture a secretive and guarded world, and I hope the end result is enjoyed by many.