On 13 February 2019, spectacular Natural History meets Historical Epic as Wild Way of the Vikings, created by Maramedia, airs to U.S. audiences on PBS Nature.
Maramedia is a Scottish independent production company who specialise in Natural History. Most recently, you may have spotted their programme, Wild Shetland: Scotland’s Viking Frontier on BBC One, now available on BBC iPlayer.
Our colleagues at the Creative Europe Desk UK caught up with Nigel Pope, Founder and Creative Director of Maramedia, to hear all about the production process behind Wild Way of the Vikings, which received Creative Europe TV Programming Funding.
“Over the last few years we’ve made shows about the Hebrides, the Scottish Highlands and Shetland amongst other things." Nigel tells us. “We strive for the highest quality production values we can achieve. Most are narrated by Ewan McGregor, which gives the films a touch of Hollywood stardust. Wild Way of the Vikings was the most recent show in this cycle.”
A great opportunity to create a passion project
Speaking about the motivation behind creating Wild Way of the Vikings, and why it was an important story for Maramedia to tell, Nigel says “Wild Way of the Vikings grew out of our desire to create a Blue-Chip Natural History programme about the North Atlantic Islands. We added a re-enactment element when we realised that the Broadcasters found this interesting and exciting.
“I’ve always loved history and drama, so this was a great opportunity to create a passion project that also had pan-European resonance and real commercial potential too."
So, what were the most important aspects to cover in this series?
“We tried to find interesting stories connecting the Vikings to the Natural World that we could dramatise at each step of the Atlantic journey.
“And alongside this, we filmed blue chip animal behaviour to give the film depth, context and spectacle. There were a lot of challenges, but ultimately many of the sequences were among the most spectacular we’ve ever done.”
Animal meets Natural World
Creative Europe does not normally fund conventional nature documentaries, yet Wild Way of the Vikings was special enough to receive support from the TV Programming Funding. Nigel tells us why the show is a different species, so to speak.
“Wild Way of the Vikings does actually have some elements of a conventional Nature Film in that the viewer experiences some fascinating and beautifully shot behaviour in a range of beautiful, wild places.
“What really makes it different is that each animal that we meet has an interesting connection with the Natural World – sometimes the connection is mythological as in the Raven scene, sometimes there’s a commercial connection as with the walruses, sometimes it’s about navigation as, with the humpback whales and sometimes the Vikings, are connected by behaving or travelling in parallel as with the orcas.”
Filming outdoors in Scotland, Iceland and Norway
Creating such an epic nature film out in the elements is no small task – especially in Scotland, Iceland and Norway, where Maramedia shot Wild Way of the Vikings. We asked Nigel about the team’s approach to production planning and adapting to deal with weather changes.
“We built up the film a scene at a time. Generally shooting to a running order – but making many changes and amendments as we went. Sometimes we picked up a natural history sequence and added the Viking material later, then edited the sections together.
“More frequently, however, we risked everything and filmed the animal behaviour and Viking re-enactment at the same time. This was quite a gamble but when it came together as in the gannet and reindeer scenes it really is quite something!
“Of course, you are always at the mercy of the weather which can provide dramatic material but sometimes you have to completely re-think.
“One of our most expensive shoots was to film Humpback whales off the Newfoundland Coast with a very expensive stabilised rig on a boat. A storm came in and all the whales dispersed, and it took us a week to find them after that! There was no time to get 2 shots with a Viking re-enactor, so we had to go back to Norway and shoot some completely new Viking Ship material to cut in!”
“We absolutely love co-producing with the European Broadcasters. There’s such wonderful culture of support for documentary films and you really do make a lot of friends through working across the EU zone.
“Collaboration between different countries is strong too. Franz Fuchs, the Austrian commissioner introduced us to France 5, Henrik Eckman, the Swedish buyer from SVT helped with DRin Denmark and ORF-E the distributor helped with the overall application.
“We also have a good relationship with a company called Crossing The Line in the Republic of Ireland, they’ve made some great films with the help of MEDIA and they helped out with introductions and advice. In fact, now I think of it, it was John Murray, the Managing Director of CTL who introduced me to Franz and that started it all off! So, we are grateful to him and his team.”
“The film also allowed us to blend disciplines and work with historical and natural history experts right across Europe bringing together not only film makers but also academics and has helped us forge new relationships with whom we hoping to create further interesting films about our shared landscapes and history.”
“The first broadcast will be on PBS Nature in February, thereafter France TV and ORF in Austria will broadcast, then Dr Denmark and SVT Sweden in Scandinavia before it appears globally on Nat Geo Wild.”
How do you think audiences will react to the series? We asked.
“We hope they like it. It certainly feels a fresh and unusual way to do a Natural History narrative."
Creative Europe MEDIA Funding
Nigel said that the Creative Europe MEDIA funding was “essential” for making Wild Way of the Vikings.
“It would have been hard to achieve our level of ambition without it.”
When asked if Maramedia would consider applying for the fund again, Nigel said “Definitely. Though, of course the spectre of Brexit always lurks in the background. I hope that with a suitable deal we can carry on being a part of things.”
The TV Programming Fund is currently open for applications. In terms of tips for those thinking about applying, Nigel says,
“Just go for it if you have a project that fits the bill. The application isn’t as onerous as you think, once you get stuck in and the assessment process is very fair and transparent. There are very few strings attached once you win the grant, so it’s well worth the effort.”
"There's such a wonderful culture of support for documentary films"
“We absolutely love co-producing with the European Broadcasters. There’s such wonderful culture of support for documentary films and you really do make a lot of friends through working across the EU zone."
So, what’s next for Maramedia?
“We have a new children’s drama and a new mini series, which yet again takes us to the Nordic lands and looks at how animal families deal with the overwhelming conditions!"
Find out more
For more information about Maramedia, check out their website. Wild Way of the Vikings will air in the U.S. on Sunday 13 February.
More details on Creative Europe MEDIA Funding Opportunities can be found at http://www.creativeeuropeuk.eu/funding-opportunities.