‘BOYCOTTS and Broken Dreams – The story of the 1986 Commonwealth Games’ is being transmitted this evening, on BBC One Scotland, from 2235.
Here, producer/director, Martin Conaghan, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the series?
Bruce Malcolm, BBC head of Commonwealth Games 2014 output.
Explain the thinking behind the production’s ‘look and feel’.
The story of the 1986 Commonwealth Games is very complex, involving a large cast of people, including Margaret Thatcher, Robert Maxwell and a whole host of world-class athletes who became household names.
It’s also firmly set in the mid-1980s, so we wanted to make sure the viewer understood from the outset that there is a lot of archive material in it, without it seeming too onerous – so we’ve created a motion graphic with lots of 1980s televisions to get us in and out of those archive moments.
We also have several athletes, like Liz McColgan and Annette Cowley, telling their personal stories, so we used a camera attachment called EyeDirect, which allows the athletes to speak straight down the lens, looking right into the eyes of the audience. It makes it feel much more personal.
Who are the key personnel and how were they recruited?
I’m the producer/director, but it’s my first major production, so I’m working with the inspirational Murdoch Rodgers as my associate producer, along with Marion MacNeil who works as a producer on BBC Sport’s new Get Inspired programme.
Peter MacRae is the executive editor and we’ve worked with three top-class cameramen, Keith Ingram, Rick Walker and Alan Harcus.
Laura Wilson is the editor; she recently won an RTS Scotland award for her craft.
What kit and software?
We’ve shot all of our interviews – with one minor exception – on the Canon C300 and we edited on Avid Media Composer. We also shot some sequences in Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Pool with the Sony Phantom camera at 1,000 frames per second, which looks truly glorious.
What were the main production challenges?
The first one was that two of our main subjects are dead – Robert Maxwell and Margaret Thatcher. So we’ve had to use a lot of archive for their stories, and most of our interviewees are from Commonwealth countries like South Africa, Bermuda and Barbados.
We made use of the BBC’s Queen’s Baton Relay team, who were travelling around the Commonwealth with the baton, to do some of the interviews for us.
We also had a short timeframe to get the documentary ready – it obviously had to be finished to air before the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, so things were very much against the clock.
One other significant issue was how the archive material is treated – almost all of it was shot on DigiBeta in the 1980s and has degraded due to repeated copying and transfer, so the quality isn’t great – but that adds to the charm of the experience for the viewer.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
I’ve learned that it’s not easy to blend three different genres (current affairs, history and personal testimony) and compress it into 60 minutes.
During our research, every time we dug a little deeper into the story of the 1986 Games, we found a new gem – it was often something surprising, hilariously funny or so bizarre that we had to include it.
It really is a case of how much we had to leave out, rather than what we put in.
I’ve also had to learn a lot about programme-making on the hoof, but I’ve had immense support and encouragement from every level of the BBC in Scotland.