Series Prod: James Smith

Prod Co: Indus Films
Broadcaster: BBC2
Format: 3x60min


Growing populations and global market forces are changing the shape of farming forever. In this immersive documentary series, presenter Kate Humble experiences the challenges facing the semi-nomadic herders of the Wakhan Corridor in northern Afghanistan, Peru’s alpaca farmers in the High Andes, and Australia’s Outback shepherds.  Sharing in the lives of both small-scale, traditional shepherds and technologically and scientifically driven industrial farmers, Wild Shepherdess explores the past, present and future of global agriculture.


As a follow on from her previous collaboration with the series producer on the 5x60min BBC2 series ‘Arctic With Bruce Parry’ in 2011, Nainita was commissioned to score this new series. The phone call came as Nainita was on her way to catch a plane for a media music conference in South Africa. The series exec producer wanted to hear musical ideas before committing to the eventual composer. Luckily, Nainita had a laptop and entire music catalogue on hard drive, and spent the entire 11 hour flight creating a ‘showreel’ which was then emailed back to London from the hotel room the next day.

The two main aspects of the initial brief were that the film-makers did not want the score to sound like a ‘blue-chip’ BBC series, so strings and orchestral elements were more or less banned unless absolutely necessary. Secondly, in order to capture the strong ethnic cultures and remote locations that Kate experienced, the music had to have an ethnic influence but at the same time have an organic, rough, raw feel.

The other challenge thrown into the pot was to NOT incorporate the obvious traditional instruments and musical styles one associates with the locations – the score had to sound fresh and different. ie. no Pan Pipes for Peru, Didgeridoos for Australia and who knew what for Afghanistan!Another route in order to prevent cliché and stereotypical tracks was to write a library of music before each edit commenced. Writing ‘blind’ can always be a slightly ‘hit and miss’ affair, without seeing rough scenes you cannot gauge tempo and mood, so while the crew were on location for each episode, Nainita would get sent location stills and rough scripts for some form of visual inspiration.

With various sample libraries used to form a foundation, plus recording and layering ideas with her own collection of ethnic instruments to form the musical backbone, the budget also allowed for two specialist musicians per programme who were brought in for individual sessions to play on top of these tracks. As these musicians couldn’t read music, ‘directed improvising’ and ‘sung melodies’ would yield a wealth of material which had to be structured into flexible editable sections. Each episode yielded about 16 themes plus 4 to 5 variations and sub-mixes for each theme, alongside pieces for specific scenes which were then presented to each edit as a ‘toolkit’ music library.

Bringing in the musicians to perform before even seeing a single shot was incredibly risky. If the music didn’t work in the edit, it would have been a very expensive mistake, but it was a calculated risk one had to take. Giving the directors ‘sampled mock ups’ during the edit to imagine how the music would eventually sound simply couldn’t have worked because the authenticity of the ethnic playing were crucial in giving the directors the raw, visceral, rough feel they wanted. Having successfully worked in this way before for ‘Arctic’ and a few other TV series, the method was proven to work well. During the edit, there was a lot of re-shaping and editing of the music to picture but by and large the integrity of the tracks created from those initial sessions were maintained.