The Insider: How we kept the secret

Executive Producer

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Will Smith once said “There’s no reason to have a plan B because it distracts from plan A,” and I’d like to pretend that this confidence is something we adopted in making The Insider for BBC Three.

But the truth is the only reason we didn’t have a plan B was because we couldn’t think of one!

Plan A was a simple idea. Five candidates live together while competing for a job in one of the UK’s most exciting companies. But what four of them don’t know is that one of them is actually a senior employee within the business.

They’re the insider and their role is to be the eyes and ears of the company; to see what the other candidates are truly like and decide who really deserves the job.

A dream job interview with a difference: an insider reports back everything to the boss.

On paper it sounded easy, but in reality (especially without a plan B!) it couldn’t have been much more complicated.

If the insider’s cover was blown we simply wouldn’t have a programme to deliver and we’d all be in big trouble – a fear that had the team on the ground in a state of perpetual paranoia and myself, as the executive producer back in the office, constantly checking my phone expecting a call at any second to say it had all gone horribly wrong.

From the outset we were determined not to make a mean programme. This wasn’t going to be about identifying the worst person for the job but rather about discovering the best. 

The job seekers would be clearly informed (both in writing and verbally) that they’d be assessed around the clock and that anything they said to each other, on or off camera, might be reported back to the bosses.

There would be no hidden cameras, no deliberate attempts to trip people up and no humiliation.

The chosen companies would be encouraged to offer all the candidates further opportunities beyond filming (something they were all very keen to do) and everyone was comfortable and felt we had been fair.

Finding suitable companies to take part in the series wasn’t difficult, but finding suitable companies with suitable insiders was. We needed people who were convincing actors - senior enough to decide who to hire, but who could behave with the youthful, less experienced manner of the other job seekers.

They had to be tough enough to deal with the pressure of not being 100% honest with people they might bond with and, of course, they needed to be confident enough to keep their cover 24/7 (including after a few drinks in the pub!)

Candidates compete for their dream job at a fashion label, watched over by the Insider.

Making approaches to potential insiders only increased our anxiety levels. What if they didn’t like our idea or we inadvertently hit on the office blabbermouth? The secret could be blown before we’d picked up a camera.

To minimise the risks we worked with the company bosses. First we talked through the options and, with the help of company photos and video footage, and sometimes a subtle ‘recce’ (which mostly consisted of a tour of the office and a sharp nudge when we passed a potential insider) we drew up a very short list of targets.

These people were then individually approached by the company and, once they’d agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement, we were finally able to talk.

The final four insiders had to remove all online traces of themselves. Names and photos were removed from company websites, Facebook and Twitter accounts were deactivated and, just in case we’d missed something and a very enthusiastic/suspicious candidate outwitted us with their detective skills, we also changed their surnames.

We avoided telling the insiders too much about the job hopefuls because we wanted them to get to know them on camera. But we did have to run their names by them to check they weren’t related and/or hadn’t met before (yet another risk!)

There was a danger that they’d start overthinking things and act unnaturally, so as much a possible we treated them as if they were one of the competitors. 

The candidates must choose items to take to a bridal show but one of them has inside knowledge...

We even made them go through exactly the same casting process as the others so that they were prepared if someone asked where they’d found out about the programme and what they thought of the selection process.

After much debate, we decided to bring the companies’ employees (or at least all the people who worked in the buildings we were shooting in) in on the secret a day or two before filming started.

We were worried that if we did it too early the secret would soon get out beyond the company and potentially reach our job seekers, but too late and we might cause upset in the workplace with people feeling they hadn’t been given time to discuss any concerns.

They all signed confidentiality agreements and were instructed to behave as normal – apart from, of course, having to remember to pretend they’d never met one of their colleagues before and avoid the urge to pull silly faces in their presence!

In one episode we filmed with a workforce of more than 750 people looking on - and held our breath every time our candidates were within earshot of the rest of the company.

There was always the chance that someone would, wittingly or unwittingly, give the game away. In fact, within the first ten minutes of filming our first episode, a security guard innocently, but very loudly, asked the film crew why one of the company’s managers was sitting over there (a few feet away with the other candidates) waiting for a temporary pass to the building!

Thankfully, the group were engrossed in conversation, the security guard was quickly (and very quietly) brought in on the ruse and a note was swiftly sent out for the next three episodes… Never forget the security guards!

Ros Ponder is an executive producer on The Insider.

The Insider continues on Mondays at 9pm on BBC Three. For further programme times please see the episode guide.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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