First film to be made in isles for 73 years wins approval in planned location of Fetlar

Ron McMillan (left) and Jim Brown in Lerwick earlier this week. Click on image to enlarge.
Ron McMillan (left) and Jim Brown in Lerwick earlier this week. Click on image to enlarge.

The first movie to be shot entirely in Shetland for 73 years could begin filming next year.

Film maker Jim Brown and author Ron McMillan are in the process of writing a script for a film that would be made here and include local actors, crews and music.

They have been in the isles this week on one of several missions to investigate the possibility of doing the film here and shooting in Fetlar.

The film plot centres around the efforts of a lonely old crofter, Geordie, to lure more people back to the faltering isle of Fustra. Among his obstacles are dwindling numbers of folk, arguing locals, a lack of funding and, in a classic case of life imitating art, an American business tycoon who wants to turn the isle into a golf course.

While it is a purely fictional story, some of the issues it deals with will be familiar to many small communities. It almost seems fitting that Fetlar, whose battles against depopulation and efforts to rejuvenate life are well documented, should be the location.

Readers may remember Mr McMillan, a writer and photographer who spent five weeks here in 2005 researching a travel book of the same name Between the Weathers. It was his experiences here that first gave him the idea for the story.

He said: “I wrote it based on what I picked up when I was researching my travel book about Shetland. As with any work of fiction it has a little piece of this and a piece of that.”

Meanwhile, Mr Brown happened to see Shetland on an episode of BBC One’s Coast and fell in love with the idea of producing a film shot here.

Mr Brown said: “I thought, my god, that is just fantastic. I then read an Ann Cleeves book and it was so atmospheric and I that’s when I said to Ron, is there anything we could set in Shetland?

“I didn’t realise it was such a beautiful place and what we hope to do with the film is to show the world, and say you should see this place.”

Mr McMillan said: “Jim asked me early in the year to devise a treatment, a basic synopsis, of the plot for Shetland and I liked the idea of local people working together despite the problems of depopulation.

“It’s not a new idea in that depopulation was of course at the middle of [Michael Powell’s film] The Edge of the World [and] it’s probably, as far as we know, the last film to be shot in Shetland.”

This is something Mr Brown thinks is a real shame: “It’s far too long because it is the most fabulous, beautiful place. Even in the miserable weather it’s got some sort of atmosphere that should have been captured by now.”

The team are well placed to take the project on. Mr Brown is a writer, producer and director who has worked in the film and TV industry for over 20 years. His long list of projects include films, chat shows including Trisha and international and UK game shows including Countdown. He is the only British person to direct Australian soap Neighbours.

The pair held a public meeting in Fetlar on Tuesday night to present the idea to the community and find out their thoughts on it.

Fetlar community councillor James Rendall said the meeting had been “splendid”. He said: “Most folk were there, there was only a couple that didn’t make it so it was a fairly good cross section of the demographic here.”

Mr Rendall said they had the film explained to them and the idea of shooting it entirely on the isle and all that would entail. They then had a question and answer session and a show of hands to indicate support for the project.

Mr McMillan said the meeting had gone “really well” with “virtually unanimous” support for the idea, something that was important to both him and Mr Brown.

Mr McMillan said: “It would make such a difference if the project was to be embraced by the local community; the last thing we want is to be seen as a bunch of folks coming and camping and using and wandering away.”

The social impact of the film is evidently something very important to them, and the possibility of highlighting community issues and perhaps giving something back is part of the draw of the project.

Mr McMillan said: “From the start we’ve always thought that while we’re making a feel good film it would be mad not to deal with real issues. Its fiction, but it’s based on challenges that are real challenges that are facing real islanders on real islands.

“The opening few lines of the treatment is the last kid has left the school so the school’s closing … And people in Shetland will know that it’s when the school goes that the heart gets pulled out of the community and the community dies, or at least goes on a downward track.

“There’s bound to be opportunities and not just during production but we hope the film draws people to Shetland.”

Mr Brown said he hopes the film will bring film buffs and tourists to Shetland: “It’s Local Hero for the 21st century and I would be really disappointed if Between Weathers didn’t do for Shetland what Local Hero did for Pennan.

“You couldn’t get near Pennan; I mean it’s changed now, but it just had a vibrancy because people wanted to see it.”

Making an entire film on a relatively remote island in the north of Scotland does of course have its drawbacks, with the most problematic being funding: setting up a crew and cast of approximately 50 people, for 30 days, has huge logistical problems, which will cost a considerable amount of money.

They are looking at a number of different options for funding including Scottish Screen, which was said to be “making positive noises”.

Mr Brown said however that despite these problems it would be worth it: “I definitely want to set it on an island, like Fetlar, I don’t want to shoot it outside [Lerwick] and make it look like an island because you wouldn’t get the real feeling.

“I really want to film everything in Shetland, absolutely everything; I don’t want to shoot the pretty stuff and head off to London and do studio mock ups of bars and pubs and cottages.”

If all goes to plan shooting will begin next summer. The team hope to include as many Shetland actors and extras as possible, and have been in discussions with John Haswell of Shetland Arts to discuss casting.

With the film planned to be completed around the same time as the opening of Mareel, there are also hopes the premiere could be held there, as well as a simultaneous screening in Fetlar.

And as well as Shetland actors and technicians, the team are keen to use Shetland musicians. Aly Bain has been commissioned to write the soundtrack, something that will appeal to music fans around the world and hopefully inspire interest in the film.


Add Your Comment
  • Michael Stuart.

    • November 7th, 2009 17:34

    Well I hope you have more luck with your film than I’ve been having.
    I have a treatment for a script that I have been trying to get off the ground for years. Like yours – based in Shetland. It is based on true events that happened in WW11.
    I lived in Shetland for 7 years and still visit 2 or 3 times a year. Like you I want to use local acting talent – it wouldn’t work with any established celebrity actors.

    Michael Stuart.


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