Firecracker Films’ new 1 x 60’ documentary, Stacey Dooley: Inside the Undertakers, follows the journalist presenter as she tackles the subject of death, immersing herself in the world of a funeral home at the premises of a century-old business.
Stacey Dooley: Inside the Undertakers airs on 9 November on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Here, Kirsty Calvert-Ansari, Creative Director of Development, and Alice Bowden, Producer Director, explain how the production came together:
“[In] Stacey’s previous acclaimed BBC documentary Inside the Convent, she expressed her fear of death seeking answers from the nuns she was staying with, but her curiosity wasn’t fully satisfied. Stacey’s life has since changed; and as a new mother, her worries for the future, and about death, have only been exacerbated.
“So, in order to try to overcome her fears head-on, the team at Firecracker Films discussed the idea of bedding in with a team of undertakers who face death every day of their lives.
“From initial conception, we knew this was going to be a challenging project – to take the subject of death, which people don’t often talk about, and make a programme for prime time TV. Compliance heavy, with extremely difficult access to families at one of the most difficult times in their lives – but it was a film we felt was important to make.
“Right from the start we were keen that this couldn’t be all doom and gloom; an audience needed to really engage and feel a sense of celebration. So, when discussing our idea with the BBC we wanted to ensure we tackled the subject in a way that was approachable and warm, and even had a touch of humour, whilst confronting the inevitability of death, which was a very delicate balancing act both on production and in the edit.
“In order to make this feel as personal as possible for Stacey we felt that immersing with just one funeral director, and getting to know the staff really well, would work best.
“As such, we decided to look for family-run, independent funeral directors which had a rich history and that was at the heart of their local community. Right at the start we were really keen to find an undertakers that had staff similarly aged to Stacey for her to relate to. We spoke and met several firms across the UK, but A W Lymn in Nottinghamshire quickly became our first choice.
“They are renowned across the county, and ‘girl power’ reigns supreme here, a proud fifth-generation family business with a rich history of young, passionate female embalmers.
“We were conscious that filming [here] would create a unique set of challenges and we wanted to be prepared for every eventuality. So, before we picked up a camera, we drew up an incredibly detailed duty of care protocol that put our potential contributors, A W Lymn’s clients, first at all times.
“This initial groundwork was time-consuming but crucial, and ultimately it created a platform for Stacey to really be able to immerse herself in their world and explore the business of death from every angle.
“At the same time, this approach helped us to gain access to several funerals, where Stacey met the families and friends of the deceased at the planning stage. This gave her the opportunity to study other people’s attitudes to death, often from different faiths and religions, while pondering her own. These stories really showcase Stacey’s ability to put people at ease during the most difficult of times, and in turn, give the documentary warmth and intimacy.
“Finding people to be involved in the documentary was a sensitive process. Though we were able to meet some people who were planning their own funerals, more often we had a very short window to line up filming, as we were only able to meet family and friends once the deceased had been brought into the funeral home’s ‘care’. We made a point of talking very extensively with the families to ensure they felt certain they wanted to be involved.
“We wanted to take a level look at a subject about which everyone has deep feelings and fears which are seldom ever spoken aloud. The documentary sets out to show Stacey’s journey as she investigates this hidden world. But being confronted with death in such an intimate way had a deep effect on the crew behind the camera as well as the presenter in front of it. You can’t make a film like this and not be changed.”
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