Made Here: Billy Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime, BBC Scotland

BILLY Connolly: Portrait of a Lifetime is a new, one x 60’ programme transmitting on BBC ONE Scotland at 9pm on Wednesday 14 June 2017.

To celebrate the 75th birthday of Billy Connolly, BBC Scotland commissioned three of Scotland’s finest artists to create an artwork in honour of the well-loved actor and comedian.

Lifelong friend John Byrne, rising star Rachel Maclean and self-confessed Billy fan Jack Vettriano, all agreed to take part in the programme and the documentary follows the progress of their work from their initial meeting with Billy, right through to ultimately seeing their work being replicated as 50ft murals on gable ends of prominent city centre buildings in Glasgow.

Here, production manager, Mandy Weller, answers the questions…

Who commissioned the programme?

Ewan Angus at BBC Scotland was keen to do something different to celebrate Billy’s milestone birthday – he didn’t want a run-of-the-mill biography and wanted to find a different way of telling Billy’s life story.

Everyone knows Billy as an amazing comedian and storyteller, but his love of art and support of artists worldwide is maybe less well-known.  We decided to focus on this aspect of Billy’s life, and the programme treatment was built from there.

Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’

The entire production took two years, from commissioning to delivery and the same producer / director, Liam McArdle, was on board from start to finish.

Liam is a really talented self-shooter and he filmed a lot of the footage with the artists himself so they felt relaxed and weren’t intimidated by a large crew invading their studio space.

The result was that the encounters have a really natural, warm feel to them.

Who are the key personnel?  

Picture4David Devenney, development executive in BBC Scotland Factual was the one who came up with the original idea and Pauline Law, executive producer in BBC Scotland then built up the team.

Dawn Elrick was the assistant producer and I was the production manager.

Picture, right ( L-R): Claire MacDonald, production co-ordinator; Pauline Law, executive producer; Liam McArdle, producer/director; Billy Connolly; Mandy Weller, production manager; Rick Walker, camera operator; Steven Donnelly, camera operator; Robbie Elder, sound recordist.

What kit and software?

Liam self-shot using the Canon C300 Mk1, and tried where possible to shoot with prime lenses.

For the mural reveals, we explored the idea of getting a drone to capture the scale of the artworks, but as all three are in built-up areas of the city centre, it proved too tricky.

However, our camera operator, Rick Walker, got some terrific shots of the murals using his Osmo camera and his polecam.

What weren the main production challenges?

The biggest challenge was getting the three x 50ft murals produced.

It was a massively complex process involving Glasgow City Council, The People’s Palace, Art Pistol – the project managers, Rogue-one, the muralist as well as the  landlords of the properties.

Ultimately, the mural section of the programme is only a few minutes long but it was absolutely worth it for the legacy that they will leave for years to come.

What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?

Filming Billy coming to Glasgow to see the finished murals was an amazing experience for everyone on the crew – he was so moved and delighted – it absolutely made it all worthwhile.