2017 has been a fast and exhilarating journey for Maramedia. Kick starting the year working with David Attenborough for the voiceover of ‘Hotel Armadillo’ makes you question how you can seriously continue the year on the up, considering you started at the top!
We did however manage to maintain this momentum and it set us on the path of ‘Gudrun The Viking Princess’, a unique new format combining drama and factual entertainment for young children. The series of 20 x 5mins episodes for CBeebies mixes wildlife and landscapes, Viking history and a rich family of characters. Beautifully filmed in stunning Scottish surroundings, this enchanting series was commissioned by Kay Benbow for CBeebies and soon snowballed the team into a busy period of production.
Meanwhile our one-off documentary on the Menopause authored by Kirsty Wark was also transmitting to great acclaim both on BBC2 Scotland and BBC1 network. The show also went on to gain Maramedia’s first ever Scottish BAFTA nomination. In fact, it was a good year overall for nominations with an Emmy nod for Ewan McGregor’s Highlands narration and 2 further nominations at Jackson Hole. No wins alas, but you can’t really complain!
Hotel Armadillo our co-comission with BBC Natural World and PBS Nature in America aired in the spring to great reviews and ratings. This was a real passion project for us that celebrated the important conservation work by RZSS Giant Armadillo Scientist Arnaud Debiez and his dedicated team. The footage also showed the first ever broadcast footage of a baby Giant Armadillo. David Attenborough narrated the show in his true eloquent and enthusiastic style and also provided us with some great social media shorts about his own searches for this elusive animal!
Considering that our debut 4K commission WILD WAY OF THE VIKINGS was also up and running, we were very much into a Viking Themed Summer. For the VIKING film, which is a commission for PBS, BBC Scotland, ORF, France 5 and Nat Geo (it’s going to have the longest credit line ever!) we were soon planning trips to Norway, Iceland and Shetland, which was the main focus for our first season of filming. Closer to home our exciting blue chip special on the wildlife of Shetland for BBC Scotland was also underway with teams covering the stunning beauty of this archipelago. Both shows deliver later in 2018.
Fergus, was our main team member on the ground in Shetland, working throughout the duration of the summer, on the islands, and gives us an insight into what is was like filming on the most northerly parts of the British Isles.
Fergus Gill: Cameraman
My first week or so was spent scouting out filming locations stretching from Unst in the far North to Fair Isle in the South. The scenery was stunning and I had a great time meeting the locals, all filled to the brim with knowledge and great humour. Brydon Thomason and Richard Shucksmith were so helpful throughout the summer and they didn’t even seem to get fed up of us either, quite the achievement! I found all too quickly the local dialect and phrases filter their way into your own vocabulary. Whilst I was up there for 3 months I wasn’t alone, as a team we had people coming and going throughout summer months, with Raymond, Pete, Justin and Jackie all spending time 60° North. Justin definitely had the worst luck of anyone, only ever visiting when the weather was at its worst, I’m not sure he believed me when I said it was sunny before he arrived.
As a group of islands Shetland was much larger than I anticipated, mainland is a big old island, and the archipelago itself has over 1000 miles of spectacular coastline. Every week I spent there I was discovering somewhere new. It’s that kind of place, where every corner seems to hide another dramatic stretch of coast. I remember standing high above the cliffs at Hermaness, home to tens of thousands of gannets, thinking I can’t imagine there’s a more spectacular view anywhere in the UK.
Throughout the summer months, we were incredibly lucky to see so many fantastic animals from otters, gannets, divers, terns and phalaropes to even the occasional pod of orca. Just getting to see so many exciting species was a privilege, getting to film them was a pretty good bonus! We were blessed with great weather, the only real exception being our week long camp on Mousa, characterised by gale force winds and pouring rain. But then it might create a false impression if there was only ever blue skies!
When I got back home it took me a few days to get used to not travelling by boat, a novelty that became the norm and good fun too. It might have taken me longer than I’d have liked to visit Shetland for the first time, but it certainly won’t take as long for me to go back.
Alongside Fergus in Shetland for the summer, and various filming trips to the island by Raymond Besant, Justin Purefoy, Jackie Savery and Pete Barden, we also had major filming trips for our ambitious landmark project, WILD WAY OF THE VIKINGS taking place. Cameramen Neil Anderson and Steven McGee-Callender spent over 2 weeks filming in Iceland for the project, producing some exceptional imagery from this stunning location and Norwegian cameraman Asgeir Helgestad managed to get some superb walrus images from a trip to Svalbard.
Back in Glasgow, a whirlwind of a summer began for the team at Maramedia, (not just because of the Scottish weather!) but with the addition of former head of BBC Scotland children’s production – Simon Parsons, to help with the launch of the new ‘Marakids’ brand and the filming for Cbeebies, ‘Gudrun the Viking Princess’ series one.
Our small team travelled around parts of Scotland and Ireland filming both for Viking Princess and Wild Way of the Vikings. We worked with our child cast and Viking cast throughout the summer in various magical locations!
The saying goes “never to work with children or animals” and there we were embarking on an adventure that covered, working with children, animals (trained and wild) and then we threw in some Vikings and their boats to that mix for good measure! Safe to say this greatly paid off for us with series one of ‘Gudrun the Viking Princess’ to be released Christmas 2017! We were thrilled that David Tennant agreed to narrate this new series and gives such a brilliant tone to the series.
The team had a fantastic time working with all our cast, animals, locations and everyone involved in the making of series one. To see a production come full circle, from start to finish, really is a rewarding experience!
We were also able to cut together the terrific footage from Norway, Iceland and Ireland into a new taster for WILD WAY OF THE VIKINGS which Nigel was able to present to our partners at the Jackson Hole festival in October. Jackie was also able to represent Scottish production at the World Congress of Science in San Francisco making new relationships with broadcasters and broadening our slate internationally.
We were thrilled to receive funding from both Creative Scotland and Scottish Enterprise and of course our very significant production funding from the EU Media Fund.
It has been a year of partnerships and we are very grateful to all the broadcasters, partners, charities, locations, individuals and animals we have worked with this year we look forward to continuing these partnerships and friendships in 2018.
We end the year with our ‘Shetland’ programme coming together in the offline edit, 2018, ‘Wild way of the Vikings’ in its filming stages, both due for release late 2018. A thrilling new potential commission currently under wraps for a new partner Broadcaster, and of course ‘Gudrun the Viking Princess’, series one - delivered as a box set on BBC iPlayer on Christmas Day 25th December 2017 and broadcast on CBeebies January 15th 2018 at 17:35, 2 episodes daily.
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Cheers from us all at Maramedia!