Cellar Rats

Interview with Malcolm Walker - Producer and Director

Cellar Rats
Interview with Malcolm Walker - Producer and Director

Ratblogger: Can you explain to us what the role of director and producer of Cellar Rats entails?

Malcolm: The role of a Producer can vary enormously and is totally dependent on the budget. The productions I have worked on previously had massive budgets and so I was able to concentrate on being creative and developing the production style and values - with a smaller budget production like Cellar Rats I have to be a “jack of all trades” and roll my sleeves up! I cannot be afraid to get my hands dirty and it is really a challenge in multi-tasking! 

Once the production style and values have been agreed the role of the director is to ensure that they are mirrored in the finished episode and that’s where my editor is invaluable. 

Ratblogger: How was the concept for Cellar Rats born? 

Malcolm: Well, that’s a funny story! It all started in 2008 when I was taking a nap on my couch. I was woken by a gargling noise coming from the TV which turned out to be a wine show!  I began watching and remember thinking “this is awful!” – the presenters were so stiff and snobby – It was a “light-bulb moment” and I realised that there must be a better way to document wine so I began doing some research. I realised that here was a huge gap in the market for a premium wine show. There were seemingly thousands of shows about food, some of which also talked a bit about wine, but finding a dedicated documentary about wine was really difficult. I wanted to create a wine show which reflected my own enthusiasm for wine, showing the different methods of bringing the wine from the grape to the bottle, but film it in the style of a travelogue. I was really looking to create something which was broadly appealing to the wine connoisseur and the teetotaller alike. The concept for Cellar Rats was born and the feedback from the episodes filmed so far has been excellent – I always knew we were on to a winner!

Rablogger: So how do you decide where to visit and film?

Malcolm: The idea for each episode begins with my research into different types of wine and the regions in which they are produced. I then select the location where we will film and decide on USP’s and filming style – my challenge is always filming in a way which will engage the viewer and bring the location to life and showcase the unique features and geography of the vineyard.

Ratblogger: How do you then showcase a region and engage with the locals?

Malcolm: Cellar Rats is about the people who make the wine in the most beautiful locations. Every TV network we have spoken to wanted to have a food element in each episode to show how local gastronomy is complimented by the excellent local wines. Before we leave I source a respected and top local chef who cooks traditional recipes using fresh regional produce. We visit local markets together to source local fruit and vegetables which have been grown almost alongside the wine. This element of the show is about how the land has provided an abundance of food and wine over centuries, and how the two still work so well together and are important in maintaining local tradition. 

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Ratblogger: Let’s talk about the logistics of taking a team overseas. Are you also responsible for that?

Malcolm: I am a creative person and may come up with many of the ideas and themes for Cellar Rats but my team handle all of the logistics. Suzie, our head of production, is the one who then turns the plans into reality and she makes all the bookings to make sure we are all on the same plane, heading for the same location, and we are where we should be at the right time! 

Ratblogger: Do you use the same camera and filming crew on each episode?

Malcolm: Yes – 100%. I have worked with the camera man, Tom, for many years so we are now a bit of a double act. We often have to think on our feet if the lighting isn’t quite right and deviate from the original plan, but Tom is very talented at capturing the moment and I am always delighted with the end result.  Mike is our editor and the one responsible for weaving all the short clips into completed and entertaining episodes and bringing the journey to life. We have several co-presenters - David, Gemma and our newest addition from New Zealand, Josh, and they add a refreshing balance of old and new.

Ratblogger: What is the main challenge of making the show? 

Malcolm: That’s an easy one to answer! Once the financing is in place it is plain sailing. Without the support of our subscribers there would be no show As the producer I must make sure that we are meeting our fundraising goals and staying within budget (which is quite a challenge with a weakening pound). Some episodes are very expensive to film and others less so - for example it was very costly to travel with the whole team to Australia so of course it made sense to pop over to New Zealand on the same trip. We are on a tight filming schedule because of the nature of wine making - there are only so many months of the year where vineyards are fully operational for harvest and  that’s when the wine is being made. Of course it’s when we want to visit! For the rest of the year many of these places might feel like ghost towns and pictures of empty vines on brown-field sites wouldn’t make good TV.

The fundraising is the lonely part of the role and is a prerequisite to going filming. Luckily I have a great financial team, lead by Mark, alongside me. We are making good progress and the next destination we will visit is South Africa in late February and March. 

Ratblogger: What are some of your favourite memories and highlights from the filming of Cellar Rats? 

Malcolm: There have been so many good memories because we have met some amazing people and it is truly impossible to point out one in particular! Personally, I had an especially great time this summer in Spain, with the whole team, on what was a long road trip through the country. There was so much banter in the car, all of us pulling each other’s legs and telling funny stories. One of the best parts of the trip was our early morning hot balloon ride over the vineyards in Rioja with our presenters Gemma and Josh - just stunning and we got some great footage! I also never cease to be amazed by the warm welcome and absolute kindness we have experienced wherever we have travelled. The wine business is unique as even the large commercial vineyards are often still being run by the same families. It’s a very tightly knit community of people who are incredibly passionate about what they do. They always welcome us to sit with them at their table and treat us to delicious meals and stunning wines! It really is a privilege to meet these people and to be allowed a peek into their daily lives. 

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Ratblogger: What is your background and what types of projects have you been involved with previously? 

Malcolm: This year it’s been 40 years since I began working within the film industry. I’ve previously directed and produced films, soap operas, TV drama, commercials and pop videos. I also worked as a location scout for years and my production company, Itasca Films, own the largest locations library in Europe. I have had to bring together all of my past experience to produce Cellar Rats. I approach it like directing a drama – trying to tell a progressive story to the viewer. I use my eye for detail and crisp cinematography, learnt from shooting commercials, to ensure that each shot is visually stunning. 

Ratblogger: So what is the next step on the journey for Cellar Rats? 

Malcolm: At the end of February we are flying out to Cape town and will be visiting several vineyards, they call them Wine Farms in South Africa, including the stunning Stellenbosch area to film the next episode. February and March are the region’s harvest season. We will be learning about how a famous ex-guitarist became a wine maker and started one of South Africa’s biggest music festivals, “Rocking the Daisies”. We will also meet the first black female winemaker in the country since Apartheid and learn about her long journey to becoming the wine expert she is today, hopefully leading the way for many more to come! Preparations are afoot and we are really excited about the next chapter!

Ratblogger: And what is next after Cellar Rats?

Malcolm: Hopefully Cellar Rats 2, 3 and 4... watch this space!