THE Papers is an in-depth look life in a newsroom shared by three Scottish newspapers: The Herald, The National and the Evening Times.
It was filmed over six months, from September 2018 until 29th March 2019 – the day Britain should have left the EU.
It is a co-production between new indie, Indelible Telly, and TVI Vision, and will be broadcast on Wednesdays 18 and 25 September at 9pm on BBC1 Scotland.
Here, series producer / director, Sarah Howitt, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the documentary?
The film was commissioned by David Harron who was also the executive producer for BBC Scotland.
I began filming before we properly pitched to the BBC – the news that the Sunday Herald was to close and be replaced by two new Sunday titles provided an unexpected momentum.
I knew it meant the film would have a beginning if we ever got the ‘green light’, so it was agreed I could film the process of making those first Sunday editions in the hope that we would get the go ahead and return.
I had spoken to my colleague, Maurice Smith (at TVI Vision), about it, as he is a former print journalist.
He got us a meeting with the editor-in-chief, Donald Martin, who was open to the idea. On the Monday after the new Sundays launched, we pitched and got the approval.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s look and feel
It’s an observational documentary, and I shot most of it myself, so there is nobody but myself to blame for any dodgy shots.
We used prime lenses for our key interviews, and, when I was feeling brave and had remembered my newly-acquired reading glasses, I used a 50mm photographic prime for some of the scenes in the office, to try to make the observational sequences a bit more intimate and less dull.
Who are the key personnel and how were they recruited?
All the people who worked on the films are people I’ve worked with before.
Essentially, there were two of us at the core of the filming process: me and my trusted colleague and friend, Laura Kingwell.
Laura acted as my right hand / left brain throughout the entirety of the filming process. We both shoot, and, for the most part, I filmed and she did sound, but that was also interchangeable, so we did swap from time to time.
She also acted as second unit, and took the lead when I was away. In six months, we both needed a few days off. We use a hippy chick to help take the weight off our backs, a secret weapon amongst (mostly female) shooters.
If the resulting films are any good, it’s down to the skills of my friend, Jude Suggett, who is quite simply a fantastic editor, and my executive producers, Maurice Smith and Colin Cameron, kept me on my toes as they have many times before.
What kit and software?
We filmed on a Canon C300 with a wireless boom – crucial to being able to cover conversations across the newsroom.
We were cabled for the first few weeks and it was a nightmare and using radio mics for the observational stuff is rarely practical, although we obviously did when we were following the work of a key contributor. We used Canon Cine prime lenses for our key interviews.
Editing was done on Avid. We did our final post-production at Arteus where the fantastic colourist, Ian Ballantyne, and dubbing mixer extraordinaire, John Cobban, worked their magic using Baselight and pro tools respectively.
What were the main production challenges?
In any documentary where access to a workplace is involved, the challenge is always going to be maintaining that access through dialogue.
All the previews have talked about how the access being unfailingly honest, and that is testament to the openness of those being filmed.
The other major challenges were the hours journalists work and the unpredictability of the Brexit story.
We were aiming to be in the newsroom when tensions were high and deadlines loomed – at times when things were exciting, in other words.
Sometimes that involved picking my son up from nursery, going home, and just as I settled down to eat my dinner, having to leap up and go back to the newsroom. We kept our camera in a cupboard there, so that we were constantly ‘ready’.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
That journalists work incredibly hard and have a crucial role in our social fabric. Also, to think about the working hours of the workplace you propose to observe in future.