SHEFFIELD — Access is the name of the game when creating compelling docuseries, but when filmed inside public institutions, another factor comes into play: staying out of the way.
This was a subject of discussion at a recent session at Sheffield Doc/Fest entitled “Situation Critical: Making Stark Reality Hospital Docs.”
During the hour-long conversation, filmmakers discussed how to win access, while Michelle Dixon, director of communications at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust shared why they’ve allowed filmmakers to show the hospital’s inner workings.
Imperial College’s five hospitals were filmed as part of BBC2′s, Hospital, produced by Label1. The series goes behind the scenes of one of the largest and busiest NHS trusts in the UK, with access to the key decision makers within them. Its second season will air next week.
Dixon said there’s been a very positive reception from the National Health Service, particularly because of the authenticity of the series. “It wasn’t all doom and gloom, or perfect — this is the way it is,” she said.
Authenticity was of particular importance in the upcoming season. In a sneak peak, panel attendees learned that the Label1 crew was on location filming when a terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge in March left several pedestrians and cyclists dead and injured.
“We started filming on Monday, and the major incident happened on Wednesday,” said executive producer Lorraine Charker-Phillips, adding that the trust built in the season helped the hospital staff and the filming crew know how to react.
“Had it happened in the first week of the first [season], we would have wobbled and said we couldn’t deal with it,” said Dixon.
When requesting access inside public institutions, some producers will request permission to film in specific areas at specific times. Because of Hospital‘s quick turnaround, Charker-Phillips asked for a press officer to be present all the time so the crew could have access to the entire hospital. Another interesting bullet point in their contract, she said, was that hospital administration could have one viewing prior to edit.
In the end, however, the team ended up having several viewings — not because of the hospital’s desire for editorial control, but because it was a collaborative process as situations continued to arise and patient statuses consistently changed.
Grace Reynolds, executive producer of Confessions of a Junior Doctor, produced by TwoFour, could relate to the need for getting access quickly, as the premise for the series required they be on site the first day the junior doctors arrived.
While the hospital was quite willing to work with TwoFour one episode proved to be a bit tough for administration to follow, as one junior doctor was up front with his plans to quit. “They wanted to advertise the hospital as a place for new doctors to work,” explained Reynolds. Ultimately, she said they were happy with the series and were up for putting in the scene in the name of authenticity.
“There’s always going to be a moment where someone regrets letting you in,” said Roger Graef of Roger Graef Productions. “You need someone at the top or next to the top to steady the ship.”
Even should you gain the trust of upper management, it’s an ongoing process, sometimes up-to-the-minute of the broadcast
Plus, adds Reynolds, consent can work the other way around as it’s equally difficult to manage expectations when a patient shares his or her story, and it ultimately doesn’t make it into the cut.
Despite having gone through this process, Dixon and Charker-Phillips shared that there would not be a third season of Hospital filmed at Imperial College due to the inevitable stress and strain that comes along with having cameras across hospitals 24/7. But Charker-Phillips said they will continue to look for new hospitals and new specialties.