Rosie was at her desk hard at work, or more accurately, surfing Facebook, where she came across a post by STV Creative looking for people to be filmed going to Islay for the first time. It was for a Visit Scotland short video that would encourage we Scots to explore our own country a little more… or at all.
Rosie thought she had an interesting reason for going. Our house overlooked West Loch Tarbert and for 7 years we had looked down onto the Kennacraig ferry terminal where the Islay ferry departs. We had watched the ferry pass up and down the loch below us and almost daily thought “We really should go to Islay. Maybe tomorrow?” Tomorrow never came and we moved to Skye and took our regrets with us.
STV Creative liked the sound of our story and it was agreed that at the beginning of March we would head off back to our old stamping ground of north Kintyre and meet up with a film crew.
We were staying in the Stonefield Castle hotel near Tarbert the night before meeting the crew. The hotel was another place we had passed almost every day but had only been in once for dinner so it was another neat tying up of old loose ends. Also a way of me achieving my goal of having as many full cooked breakfasts as I can.
The next morning after the first full cooked breakfast of the trip we set off to the ferry and met up with the crew who would be filming us and the chaperone who would be looking after our children. That was pretty much the last we saw of the kids. The children immediately took to their nanny and ignored us.
We were wired for sound. The wires were run under our clothes from transmitters in pockets to microphones on our collars. They stayed there all day for both days of the shoot, held in place with increasing amounts of tape.
As photographers we are used to techy equipment but the amount of stuff the STV Creative crew had was really impressive. There were two cars with boots filled with bottles of water and junk food and a large Transit van filled with lights, camera, stands, sound equipment, gels and a tripod. Sorry, I should get with the jargon and say sticks not a tripod. There was probably quite a lot of junk food in the van too.
Our first experience with the crew was doing a piece to camera where we sat and spouted some stilted drivel about why we were here and what we were looking forward to seeing. The minute Blair the director said action I became a mumbling, dry mouthed, empty headed humourless stumbling verbal oaf. I wouldn’t shut up while the camera was turned off but the minute it was pointed at me…
We sat for what seemed an age on sharp and damp rocks being filmed watching the ferry arrive. It was our first introduction to sitting around and not being important. The finished images were the important bits and we were just a small part in achieving that. We would sit still, moving closer when told, it was always closer, until Carlo the cameraman was happy with what was in the frame then there would be muttering and the camera would move a little, some more filming then another move. Blair would finally declare himself content. That would be when Marcin the sound guy would declare himself not quite so happy and could we go again?
We were glad to get on the ferry and stop having cold bottoms.
The MV Finlagan is very warm and comfortable inside. Unfortunately we all had to spend half the journey across the sound of Jura outside battling a tremendous wind to do “admiring the lovely view” shots with the distinctive Caledonian MacBrayne red and black funnel in the background. It may have looked good but it offered no protection from the elements. We stood trying to look at the view while being blown to bits and soaked in spray. The rest of the passengers sat on the other side of the thick protective windows highly entertained by us while enjoying their lunch.Carlo and Blair enjoying the sea breeze”
We finished the ferry filming and had our lunch. Nicole the runner, the person who makes sure that everything happens smoothly, asked what we all wanted to eat and drink. She was relying on ordering lots of diet coke for, as she pointed out, everybody drinks diet coke. This was when the only production crisis occurred. Calmac doesn’t do diet coke. There had to be some rapid re-evaluation of drinks orders. As disasters go it was highly survivable.
When we arrived in Port Askaig on Islay there was a rush to the cars and vans. My seat in the car had been taken by Carlo the camera man and Blair the director. Beth the producer drove the car off the ferry with the boys filming a “we’re leaving the ferry shot.” I got trapped on the far side of the car deck from the other car and the van and stood watching everybody drive off without me. The little convoy then drove off round a bend and out of sight. I was stuck on the deck waiting for the rest of the cars and lorries to disembark before I could dash down the ramp in a gap between two articulated lorries and take my first steps on Islay. I was alone and with no clue as to where I was and where everybody had gone. I eventually found all the vehicles in a car park at the back of the village. Everybody was tucking into biscuits and cakes while being introduced to Rachel our local guide.Rosie on the pier while the crew set up behind her.
Our first port of call was Loch Finlaggan. There are two small islands at one end of the loch The smaller one is the ancient council island of the Lords of the Isles and the larger had a collection of atmospheric ruins. It is brimming over with of history. We were shown round by Donald Bell who was much more comfortable in front of camera than I was. Donald was filmed telling a potted history of Finlaggan repeatedly from many angles. We nodded and repeatedly looked interested from the opposite angles.
Beth the producer, the boss of the shoot, then hustled us back to the cars and van and we zoomed off to Port Charlotte and our hotel. The shoot was on a tight schedule and delays were not acceptable. Islay looks softer and less grimly Presbyterian than our home island of Skye. There are farms and fields where we have crofts and cottages. There are also geese, almost 60,000 of them. They were everywhere. I may have bored the pants of everybody pointing them out.
We were staying in the Port Charlotte Hotel and it was lovely. All homely, warm and inviting. Very Scottish and very comfortable. Our task for the first night was to eat some food, watch local musicians play in the bar and look like we enjoyed whisky. The first two were easy the last a bit more tricky. It may be a little late but I should now confess to not liking whisky. Islay has 7 distilleries and is renowned world-wide for the quality and quantity of it’s malts. Rosie is none too keen on the water of life either but we faked it pretty well. Rosie also faked enjoying the fab locally caught crayfish we were pretending to have for dinner. We had already eaten dinner so it was okay that we had to sit with a mountain of crustaceans sitting in front of us for ages while the camera’s lens of choice demisted. Though once the shot was got I descended on them like a shark.
It seemed to us old timers that the entire crew were about 14 years old and I felt even more out of touch when we came down for dinner and I noticed that everybody had diet cokes (at last), lemonades and water in front of them. “We’re still working.” Rosie and I had a glass of red wine and a fine Islay Ale respectively. I felt like an aged alcoholic.
I felt better the next morning when I heard mutterings of whisky being sampled after the gear had been packed away. Though I was annoyed at how fresh and cheerful they all were if there had been strong drink taken.
Our first location of the day was the beach near Kilchoman. The weather gods were against us. It was pouring with rain and blowing a gale. Just like home. The beach was huge and backed by dramatic dunes. Our dogs would have loved it but they were in kennels on Skye. The camera crew liked it a lot less. Not a fun way to film. They still made us walk all over the beach looking a bit too windswept and not interesting enough. We were soon steaming up the car and off to our next location.
This was the Islay Woollen Mill. Not like the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, purveyors of cardigans, tartan rugs and cheesy CDs. This was a working mill. It was filled with mighty machines that weave fabulous tweedy stuff. It was old, oily and fabulously atmospheric.
From there we moved on to the Bridgend Hotel for lunch. We were to be filmed eating some of their fine dining creations. That meant sitting watching a plate of pheasant and a plate of monkfish go cold while Carlo and Blair found the right shot/angle/light. The food, the hotel and the staff were lovely. This seems to be a recurring theme on Islay.
Next up was Laphroaig Distillery which is at the end of the longest straight bit of non motorway road I had ever been on.
We arrived, we learned how whisky was made and then we spent what seemed like hours while the perfect shot of a smoky peat fire was captured.Due to the photogenic nature of a distillery we were behind schedule and there was a dash to Port Ellen to meet Florence, Islay’s secret PR weapon of verbal mass destruction. We were to be filmed sitting at a bar while she told us why Islay is so special. She was awesome. In one 5 minute take she sold the island to us. Everything that Visit Scotland wanted and a whole lot more. She even got a few sly digs in about why Islay is better than Skye. Then she was asked to do it again. Which she did. What a star.
And that was it. There was a hurried charge from Port Ellen to Port Askaig to get to a hotel for our dinner before the ferry left. Rachel, being organised, had phoned ahead with our order which was ready when we arrived. Unfortunately that was 5 minutes before we were due to leave. The Port Askaig Hotel are used to this. They changed our orders to carry out and shooed us out the door and onto the ferry. One more piece to camera on the ferry and that was a wrap. We had started at 10am and finished at 10pm.
We disembarked and bid a fond farewell to the crew. Our children were in floods of tears to be leaving their chaperon/nanny/best friend ever. 10 minutes later we were in the Stonefield again resting before next morning’s third and final full cooked breakfast.
A week later we were sitting watching STV waiting for the ad break in Coronation St. I’ve never watched Corry before and I only had to watch the minute before the commercials this time. Then it was us. Our two days in Islay distilled down to our one minute and one second of fame. I thought it was fantastic except for me. I cringe when I see myself on the screen. That’s why I’m a photographer. Always behind the camera.
I may be a little self critical. Everybody who has stopped us while we walked the dogs around the village to tell about seeing us on telly have been complimentary, so have the people who mentioned it in the Co-Op and at last weekend’s mini-rugby tournament too. The video seems to have worked, many comments on our Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are about how people want to visit Islay now.
And you really should. It’s beautiful.
Producer – Beth Allan
Director – Blair Young
Director of Photography – Carlo D’Allesandro
Camera Assistant – Paul Forest
Sound – Marcin Knyziak
Runner – Nicole O’Neil
Chaperone – Katie Pritchard
Production Coordinator – Ashley McPherson
Island Guide – Rachel MacNeil