THE Entrepreneurs is a two-part observational documentary following the fate of a group of new business start-ups, starting tonight on BBC Two Scotland, at 2100.
The series has been made by Glasgow-based TVI Vision, run by Maurice Smith, former business editor at BBC Scotland and, before that, a journalist with The Herald.
Here, he answers the questions…
Who commissioned the series?
It was one of those moments of opportunity. In the space of a few days I heard from different people about Jim Duffy, a former police sergeant who was setting up a business ‘accelerator’, Entrepreneurial Spark, in the Gorbals. I went to see Jim. As soon as he started talking about e-Spark I knew we had to tell the story.
We considered a few scenarios. The obvious one was a web series, which is the sort of thing we’ve done in the past. But I’d been looking out for broadcast ideas, and took this one to Ewan Angus, commissioning editor at BBC Scotland.
Ewan indicated he might be interested. So when the first group of Jim Duffy’s ‘chicklets’ arrived, we interviewed them one by one in a corner of the office. Each chicklet was given one minute to explain who they were and what they wanted to achieve.
It was a bit chaotic, although obviously I prefer to think it was a wonderfully planned film event based on Warhol’s seminal Factory auditions.
Ewan commissioned project.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘sound and feel’
So far, more than 100 have gone through the process, so it’s hard to generalise. We focused on the human stories, rather than only the business. Starting-up is a deeply personal, often lonely experience. We set out to show that side of business, where people develop their ideas, find customers, search for investment and so on.
So we have a varied group, ranging from a young man who’s invented a nutritious pizza to a woman running a social service for children, and a software geek who wants to save the retail trade millions. The people we’ve followed have been fantastic, very open and honest. I’m proud to have known them.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
The first few weeks involved working out the structure of the programme and recruiting a team. I met several really good directors. Scotland is lucky to have some real production talent. Matt Pinder agreed to take the project on as a self-shooting director. He had just finished a film on Ukrainian orphanages for BBC Four and I think working back home appealed to him.
The core team was Matt, myself as executive producer, and Laura Kingwell as producer. Matt led the filming, which began in summer last year just as eSpark opened their second base in Ayrshire. We knew early on that we were on to something, and BBC Scotland commissioned a second hour, which was really encouraging.
Over the life of the project, we were helped by additional lighting cameramen such as Jim Galbreath, James McLaughlin and Keith Ingram.
What kit and software?
In the main, the documentaries were shot with lightweight equipment such as the newer Canon cameras, like the C300 and xf305. Matt has a real talent for putting people at ease and gaining their confidence. I think that’s obvious from the films. They are very ‘human’ and I think they look great too.
The video editor was Gordon Hayden using FCP on an iMac-based system. For post-production we went to The Hive in Glasgow, who have done an excellent job. The online and grading were done by Guido Schneider using Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve and the audio mixer was John Devine.
Our narrator is the divine Daniela Nardini. When we were scripting I could hear her voice on this before we even booked her.
What have been the main production challenges?
I’m a journalist at heart, and eSpark is a cracking good story.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
I started up my own company in 1999. During that time, I’ve seen good times and bad, like many people in business. I’ve worked with umpteen start-ups, and witnessed painful failures as well as great successes.
I think I was lucky in that I worked in TV news at a time when we got out and met real people and filmed real things. I fear that a lot of business journalism these days is obsessed with surveys and statistics which are often quite meaningless.
Business coverage in the UK has become increasingly centralised on the City, much to the detriment of the ‘nations and regions’.
I’d like to see a real awareness and debate of where the news media business is going, especially in Scotland at such a time as this.