TV production company, Matchlight, based in Glasgow, has been given what is being described as “unprecedented access to Scotland’s Transplant Service at a time of crisis as it tries to cope with increased demand but fewer organs”.
The resulting two-part series, Transplant Tales, starts tonight on BBC One Scotland, at 2100, before being screened across the UK network later this year.
Here, executive producer, Ross Wilson, of Matchlight, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the programme?
Ewan Angus and Craig Hunter for BBC Scotland.
Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’.
With 10,000 people in the UK currently waiting for a transplant, and not enough organs available to satisfy this demand, this series could have been a current affairs investigation of a transplant system under severe pressure and why this has come about.
By persuading BBC Scotland to commission an observational series, we wanted to tell the stories of those caught up in waiting for an organ, those whose lives are changed overnight when they receive one, and those in the frontline of treatment coming up with new strategies and techniques to give patients what they so desperately need.
As an observational series, it was important every scene felt as though the viewers were ‘in the moment’, that they were seeing events as they happened, hearing the reactions of patients and medical staff.
On a practical level, for example in the build up to a transplant operation, the camera had to be ready to roll within seconds of arriving at a hospital; it had to be able to move quickly and continuously between different rooms; and, with space often severely limited at bed sides and in operating theatres, a tripod was a potential health and safety hazard.
In addition, interviews had to be conducted in hospital rooms and corridors as well as family homes as stories were taking sudden twists and turns and often at a moment’s notice.
All of this meant a hand-held camera was the best way to cover the stories and film the fast moving actuality.
And being so close to the action, this approach also brought a great sense of immediacy and intimacy to the filming of Transplant Tales.
Even in life and death situations, it was important that the camera never felt intrusive, yet allowed an audience the opportunity to be ‘there’, witnessing the efforts of medical staff and the emotions of patients and their families.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
Peter Strachan – self-shooting producer/director
Anne Claire Pilley – producer
Laura MacKay – assistant producer
Chris Buckland and Gordon Hayden – editors
All experienced good people, we have worked with before.
What kit and software?
The choice of the Sony PMW300 (XDCAM) camera and the use of ND grads, also brought amazing full HD picture quality to all the big landscape/cityscape GVs.
Smaller cameras often struggle to capture enough detail in these kinds of shots.
And, in the grade, we wanted to emphasise the intimate nature of all the stories by choosing a look that wasn’t overly glossy and that reflected the sober reality of what it’s like to wait for an organ that might never come, undergo a potentially life-threatening operation and work on the frontline of this remarkable medicine.
With myriad lighting conditions and unable to bring lights into NHS ‘clinical’ locations we required a camera with a great dynamic range and a sensor that would excel in low light; and, a lens that was wide enough to take in a whole room yet had the manual option to crash zoom into close-ups.
There were few opportunities for a ‘second take’.
What were the main production challenges?
Filming across five different transplant units meant not only logistical challenges of geography, but it also meant that we had to secure different access agreements for the health boards.
We are very grateful for the extraordinary access we were given – the stories reflect not only the openness of the contributors and clinical teams, but our common desire to increase awareness of the need for more organ donors.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
Seeing the incredible job that the transplant community do and the terribly difficult decisions they face in light of the shortage of organ donors.
It is easy to assume that doctors and nurses in this line of work must be hardened by what they have to deal with on a daily basis.
But we were struck by how medical professionals were moved to tears when they saw the film. They saw their patients as they had never seen them before, at on a chairlift, going to the shops in a buggy, struggling to breath after a shower…
We hope that the film will similarly empower the viewing public. Most medical documentaries the viewer watches passively, there’s nothing they can do. But here is a medical series where they can absolutely make a difference: by signing up to the organ donor register.