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Bannan: Home-grown drama nurtures talent

Bannan trainees Mairead, Laura and Cristin with Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, and Richard Findlay, Chair of Creative Sco 

Filmed on location in Skye, Gaelic television drama Bannan follows Màiri MacDonald as she returns home to the island she escaped eight years ago, having left her family and the place along with its claustrophobia and customs. However, her homecoming is longer than anticipated as the emotional ties ('Bannan') renew their hold.

Produced by Young Films, commissioned by MG Alba and supported by Creative Scotland: Bannan’s pilot episode aired in September 2014 achieving BBC ALBA’s highest viewing figures since the channel’s launch in 2008.

Authentic ‘home-grown’ drama, both in terms of content and production, Bannan represents a significant investment of just under £1m into Gaelic language, Scottish film and TV training and drama content. The sustained use of Gaelic from conception to delivery ensures the series stays true to its cultural traditions while also appealing to national and international audiences alike (the series is shown with English subtitles).

Bannan is the brainchild of Chris Young, one of Scotland’s most successful working producers - Venus Peter (1989), Prague (1992), Gregory’s Two Girls (1999), The Final Curtain (2002), Festival (2005), Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle (2007), The Inbetweeners TV series 1 to 3 (2008-2011) and The Inbetweeners Movie (2011) – and founder of Young Films.

Training Programme

Now based in Skye, following a move from London in 2013, Young Films is committed to nurturing and developing new talent. Bannan has been testament to this commitment providing training and professional development for production, writing, directing, crew and acting talent, predominantly in the Gaelic speaking community. There are also opportunities for young traditional musicians to work with successful musician and composer Donald Shaw (Celtic Connections Artistic Director) in the creation of the soundtrack.

Young has developed a writers' room environment with writer, Charlie Martin (Teachers, Doc Martin, Wild at Heart) and new writer Chrisella Ross at the helm. In this way six emerging new Gaelic writers have collaborated in developing the 18 episode currently commissioned, as well as their own practice. Also joining the writers' room are three emerging Gaelic directors.

Nearly a fifth of the crew filming on September 2015 shoot (episodes 13-18) were involved in some sort of training or career progression or development. Two examples are Laura MacLennan who shadowed the Script Supervisor over the four week pilot shoot and subsequently was been Script Supervisor and script writer on the last two shoots in May and September 2015, and Paul Martin who rose to the position of focus puller on the September 2014 shoot having worked the previous year as a Camera Assistant.

Trainees

Further career development opportunities are provided on Bannan through the recruitment of trainees to cover key roles, from pre-production through to post-production; from scriptwriters, directors and editors.

Chris Young, Producer said: “Bannan was always going to provide a great opportunity for training Gaelic speakers and Scots interested in working in the media. Creating indigenous Scottish drama will always serve to deliver career progression and development opportunities for talent to hone their craft in Scotland.

“I believe Bannan provides a very good model for how we can significantly expand indigenous film and television production and training in Scotland. We are very proud of our trainees and the responsibilities they have taken on. Each has shown that given the opportunity they can thrive both creatively and professionally. I have no doubt that each of them will go on to be successful assets to the Scottish film and TV industry.

“I have always endeavoured to offer training and development opportunities where possible and this is something I hope to continue to do with future commissions in either Gaelic or English.”

Trainees reflect on their experiences on Bannan:

Cristin MacKenzie, Trainee Director: “My break into the media industry came about by attending the media course at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and gaining an industry placement. Subsequently I have worked in factual television but I made the transition into drama a few years ago, training and working as a script supervisor on several productions. The opportunity at Young Films is perfect as it allows me to pursue my ambition of directing and doing so in Gaelic, which means a great deal to me. Language, culture and storytelling are at my heart!” 

Laura MacLennan, Script Writer: “I’m from Barvas on the Isle of Lewis, and graduated in 2012 with a BA (Hons) Gaelic and Media Studies from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. I spent every summer as a student working as a researcher for BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, before moving to Glasgow to work as the Team Assistant to the head of BBC ALBA – and executive producer for Bannan. This role led me to a six-week attachment on the Bannan pilot, working alongside the script supervisor as a trainee, exchanging the craft of continuity for Gaelic assistance. Soon after, I returned to the Isle of Skye to work for Young Films full time, and to be the sole script supervisor on the Bannan series. Translating the scripts from Gaelic to English and my involvement in the script development has given me an extensive knowledge of the characters and of the Bannan style of writing – equipping me with all I would need to know, having been given the opportunity to write a couple of episodes for Bannan.

“Two years ago, I didn’t know what a script supervisor was, and I hadn’t done any creative writing since school. Now I’m relishing the challenges of being a script supervisor and honing my skills to write must watch TV – opportunities I’d never have got without Young Films.”

Mairead Hamilton, Trainee Director: “Having graduated from Glasgow University with a first class Honours in Gaelic and Film & Television I got my first opportunity of working on television drama as a runner on Bannan the pilot and as third assistant director on the pick-ups. This provided me a good baseline of knowledge and helped me to realise my ambition to direct. 

“Having expressed my interest in directing I was then given the opportunity to work as the directors' assistant (to directors Tony Kearney and Chris Young) on the following block of filming for Bannan (episodes 4-8). This experience was invaluable to me as I was given an insight into how a director prepares for the shoot; the importance of rehearsals, particularly on Bannan as many of the cast are not professional actors and for some this was their first experience of acting for television; how to adapt and modify your directing style to accommodate every individual actor so as to get the most out of the performance and much much more. All that I had learnt was put into practice in the final week when I was given the opportunity to direct two scenes. As a result of my work as directors' assistant, I was then offered the role of trainee director which would involve directing one of the five episodes of Series 2 (episodes 9-13). And with that in May of this year, following two weeks preparation, I embarked on directing episode 11 of Bannan Series Two. To say I am grateful to Chris Young, Morag Stewart, Tony Kearney and Young Films as a whole for this extraordinary opportunity is put it far too mildly! I have learnt so very much from my time on Bannan and it has been an absolute joy to see the evolution of the show and the actors and to work through the medium of the language which is integral to the story - Gaelic. 

“I am greatly looking forward to continuing on with Bannan. In September I,  once again, directed an episode of the show, consequently growing in confidence and experience and able to hone a visual and directing style reflective of both the show and myself.” 

Keir Greatorex, Assistant Editor: “Thanks to Young Films I have had the opportunity to begin at a level that otherwise would have been inaccessible to me with my level of experience.  Through this I have learnt, in depth, how to perform successfully in the role of Assistant Editor.  On top of this, being on an operating production I have learnt about many of the other roles that are necessary to make a shoot run smoothly.  It is thanks to this experience and the opportunities given to me that I will be skilled and confident enough to go out and get work on other productions in the future.”  

Watch

New episodes of Bannan will be broadcast on BBC ALBA early in January 2016.

This article was published on 22 Dec 2015