Now Scotland has its own star-studded supernatural thriller thanks to the imagination of writer David Macpherson, entertainment giants Amazon and a new waterfront film studio.
Stars of Schitt’s Creek, Line of Duty, Game of Thrones and Guilt returned to Edinburgh on Tuesday to launch The Rig after filming the initial six-part series, which is set in the middle of the North Sea, in the heart of Leith Docks.
Emily Hampshire, Martin Compston, Iain Glen, Mark Bonnar and Rochenda Sandall all star in the mystery series as occupants of the ‘Kinloch Bravo’ battling for survival after it is engulfed by fog, its systems start failing and various crew members become infected.
When Macpherson was growing up near Alness, on the Cromarty Firth, his father built oil rigs at the Nigg yard.
He said: “When I was at school, the rigs used to literally tower over the town when they were brought in to get repaired.
“My dad also spent years in the North Sea, as oil fields in Nigeria, Angola and Azerbaijan, bringing back with him a wealth of stories each time. The oil industry has been there all through my life.
“My dad was also a big fan of big American science fiction films by John Carpenter and James Cameron and introduced me to them. I wanted to bring the two things together.”
Like Macpherson, Compston’s father worked in the oil industry. He was the first actor to sign up for the show after being approached by Line of Duty director John Strickland – but didn’t realise at first the story would evolve into a sci-fi thriller.
Compston said: “For working-class people with a trade, it was good money, but it was a hard, hard life. I actually thought this show was going to be a social drama about hard-drinking men. I got to episode two in the script and thought ‘what the f*** is going on?’ But in the best possible way. It takes his left turn that you just don’t see coming.
“I have no idea how people are going to react it. But the one thing it’s not is boring. It’ll get people talking, for sure.”
The Rig premiered ahead of its launch on Amazon Prime Video on January 6, just four years after Macpherson, by now living in Portobello, sent a one-page pitch to British TV producer Derek Wax.
His first TV project was the first major series to be made in the FirstStage Studios in Leith, with a nearby dock deployed for key dramatic scenes.
Filmed under strict Covid protocols last year, The Rig was Hampshire’s first time back on a set since restrictions lifted.
She said: “We were isolated from everyone, just like all the characters are. We were all wearing masks and I just couldn’t understand anyone. It was hard enough without the masks.
"I really loved what a departure it was to go from the Schitt’s Creek motel to something of this scale. I’ve never worked on anything like it. It just felt epic.
"Real parts of oil rigs were used in the sets, which felt like they did some of the acting for you. The whole concept of a rig was so new to me. I kept calling it a ship. It was a whole new world for me to enter, which I’m excited for audiences outside the UK to learn about.
“What’s been really exciting is to see all the effects they’ve done – there is now an actual ocean around us. It’s incredible.”Rochenda Sandall, who plays medic Cat, said: "The detail of the sets and the scale of them was just insane. The work that the art department and the set builders did was incredible and something I've never seen anything like it before."We were also going to work along wth all the other port workers in Leith. It did feel a bit like we were going to work on a rig.”
Compston said: “The production team did an incredible job. When you were going through the set it really felt that you were on an oil rig. It’s a tribute to where we are as an industry that we were able to do that in our own studio.
"It was great to be working in Scotland on something of this kind of scale and ambition.”
Guilt star Mark Bonnar, who plays Alwyn, said: "It was wonderful to see the blossoming of Scotland as a hub for this kind of thing, especially when this is a home-grown tale by a home-grown writer, with a lot of home-grown cast as well." Game of Thrones star Iain Glen, who plays rig manager Magnus in The Rig, said: “I've personally always been a bit disappointed that I've not more work in Scotland. I've always wanted to."Actors care about portraying their own country and their own people. It is a very Scottish story but all credit to Amazon UK, who didn't try to dilute it in any way shape or form. They stayed very true to the original scripts that David had written."There is a really good pool of talent in all areas of film production here. The doing of it really nurtures it. There were trainees working across all departments. Hopefully these people can go on and stay in the industry."
Macpherson said “very careful” consideration was given during The Rig’s development to the real-life Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, which saw 165 lives lost in 1988.
He said: “Although to many people Piper Alpha happened a long time ago, to other people it’s not long ago at all and is a very live issue.
"It was very important to me that we treat people working in the North sea with dignity and respect. It is a titanic achievement what has been done in the North Sea, but it is also a dangerous achievement. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the trips my dad used to take and how difficult it must have been for him, but also my mum. The worst and best time for my mum was when he was coming home.
"The thing I wanted to stress in this drama was that people give their lives for this industry.
“Oil has also been very important for Scotland, but we’re at a point of hard reality. We have to make choices about what the future is going to look like. My aim is not to present the answers, but to open up questions and discussions.”
The series called on a real-life former rig manager, Derek Anderson, to advise throughout the production process. Macpherson said: “He came into our control room, and by the end of the day was back in a position of command and was telling us all what to do. I think we got his seal of approval. He helped us all the way through in terms of design and how things really are.”
Glen said: "I was helped so much by Derek Anderson. It was a very fine script. He knew that David Macpherson knew the world he had written and that it was very plausible, with every scene on how the rig functions very well portrayed."I got him to read the script from my character's point of view.He added a few lines and adjusted a few things, but they were all very practical and useful."He said to me 'you're responsible for everything, but in charge of nothing.'"When we shot the scenes he would be present. Afterwards, I would cast an eye over to him and he would give me a wee nod."