BEING broadcast on BBC One Scotland, Tuesday May 26th, 8pm, ‘Silicon Glen: From ships to microchips’ tells the story of IBM’s arrival in 1950s’ Scotland as the country was experiencing post war de-industrialisation.
IBM employed thousands at Spango Valley, Greenock, a town better known for shipbuilding. It was the foundation of what became known as Silicon Glen – home to Scottish electronics.
The film includes testimonials from generations of IBM workers, as well as telling the story of the computer and its influence on the world. And it includes a homage to the great film director, Stanley Kubrick.
Narrated by leading Scots actor, Michelle Gomez, it also features writer Andrew O’Hagan and journalist Alf Young, and was filmed partly in the former IBM plant at Greenock.
Silicon Glen is directed by Margaret Shankland and produced by TVI Vision. Here, executive producer, Maurice Smith, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the documentary?
David Harron at BBC Scotland. We have made several social histories of this type for the BBC, including The Singer Story: Made in Clydebank, Scotland’s First Oil Rush and The Town That Thread Built.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s look and feel
The IBM story covers five decades from the point of arrival at Greenock in the early 1950s. IBM machines were at the heart of everything that was ‘modern’, certainly during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. They powered the space programme and enabled the advertising industry. The IBM PC revolutionised the modern office.
With all that in mind, we wanted the film to adopt the look and feel of those times. IBM personified corporate America during those decades. The modern workplace was heavily influenced by the US. The ‘culture shock’ of IBM’s arrival in Greenock – a very conventional industrial town – was significant.
With all this in mind, we borrowed from the ‘space age’ themes of the 1960s; for example, and also Kubrick’s remarkable 2001: A Space Odyssey.
And we paid a lot of attention to the soundtrack.
There is also a sequence that will fascinate fans of the writer, Len Deighton…
Who are the key personnel?
Margaret Shankland was producer/director and Angela Slaven edited. Our assistant producer was Vicki Watson.
We published an appeal for IBM workers to tell us their stories, and received more than 100 responses during the first week, so we knew this was something people related to, and that we would have no problem casting contributors!
Fraser Rice turned his hand to a little set design for filming of some key interviews in the only remaining building at Spango Valley.
Camera work on the documentary was also done by Steve Mochrie, Alison Pinkney, Gregor Tulloch, Niall Preston and Jim Petersen. Sound recordists included Dougie Fairgrieve, Bob McDougall and Richard Paterson, and Bill Gill contributed some fine drone work.
The titles and graphics were delivered by Nicholas Munro at Arteus. The online and colouring were done by Graham Struthers and Ian Ballantyne respectively, and the dubbing mixer was Kevin Robertson.
Colin Cameron helped me as executive producer.
What kit and software?
Canon C300s, Canon Cine primes, Avid edit software. Lots of soft lighting, a drone and a trusty Canon 5D with primes for some second and third camera shots.
What were the main production challenges?
Our primary challenge was to complete all the filming during the dark winter months of December and January. Winter in Inverclyde is an unpredictable time, weather-wise, and the team did very well to get everything done.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
Successful documentaries are entirely dependent on the talent, enthusiasm and ingenuity of everybody in the team. I knew that already, of course, but I never fail to learn from any experience and this was no different. I’m very proud of everyone who worked on this project and what was achieved.