Producers Olivia Gifford and Katie Crook have interviewed each other about making the Bridging the Gap short In Search of the Wallaby, the difference between producing documentary and fiction, and working with the Scottish Documentary Institute (SDI).
O: Ok so first of all, how did we get involved in this?
K: Initially we got invited along to an SDI pitching day along with several other producers. We listened to all of the 12 shortlisted pitches from the writer/directors and gave feedback live on each project. It was a really great day for us, although probably harrowing for each of the directors. From there SDI and Creative Scotland chose four final projects, and we were then approached to come in and produce on one of them. We met Alasdair Bayne and Andrew O'Connor, got on well, and there we were helping them to make In Search of the Wallaby.
O: What did you think of the films selected?
K: Creative Scotland and the Scottish Documentary Institute picked an interesting and mixed bunch of films; some were observational snapshots, others had more of a narrative drive. We were more surprised by some of the ones that weren’t picked as a lot of the pitches we’d seen were excellent.
O: What’s your prior experience with documentary?
K: Mainly as an avid watcher and appreciator really. I’ve production-managed on the feature The First Movie with Mark Cousins and also researched on another feature documentary called Noone But Me about jazz singer Annie Ross. 'Wallaby' was the first time of producing one though.
K: Had you worked with Alasdair or Andrew (the co-directors) before? Were you aware of them at all?
O: No, never. We’d heard their names bandied about but not worked with them. First time we became aware of them was at the pitch and then when they came in to meet us. They sent us their short film Bird (which is very good, you should seek it out, just screened at Encounters 2012).
K: What research did we start pulling in?
O: Well the premise of the documentary was a real incident from 2004, so there was news material online as well as speculation as to the mystery. This doesn’t give anything away, but we were interested in how a wallaby could end up there, and found blogs talking about the colony that was introduced onto Inchconnachan Island in Loch Lomond, and then later abandoned. This was amazing to us – who has the means to introduce a colony and then lose interest? Unfortunately, this took us too far from Islay in a 10-minute documentary, but cursory research was definitely interesting and these wallabies have reportedly since been massacred.
We also had archived BBC news footage available to us, which became a large part of the film, and of course the question of what the difference was between a kangaroo and a wallaby (this was a real science lesson).
K: When setting out the budget for the production process, what were the largest areas of cost? How did it compare to budgeting for a short film of the same budget?
O: The biggest area of budget for this one was actually accommodation – partly because we were shooting over Easter holidays and prices rise for tourists on Islay, but also because the crew were out there for so long (one month). Ferries and transport were also pretty pricey, and then as always post-production costs. I suppose the main difference to fiction was not having to employ actors and, particularly on lower budget shorts, covering props and costumes.
K: Ali and Andrew were commissioned in February 2012, and we came on to produce in March with a final delivery date of early June. How were these three months divided?
O: Basically, we did a month of prep, booking equipment, accommodation, travel, researching into local authorities and people to interview, scheduling, and budgeting. Then a month of shooting on the island, and finally a month of editing and post production. Pretty simple divide really.
O: You went out to Islay for a week to help the crew out, what was being shot at the time? What was the experience like? Who made up the crew?
K: We shot the stuff with Toby Roxburghe on the farm, then some GV footage around the island and also some bits and pieces with Michael Corson and the local pipe band. The weather was beautiful, think I was sending back pictures of the beach and the filming and it was brilliant blue skies whilst everyone in Edinburgh was enjoying the usual drizzle. It felt like a holiday in parts, it was quite loosely organised around interviewees’ daily schedules, but we all pitched in with watching back footage and cooking meals for one another. There were Ali and Andrew directing and shooting, with Colin Chipchase recording sound, and Drew Taylor was second camera. Then I was just pushing people along and putting them at their ease and getting release forms signed.
K: What was your experience of working with the Scottish Documentary Institute? How involved were they with the process?
O: SDI were hard-working but also really relaxed and flexible. It was exciting to see Finlay, Flore, Noe and Sonja working on the four Bridging the Gap shorts alongside their own feature projects so passionately and devotedly – we definitely got the sense we were collaborating with an active production company. They were involved but didn’t push too much on the large creative decisions. The advertising for the [Edinburgh International Film Festival] screening was also top notch, screen 1 at the Cameo was completely sold out at the premiere, and their continued drive at pushing the films out there to festivals is invaluable.
K: Would we like to work on other documentaries?
O: Definitely! It’s been a real learning curve and opened our eyes a lot to the possibilities. A while back we developed some treatments for BBC Radio 4’s factual series – short radio documentaries about niche occupations and unusual illnesses (separately!). Maybe these are ripe for exploring cinematically, we shall see what the future holds.
In Search of the Wallaby had its premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June and will screen at the Inverness Film Festival in November.