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Loch Ness - They created a monster screening at The Loch Ness Centre

Behind the Lens with John Maclaverty on “Loch Ness: They Created a Monster”

7th May 2024

Last week, we had the pleasure of sitting down with John to explore the depths of his inspiration behind the creation of the film “Loch Ness: They Created a Monster.” With some of the scenes captured right here at the centre, it felt serendipitous for it to kick off The Quest on Friday 31st May, offering a retrospective on the research and expeditions of the 70s and 80s. 

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Without further ado, let’s hand it over to John to provide further insights into this captivating documentary film.

Director of Loch Ness they created a monster

Most of us first encounter the Loch Ness story via our TV screens, often when we’re wee kids, filled with wonder for the world. My initial glimpse of Nessie came in the 1980s series “Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World” – for an 11-year-old, an unmissable program – with its rotating crystal skull titles and stentorian voiceover (yes, there’s an episode devoted to Loch Ness).

Throughout the seventies and eighties, international TV crews arriving at the Great Glen followed a formula: beautiful shots of Scotland (a prehistoric lost world!), a few ripples on the water, mysterious music, and the very latest evidence.

But alas…Nessie never was ready for her close-up.

So with screentime to fill, the producers would seek out Monster Hunters and interview them about their experiences, their theories, their evidence. As the archives show, there’s lots of footage of men binocular-ing at the Loch, trying to look deep.

When I came to make my documentary, “Loch Ness: They Created a Monster,” I wanted to know more about these men (and occasional woman) who packed up their lives and came to the Great Glen to go a-hunting.

Filming of Loch Ness: They Created at Monster
The filming of Loch Ness: They Created a Monster from on a D&E coach

Looking for a lost dinosaur – spending months living on a boat or in a lochside caravan – had seemed romantic and adventurous to me as a kid. As an adult, it felt sorta…insane and incredible. My storytelling sonar emitted a loud PING.

So I immersed myself in Loch Ness of the 1970s and 1980s. In the pages of old newspapers and obscure blogs, here was the unbelievable story behind the incredible tale. It was a world of rivalry, fakery, hilarity, seedy sex, and a shocking petrol bomb attack by one expedition upon another. This is what the ‘beneath these dark waters’ type TV series didn’t tell their viewers. This was a hidden history.

I began filming interviews, tracking down Japanese pop promoters, searching for lost Super 8s, and knocking on doors in Drumnadrochit. The notorious monster hunter Frank Searle demanded his voice be heard, and I noted some of his more provocative claims. The film also pays tribute to the late Robert Rines – I was astonished at some of the big brains from the scientific world that he brought to Scotland (they all had a great time too). As one US contributor wisely observes, ‘it was a zoological Everest.’

If that’s the case, there were many big names at the base camp. People forget that figures like David Attenborough said he believed it was worth investigating, and naturalist Sir Peter Scott (Attenborough’s hero) declared himself a believer.

There were also many great stories I couldn’t use in the end – we filmed sequences around the 1930s monster craze, the elephant seal dumped into the Loch by a hoaxer (who ended up being chased through Scotland by the police). I approached the BBC’s Nicholas Witchell – who was a teenage monster hunter – and asked him to take part, but he curtly declined. Having failed to get close to the legendary monster, he went on to trail after the Royal Family.

Filming the search for Nessie for Loch Ness: They Created a Monster
Interview with Monster Hunter for the documentary Loch Ness: They Created a Monster

But thanks to those who did contribute, the film argues that far from discrediting the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, the people who’ve dedicated their life to looking for it – even those who were exposed as fraudsters – have bolstered the legend. If people know one story about Scotland, it’s this story. And the reasons they know this story, the reasons they’re interested – is often because they watched cheap afternoon TV shows that were filled with Loch Ness Monster Hunters, spreading the Great Glen gospel.

As my film shows, Loch Ness is a place that has seen some monstrous behaviour.

But during filming, I spent some time in the large lay-bys that overlook the Loch. Every few minutes, a car would pull in, and excited kids and encouraging parents or grandparents would tumble out, and they’d stare at the Loch in awe.

The facts may be disputed, but the feeling remains.

Cameraman filming in Loch Ness for the documentary Loch Ness: They Created a Monster

Come join us for a special evening with an out of hours tour of the centre followed by an exclusive documentary screening of ‘Loch Ness: They Created a Monster’ followed by a Q&A session with director John MacClaverty. 

Explore the darkly comedic tale of Nessie hunters from the 1970s and 1980s while enjoying a gin cocktail from our sponsor Great Glen Distillery.

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Follow @lochness_TCAM on X for updates, screenings and news


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