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                                                    AN ART FORM INTO A COTTAGE INDUSTRY
T he thought of a filmmaker flourishing in the Ayrshire
countryside might seem as unlikely as finding a palm tree growing on the banks of the Firth of Clyde. Yet, as improbable as it
sounds, it does happen.
And indeed the work of Robbie
Moffat and Mairi Sutherland has proved to be just as much of an unex- pected success story, with their appropriately named company Palm Tree Productions turning out films at the rate of two a year.
Modestly budgeted but ambitious- ly made, they include such diverse titles as Love The One You’re With, The Hawk & The Dove, a digital feature called Lost In the Landscape, The Winter Warrior, Finding Fortune and The Bone Hunter.
Most recently Moffat – as produc- er, director and DP – shot the Robert Burns inspired Red Rose, and has just completed photography on Rain Dogs.
All, with the exception of Lost In the Landscape, were shot on Fujicolor 35mm motion picture negative.
The temptation to describe Palm Tree as a cottage industry carries with it an unintended note of conde- scension. Rather, Moffat and his col- leagues have proven themselves adept at making the best use of natu- ral resources and developing an informed enthusiasm into a career that has exceeded all expectations. The films naturally reflect a great deal of their author, and the countryside in which they were created.
“All the films to date have been set in Scotland,” Moffat adds, “it’s a very varied country, with a lot of historical buildings and mountains, seas and lochs. Of course, as there’s no studio here we’re always on location.”
There are other advantages too, less traffic, cleaner air and a much bigger sky.
“Down near London it’s hard to find a hill more than 600 feet high,” he
continues, “ but the fact is, the higher you go the more light you get. There’s more light variation as well, through the elevation. You can go from shoot- ing at sea level to shooting at 900 feet, and the light’s completely different. So there’s a real variety of light, which is I think really interesting.”
Working with crews that may num- ber as few as 12 but rarely exceed 18, Moffat makes no bones about the guer- rilla style of filmmaking he must adhere to if he is to deliver his films on time and on budget. A working knowl- edge of Scotland’s Right To Roam law has proved useful too, as has the very hands-on approach that comes with wearing so many creative hats.
“I worry about spreading myself too thin every time we do another one,” he adds. “There always comes a point where I think I must be mad. But it’s getting easier, we’re getting more people on board for various things and I’m having more time to spend with the actors.
“I had a really good camera assis- tant on Rain Dogs who can take over the camera, and it’s getting to the point where we can do more second unit things that I don’t have to over- see. It’s getting easier in some ways.
“Taking on so many duties myself is a question of keeping costs down. I enjoy it, but I’m realistic enough to know that if you get good people involved that’s always going to be bet- ter than just having it be the view of one person. I’d give way to someone who could do it better.
“And if we’re going to step up pro- duction from two films a year to three then we’re going to take on new direc- tors and writers as well.”
This increase in productivity coin- cides with a decision to take some of the distribution responsibilities in- house, adding another line to Moffat’s already overcrowded CV. A writer since his teens, the 49-year-old is also a published poet, author of ten nov- els, playwright and sometime pup-
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