Made Here: Panorama: The Truth about Pills and Pregnancy, BBC One

GLASGOW-based independent production company, Firecrest Films, has up to now worked exclusively with Channel 4, for its Dispatches strand and also for Channel 4 News. It celebrates its fifth birthday in September. Tonight, however, its first commission for the BBC is being broadcast.

Panorama: The Truth about Pills and Pregnancy looks at how risky it can be to take medicines during pregnancy.

It airs at 20.30, on BBC One.

Nicole Kleeman, managing director and exec producer at Firecrest Films, answers the questions…

Who commissioned the series?

Tom Giles, the editor of Panorama at the BBC.

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

It’s a current affairs documentary for a primetime, mainstream audience. The stories are told, in the main, by the people affected, so we wanted it to be a very watchable, human-interest story, with a powerful journalistic thread.

Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?

Shelley Jofre is the film’s reporter and we borrowed her from the BBC. The producer / director was Richard Cookson, a hugely talented freelance filmmaker and journalist who we’ve worked a lot with before. He was supported by two brilliant staff APs who found the case studies. It was shot by Vaughan Matthews and edited at Serious Facilities by Walter J. Grant and Jason Hillier.

What kit and software?

We shot on Canon C300s and cut the programme an Avid Symphony. Post-production was by Serious Facilities and with dubbing at Savalas.

What have been the main production challenges?

Like many current affairs films, probably the key challenge was to find people willing to speak about their experiences on camera.

One of the types of medicines we look at are antidepressants and we found women wanted to speak out about birth defects their children had suffered but were reluctant to admit publically they’d had problems with depression and anxiety and had taken antidepressants.

In the most part, though, this was an issue many mothers were keen to talk about as they could not believe so little is known about the safety of medicines taken during pregnancy.

Another challenge was access to our reporter. Unlike a lot of other current affairs programmes, reporters at Panorama are heavily involved in their films, from the very beginning all the way through to the edit. Usually, they only work on one film at a time in order to dedicate themselves fully. As Shelley Jofre lives in Glasgow, we all thought this was a project that would make her life easier. Unfortunately, she found herself making another film for Panorama in London at exactly the same time, and we had to share her. For us, that meant we only had half her time, but for Shelley it meant continuous travel and working a seven-day week for two months, while keeping on top of completely different stories. Grimly, Shelley ended up with two simultaneous edits for two different films, in two different countries at the same time. Not fun.

Shelley’s other film was scheduled for broadcast the week before ours, but, a few days before it was due to go out, there were legal problems. We were asked to bring our production forward by a week as a back-up. So we had a mad scramble to try and get the film finished early, while still tussling with London for Shelley’s time. We finished the programme and fed it to London three hours before transmission. Shortly afterwards, we found out the legal issues on the other programme had been resolved and we were not going to be on air after all. So we reverted back to our original slot of Monday July 1.

What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?

It was a pleasure working with such a talented, tenacious and creative group of people who, besides being brilliant journalists and filmmakers, are also great company.

I think we were all affected by the story and by the people we met, whose lives had been impacted. Like most people, we’d assumed that the scandal of Thalidomide meant a similar tragedy couldn’t happen again. It’s very shocking that, 50 years later, doctors still have such little information about the safety of medicines taken during pregnancy.