The making of Seachd: Part 4 - On Skye, where else?
It seems obvious that a film set on the Isle of Skye ought to be filmed on the Isle of Skye, but often the limitations of budget, requirements of funders and time constraints mean that more accessible places ought to be chosen in the name of professional caution and common sense. In this case, since professional caution and common sense would have meant that the first Scottish Gaelic feature film would never have been made, the Isle of Skye was the only place that Seachd could have been filmed.
When Simon Miller first sent the story outline for the short film, Foighidinn - The Crimson Snowdrop, to Christopher Young via email, he had no idea that that email was going to be read on the Isle of Skye, where Foighdinn and Seachd's producer lives. In fact, when Chris told Simon that he wanted to produce, there were two provisos. First, that the film must be in only Gaelic and that no alternative English version ought to be filmed. Second, that the locations for the film must be found within 20 minutes of Chris' house next to the Gaelic College in Sleat, South Skye. Simon agreed, although it quickly became clear that Chris and Simon were of a like mind over one particular exception - that they would carry the camera equipment up to the Inaccessible Pinnacle on top of Sgurr Dearg in the Cuillin mountains to film in the location described in the script - something that had never been attempted before.
Since the short film was shot entirely on the Isle of Skye, it was obvious that the feature must be and even before the script was finished locations were being sought across the island (stretching a little bit beyond the 20 minute limit of the short film).
Seachd - The Inaccessible Pinnacle features the telling of four of Grandfather's incredible stories set in different time periods. There was absolutely no possibility of affording to build sets for the film. Every location would need to be found and used as is, except for set dressing. The outside locations were challenging to say the least:- A beach belonging to a small island in the 16th Century with a cave in which two characters could live; Moorland and extended beach on which to hold a Highland pony race; An abandoned croft and black-house which could be reconstructed and subsequently burned down; A 19th Century marketplace in which a travelling magician could perform; An large, old and grand Skye house with many rooms for Grandfather's house; and various mountainous locations (with greater or lesser degrees of danger) up which teams of camera equipment sherpa's could ascend without undue risk to life and limb.
As it turned out, after filming Foighidinn on Skye, Simon had constructed many of the scenes with specific locations in mind and, along with Stephen Burt, Gordon Location Manager and with Calum, Iain, and Christina (the Gaelic-speaking Co-Directors) virtually every location was found within 20 minutes of Chris's house.
At ach na cloich a beach was found with a cave just right for two 16th Century oddballs. At Breakish (near to the old Isle of Skye airport runway) the moorland and beach were found were Highland ponies could safely run a race. At Kilmuir an old black-house was found that could be thatched temporarily by John (who had actually been the thatcher on Braveheart) - and whilst the views of it were restricted by over-head cables, the local fire brigade could gain access so it could actually be burned down. In the end, Grandfather's house was constructed from 3 different houses - the exterior in South Sleat, the panelled room and kitchen within Chris Young's next door neighbour's house and the bedrooms and hallways and Ceilidh room on the road to Elgol from Broadford.
One of the greatest challenges was to find a location for the travelling magician's show. In the original script, the show was supposed to be a private performance of the Duke of Sutherland in his opulent castle. Breaking the Isle of Skye rule, the most obvious location was Eileen Donan castle on the mainland (very recognisably used in Highlander and James Bond) and it seemed obvious that the central (and opulent) hall was the ideal location - already decked out with furniture from the period. Of course, low budget film-making hardly ever runs as smoothly as that and neither the offered shooting hours (two consecutive through-the-night shoots) nor the cost (far beyond the budget of our film) could be fitted swallowed and so - well into the shoot - the location and script simply had to change. In the end Simon hurriedly re-imagined the scene as taking place in a out-ruled Highland market place and found the location for it in an old steadings opposite his shoot home. Both Stephen Burt (Production Manager) and Laurel Wear (Production Design) needed a little persuasion but with an incredible effort from all the crew, the location was cleared, made safe, lit and a sudden requirement for 19th extras met within just a few days and a newly written scene (finished just two nights before the shoot) was shot virtually without a hitch (apart from a few lost chickens) - although by the skin of our teeth.
Skye is one of the most beautiful islands in the world, with some of the most dramatic mountains and cliffs, ancient woodland, sandy beaches and enormous variety of landscape. The film was shot mostly in May and June, certainly the best months from the perspective of weather with - in the end - only two days effected by rain (one of the horse race days was washed out, and the crew made a emergency high speed trip back from Loch Coruisk by rib boat when a storm threatened to keep them there for the night). The meanbh-chuileag (midges) were - of course - a menace in all of the woodland and near water locations, but Stephen Burt, our production manager, had cleverly provided all cast and crew with a Skye welcome pack which included a attractive piece of head gear called a "midgy net" and Avon skin-so-soft, a moisturising cream known to deflect the bites of midges.
With the film shot on HD (High Definition digital video), it was easier to be able to catch the incredibly changes of light and weather that happen in moments on the island. At weekends, Ian Dodds (Director of Photography) and Simon were able to travel the island, following the good weather and the dramatic landscape to secure a large amount of footage of simply the island itself. On one particular evening, around 11:00 at night (it never gets very dark at night in Skye in the summer months since it's so far north), the sky started to light up in incredible reds and pinks. Ian and Simon, who lived together during the shoot, raced out to Elgol to shoot across a couple of hours the most incredible sunset across the Cuillin mountains - footage of which appears in the film. Of course, they were eaten incessantly by legions of midges, but that's all in a day's work when you film in the Hebrides.
In this series:
The making of Seachd - Part 1: In the beginning
The making of Seachd - Part 2: And then there were seven
The making of Seachd - Part 3: Seachd seachd (7) drafts