WHAT’S funny about the indyref? is a new, one-off comedy sketch show inspired by the Scots independence referendum and written by new writers, aged 16 – 25 years-old. It is being broadcast this evening, on BBC Two Scotland, 2230-2300.
Here, Gerald Strother, producer, What’s funny about the indyref? answers the questions…
Who commissioned the series?
BBC Scotland Learning self-commissioned the work, originally as web shorts. Sarah Proctor – executive producer, BBC Scotland Learning – saw there was very little happening in the way of comedy around the referendum (this was Winter last year) especially for young people. And so we decided to make it happen.
At the same time Steven Canny – executive producer BBC Comedy – was keen to connect with younger audiences and this was the perfect collaborative opportunity to do so. So, BBC Comedy came on board to support the project.
Ewan Angus [commissioning editor, Television, BBC Scotland] saw an early edit of the material and really liked it and so gave his support and told us to make a half-hour for BBC Two Scotland. It was brilliant to lift it into something beyond what we had originally envisioned.
Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’
I always knew I wanted to make something that looked striking and beautifully-shot. Steven was really keen we shot in studio and produced something visually different too. We both liked the idea of a minimalistic approach to really focus in on the writing and performing.
Jim Owen, the director, had a really clear idea of how he wanted to shoot and what kit we should use. I had seen Jim’s work and loved it – it was exactly what I had imagined for the show: funny, awkward and understated.
Quite quickly Jim, Justin Wilson (our designer) and I came up with the black and white concept, with the only colour coming from actors and their outfits. Some location work helped really underline the more graphic studio sketches.
And the micro-short stuff, it was very much inspired by the web – Vines and Instagram and stuff. Not everyone loves it, if I’m honest, but we wanted to experiment. Even those who don’t necessarily like it are kinda amused by it.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
The young writers all came to us through open submissions early in the year. We put a call out looking for material from 16- 25 year-olds inspired by the referendum. We wanted a young, different perspective on the events, and we wanted to identify new talent. After a process of choosing the strongest material, they worked with script editors to enhance their ideas and writing. In the end, we had 20 writers working with us. And I’d go back to them all!
Our brilliant cast were sourced by our assistant producers, Laura Marks and Peter MacQueen. Jim and I did some follow-up auditions and I think we pretty much all had the same thinking about who could help us make the show we wanted to make.
I had never worked with Jim, our director, before. He is represented by Curtis Brown and they put him forward for the show. His work really connected with me. We chatted a few times and I knew we’d not only get along but, importantly, have the same vision for the show.
Keith Ingram was the DOP. I have known Keith for about 15 years but we don’t often get to work together. I knew very early on I wanted him to shoot it.
Clyde Wallbanks edited the show. Clyde has done a few comedy shows with me so it was great when we were able to bring him on board.
What kit and software?
We shot on two ARRI Amiras and used Prime lenses. As far as I know, we were the first production to use them in Scotland, although I think they shot with some prototype Amiras on Outlander. The micro-short filming was with a Canon C300. The workflow was a wee bit of a challenge with the Amiras and our standard ingest systems, but we were well supported by our in-house post-production team – Jim Howat, in particular, who came up with a bespoke solution.
We cut in-house on Avid and Ian Ballantyne graded the show on Baselight, at 422.
Playdead did our GFX. I knew both Kev and Jonny there and had come close to working with them a few times, but it never worked out. They really got the show and knew how to enhance what we had with some very minimal but elegant work.
What were the main production challenges?
The writing process was pretty tough; not because the ideas weren’t there, but because – in an open call like this – you want people to have a good and useful experience.
There were a lot of writers I was working with. Obviously, a lot of the writing wasn’t taken forward. Some was, but was dropped later on.
Some was even filmed and not used.
I was really keen everyone involved had an experience they could learn from and look back on and appreciate – whether or not their work was broadcast. Thankfully, everyone seems to be very positive about the show. All these writers now have a first TV credit for the BBC. That means a lot to them and is something we are all incredibly proud of.
And, of course, this is a show about the referendum! Editorially, it was complicated. We wanted to make something fair and impartial. But it had to be funny. It’s a comedy show, after all! I was well-supported by my peers and execs throughout the whole process. It was essential to get a range of perspectives.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
I learned how much untapped writing talent is out there. Some brilliant writers who just need that break…
And that shooting and editing during the Commonwealth Games comes with challenges!