Since March 2020, the UK has seen 3 lockdowns. During this time, we have all been working remotely as the world has changed around us. Sky News and SPS have pivoted rapidly in their operations, introduced remote editing, and continued to deliver the most important stories in the most difficult of times. In the last year, ten standalone documentaries have been produced, all of them passing through SPS – Coronavirus: Into the Red Zone, Coronavirus: The Homefront, Shutdown: The Virus that Changed our World, Coronavirus: America’s Reckoning, Bitter Pill, 8 Minutes and 46 Seconds: The Killing of George Floyd, Trump: America Interrupted, Culture Interrupted, Storming the Capitol: Trump’s Last Stand, and Through the Storm: Hospital’s Trust – in addition to 2 series of the behind-the-scenes Sky News series Hotspots.
Jonathan Levy, Director of Newsgathering for Sky News, said, “The pandemic didn’t halt long-form production at Sky News. We’ve done more in the last year than I can remember. All of them have involved some remote production and some of them have been produced wholly remotely. It’s been challenging, especially at the start. But everyone has adapted, and we’ve managed to be as creative and productive as we’ve always been.” The creativity and productivity involved in news documentaries are a fine balance, as explained by Post Producer Oliver Bramley, “These documentaries often need to be turned around in weeks. So, to allow the edit as much time as possible, we’ll regularly take a locked cut to colour grade, audio mix and online just days before transmission. Obviously, this comes with its own pressures, but we’ve had a great workflow in place for several years to allow a smooth transition between the News edit and SPS finishing. Finding that balance in time has been key – it allows the News edit team enough time to cut and tell their story, and the SPS talent enough time to really bring that story to life through the grade and mix.”
The Start Of COVID-19 In Europe
When we spoke to John Ryley, Head of Sky News, about the last year, John highlighted two documentaries that he felt the proudest of – and among them was the first documentary produced in lockdown – Coronavirus: Into the Red Zone. John reflected, “Into the Red Zone from our correspondent Stuart Ramsey was really the opening up of quite how nasty and grim Covid-19 was going to be. So, Stuart went to film in a couple of hospitals in Lombardy in Northern Italy, where they have a smart health service, and he revealed the horror of Covid-19 in the ICU units of those very well-funded hospitals. It’s easy to forget quite how dangerous going into ICU units in hospitals was a year ago. It was a new pioneering thing to do.” ‘Into the Red Zone’ was the first documentary made in lockdown and SPS turned it around in just a single week to make sure this shocking and important story was told as soon as possible.
John also spoke about ‘8 Minutes and 46 Seconds: The Killing of George Floyd’, which was commissioned on the 5th of June and transmitted on the 15th June. He said, “Within 10 days we had turned around a simple programme, but it chronicled what had happened on that particular moment in America. And we put it together as I say in 10 days, and Idris Elba was happy to be the narrator, and it really caught the mood I think not just of America and the UK but the world at that appalling event.”
Later, John remarked that “I’d really like to shout out the work of the technical teams. Often the people that work very long hours doing very precise jobs and don’t always get the showbiz glamour and the glitz of working on these high-end productions. But without their meticulous care, these documentaries would not be as wonderful as they are.”
Reflecting on a year of lockdown documentaries, it’s clear to see that it’s the collaboration between departments at Sky that has helped to make sure these important stories have been told. The disconnection of being at home, isolated from our families and from the world, has meant that high standards of journalism and getting vital stories to people in their homes has never been more important, and SPS have been privileged to work with Sky News in this last year doing exactly that.