David Macpherson grew up in the shadow of the North Sea’s storm-blasted oil giants.
He watched them being built in the Cromarty Firth, being towed in and out to sea for repair and launch, and he would listen keenly to his father’s tales of high drama working offshore.
But when the writer reported for work at the Kinloch Bravo platform last week, things were a little different. For a start, he was surrounded by stars from some of TV’s biggest shows – and instead of braving the North Sea, he was inside Edinburgh’s new film and TV studio watching his script come to life.
David was blown away to see work begin at First Stage Studios in his adopted home city on his new Amazon Prime Video series The Rig, featuring Schitt’s Creek star Emily Hampshire, Line Of Duty’s Martin Compston and Mark Bonnar, and Game Of Thrones veteran Iain Glen.
The thriller, about a chilling mystery on a fogbound North Sea rig, home to a hard-working crew of roughnecks, is one of Scotland’s most talked-about productions, and 34-year-old screenwriter David is pinching himself.
He joked: “All the things that new screenwriters get told aren’t going to happen, appear to be happening. It’s been a wild ride.”
David previously worked for a charity and wrote scripts in his spare hours but went full-time after being nominated at the Edinburgh International Television Festival’s prestigious New Voice Awards.
The Rig was inspired by the massive feats of engineering that captured his imagination from a young age. “I grew up just outside Alness near the Cromarty Firth and they used to build the rigs and repair them there,” he recalled. “They’ve always towered over my life and my dad used to work offshore. He’s always told me lots of stories and that world has fascinated me, so I really wanted to find a way to put it on the screen.”
Schitt’s Creek star Emily brings Hollywood glamour to the production following her award-winning turn as grumpy receptionist Stevie in the sitcom. “I am a big fan of Schitt’s Creek, my girlfriend Jennifer got me into it during lockdown and I absolutely loved it,” said David. “Getting Emily on board was very exciting.”
But the biggest star is arguably the oil platform. It first started to take shape in late 2019, when David and colleagues made a location-scouting trip to a working rig near Orkney, and he has been impressed with how the production team has created a replica at Leith docks.
“The design team have done an amazing job. People are gonna be blown away by the scale of it,” said David.
“We went up to a rig called Stena Spey in Scapa Flow. We got the boat out and had to climb 80 or 90ft up scaffolding. Once we got there the director John Strickland said, ‘Just remember David, we’re all here because of you.’
“That really crystallised it for me. You’re up above the sea on that huge piece of engineering, it was awesome. You really can’t get the scale of them till you’re up close.
“I used to drive by them in Invergordon harbour but until you’re on a small boat at the bottom of that leg, the absolute scale is hard to contemplate.”
Having spent his life enchanted by the steel giants and his father Keith’s stories of adventure, David is hopeful he can bring things full circle – by inviting him to his own rig.
“There’s lots of things he’s told me over the years that have made it in there. He’s been reading the scripts and keeping me right,” he said. “It depends on Covid but it’d be great to get him down to the set. I’d love to get him in the background somewhere.”
Film industry leaders have been crying out for a major Scottish studio for decades and their dream is finally a reality.
First Stage Studios, on the site of a former industrial warehouse where Avengers: Infinity War was shot in 2017, is run by actor/director Jason Connery and producer Bob Last.
The campaign for the facility had intensified since Scotland lost out to Northern Ireland for Game Of Thrones, reportedly due to its lack of studios and infrastructure.
David Macpherson is proud The Rig is the venue’s first TV production and hopes it’s a sign of things to come for the Scottish screen industry: “I’ve been following the battle to find the right location. It’s great.”
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