The art of the pitch

Project: The Old Course...
October 1, 1999

Project: The Old Course

Description: Scotland’s St. Andrews Golf Course is considered by most to be the home of the game. It is not surprising, therefore, that The Old Course – a one-hour production on St. Andrews – was eagerly tackled by enthusiasts at Scottish Television Enterprises. All that was left was to find a coproduction partner on the other side of the world.

Co-Executive Producers: Krishan Arora (Antelope), and Rhoda MacDonald (STE)

Director: Ken McGregor

Coproducers: STE (Glasgow), NHK (Tokyo) and Antelope (London)

The Old Course, like the passion for the game of golf itself, seemed to sneak up on the people involved.

According to Rhoda MacDonald, controller of factual at Glasgow’s Scottish Television Enterprises: ‘Golf was not something I was remotely interested in when I started working at Scottish Television. I looked upon it as a game for middle-aged men with a penchant for rather dodgy outfits and misogynistic tendencies. However, I soon discovered that most of my male colleagues, enthusiastically led by Alistair Moffat and Sandy Ross (I hasten to add that they don’t fall into the afore-mentioned categorization… yet), were rather keen on `business trips’ that somehow contrived to include at least a round of 18 holes, followed by a prolonged stay at the 19th. I suspect it was during one of those trips that the idea was conceived. Which, they argued, just goes to prove that these [trips] are legitimate and worthwhile…’

It wasn’t long, however, before MacDonald heard the call to the dark side herself. Taking Ted Riley (of Canada’s Alliance/Atlantis) and Andy Thomson (of Edmonton’s Great North International) up on their invitation to a post-MIP tournament, she caught the golf bug and suffered an epiphany of sorts. ‘Suddenly,’ she confesses, ‘a one-off special doc on the home of golf, St. Andrews, seemed like a terrific idea. Why had I not listened to Alistair and Sandy before?’

June 1998: MacDonald meets with Mick Csaky and Krishan Arora of London’s Antelope Productions to discuss co-development possibilities (none of which involve golf, but rather as MacDonald terms it: ‘trivial subjects such as language and ancient civilizations’). Possibilities for the golf project are rekindled when Csaky mentions that he wants to introduce the ste contingent to friends at NHK, with whom he had been working. MacDonald thinks she may have found the perfect partners for her golf project.

October 1998: MacDonald, Csaky and Arora meet with NHK’s Kagari Tajami (deputy director of the media development department) and Sayumi Horie (ex-Anteloper, now at NHK) at the Gray d’Albion Hotel in Cannes to broker the deal. They are joined by Ian Jones, director of ste’s distribution arm, Cascade (and recent convert to the game). Says MacDonald, ‘I have to say that it was the easiest pitching session – no pun intended – we’ve ever been involved in.’ The new partners agree to make an HD film in time for MIPCOM ’99.

April 1999: The negotiations and obligations are hammered out at MIP-TV. Three different versions are decided upon: one with an on-screen Scottish presenter (for Scotland) at 50 minutes, another with a Japanese presenter (for Japan) at 60 minutes, and a third 50-minute version for the international market with only a voice-over.

Three broadcast entities will be involved and will bankroll the roughly £300,000 production: Scottish Television Enterprises, and NHK’s satellite and HD arms. Cascade will handle international distribution outside of those two territories.

Co-executive producer Krishan Arora, describes Antelope’s role as that of ‘creative cement,’ bringing the parties together and making production run smoothly. ‘These sort of coproductions are always ones where you have to get people talking to each other and make sure they continue talking to each other. And sort of, what’s the word… nag everybody to get production started on time. Otherwise, everybody’s waiting for the other person to jump.’

With the details hammered out, MacDonald recalls that ‘the Japanese, Scottish and English contingent lined up for the obligatory MIP Daily photo in NHK’s Gray d’Albion suite.’ MacDonald wasn’t feeling complacent, however. ‘At this point, I was a little concerned about the time scale. We were due to start filming in mid-May and we still didn’t have a director – and delivery mid-July!’

April 28th: ‘I returned relatively relaxed from a week’s holiday to find that there’d been a daily crisis in my absence,’ explains MacDonald. ‘Because the film location was in Scotland, it made sense for us to provide the facilities from our base in Glasgow. But, because I’m a complete technophobe, it didn’t occur to me that the fact that we’d never made anything on high definition before might be a problem. I had just assumed that it would be like Beta or DigiBeta. It isn’t. But at least we now had a director, Ken McGregor. Ian and Krishan had ably managed matters in my absence.’

Conveniently for MacDonald, NHK had a HD camera based in London which could be made available for the project. STE provided the production team. The Japanese broadcaster also sent more lenses from Tokyo, as well as a producer to ensure the extra footage required for the Japanese version was shot.

May 17th: Filming begins at St. Andrews, on the Northeast coast of Scotland. Luckily, the weather is unseasonably fair and the crew manage to capture great shots of the town and the course in brilliant sunshine. MacDonald crosses her fingers and hopes for fair weather for the remaining ten days.

May 20th: The NHK director and presenter arrive. Filming on the course is scheduled to begin at 5:45 the next morning with a round of golf.

May 21st, 5:30 a.m.: The crew wakes to gale-force winds and driving rain. ‘That’s more like the Scottish weather we know and love,’ explains MacDonald. ‘I, of course, couldn’t go out on location as I had urgent business to attend to back at the hotel. After breakfast, I joined the crew just as they were about to interview Tip Anderson, Arnold Palmer’s legendary caddy. He tells us that, despite repeated entreaties, he refused to travel overseas to caddy for Palmer because he’s scared of flying.’

May 22nd: Filming on the three versions wraps, and the crew finds time for a round of their own. MacDonald has mixed feelings about the day, thanks to her co-executive producer: ‘Krishan thrash[ed] me on the pitch and putting course, known locally as The Himalayas. Must reconsider future co-productions with Antelope. Very impolite not to let me win.’

July 1999: Editing begins in earnest. The productions are off-lined in NTSC in Scotland, but the masters are then taken to Tokyo where they can be on-lined and assembled into the three different versions. STE production staff make the trip to Japan to work with the NHK technicians and editors.

October 1999: Completed with time to spare, Cascade brings The Old Course to MIPCOM.

About The Author
Daniele Alcinii is a news reporter at realscreen, the leading international publisher of non-fiction film and television industry news and content. He joins the rs team with journalism experience following a stint out west with Sun Media in Edmonton's Capital Region, and communications work in Melbourne, Australia and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at @danielealcinii.