Lights, camera, action
It’s always a bit nerve-racking watching yourself on TV,” says Mark Chinery, Sales Manager at Sunseeker. “But my immediate family enjoyed watching it and I’m sure my late father would have been very proud.” We are talking about his experience of being followed around by a camera crew for several months during filming for the hour-long documentary ‘Britain’s Biggest Superyachts: Chasing Perfection’, which aired on BBC2 in April 2016. With a focus on the trials and tribulations of the build of the first 131 Yacht with Chinery, and a look at the wider world of Sunseeker post-delivery through Lindsay Hutchinson, the Commercial Director of Sunseeker France, the programme offers an illuminating look into a world few of us ever get to see.
The documentary gives the wider world a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making the extraordinary line-up of Sunseeker yachts, in addition to exploring what it takes to ensure commercial success in a challenging global economy.
Other elements of the business put under the spotlight include the production feat of setting up for the boat shows (with a focus on the run-up to the prestigious Cannes show that takes place every September), the passion and dedication of the workforce, the exemplary after-sales experience and the Sunseeker family ethos.
A key component of the programme documents the final six months of the build of Sunseeker’s first 131 Yacht, a design that comprises a staggering 120,000 components and requires 100,000 man-hours for its 13-month construction. It is clear that the demands of the client – as would be expected on any true superyacht build – created a wealth of interesting challenges to overcome, whether it was installing an illuminated water wall in the upper saloon or possibly having to strip out the marble bathrooms (a £100,000 exercise) because the selected marble had just a little too much, well, marbling for the client’s taste. If the pressure of exceeding the client’s expectations – a key tenet of any Sunseeker build – was not enough, imagine trying to do that under the glare of the cameras. “You have to be incredibly diplomatic,” explains Chinery. “A valuable commodity such as a yacht is a very private purchase, so we always had to be careful what we said. However,” he adds, “the director and the crew were a good team of people, quite relaxed and very patient – they were mindful of the fact that I and the others involved still had a job to do and they didn’t want to get in the way. My many years of experience with the product, and because I spend a lot of time talking to clients, made it easier to respond to the film crew’s questions.”
“We first met the independent production company Tuesday’s Child three years ago,” explains Sunseeker founder Robert Braithwaite, “and immediately struck a good relationship and understanding with their Creative Director, Steph Harris. Steph has many years of experience in factual content, having produced programmes for all the major UK channels.” A four-minute taster for the programme, made in the summer of 2013, generated considerable interest across all the major networks. However, Braithwaite was clear on where he preferred the programme to air.
“I always felt strongly that we should wait for the right scheduling opportunity to be offered by the BBC,” he says. “The BBC is revered around the globe, and through BBC Worldwide, the programme will reach a wide audience.” Final filming ran from March 2015 through to the London Boat Show in January 2016, with a further two months for the editing. “I think we were all surprised at just how long and involved the process is,” says Braithwaite. “It was explained to us that for every 120 man-hours of research, meetings and interviews, 12 hours of film is shot which can result in only 60 seconds of the final edit. Nobody was rehearsed or any situation staged – the fierce rules governing the compliance department at the BBC ensured that – but that is where everyone excelled by just being themselves.”
For Hutchinson, images of the glamour of the South of France were tempered with the reality of her role, both in terms of sorting out post-delivery queries and issues, and in the logistical headache of getting the Cannes Yachting Festival stand absolutely perfect. “The film crew was with us for a handful of three-day stints, probably totalling about two weeks,” says Hutchinson. “But what they set out to film wasn’t what ended up in the final result.
They wanted to capture live situations, with the phone ringing in our technical centre leading to a live call-out. But these boats aren’t always local; we had one call where we ended up flying out with parts on a private jet to a rendezvous in Cyprus, and the film crew missed it!” One featured yacht – the 101 Black Legend – happens to be one of the most customised Sunseeker has ever built, and considering this model costs from £7.2m, the importance of Hutchinson’s role in sorting out minor issues was quickly established. It is just a part of what makes the Sunseeker experience so special – as shown not only through the family feel engendered by the owners and their yacht crews, but also through the excitement of those who keep coming back to charter the vessels, at costs of up to £60,000 per week and more.
Although Hutchinson appeared to be a natural on-camera, the reality felt very different. “It was very stressful and very alien for me,” she explains. “I’ve never been exposed to something like that before. Moreover, the crew was with us during August, which is a super busy time for us. But they said I’d get used to having the cameras around, and I did.”
For the film crew as much as for the viewers, seeing the world of large yacht construction and getting an insight into how high-net-worth individuals spend their money was perhaps surprising. “Like many people, I think when the film crew visited the shipyard it was quite awe-inspiring for them,” says Chinery. “When you see the scale and nature of the type of products we build, and when you see and step foot on large yachts for the first time, it’s a real eye-opener – a different world. I think a lot of people are taken aback when they see what we are used to every day.”
It was certainly reflected in the finished programme, which highlighted how this iconic British brand has weathered the economic storm and continues to grow in strength on a global level, with promising sales figures (£47.5 million of orders from one boat show alone) and clients who keep returning to the brand time and again. It’s not difficult to see why; aside from the yachts themselves, it is the people who help make Sunseeker what it is, from the apprentices taking their first steps, through key team members such as Chinery and Hutchinson, right up to Braithwaite himself. “Sunseeker is a family and I know the film-makers enjoyed immersing themselves within all the teams,” Braithwaite says.
“I think the documentary showcased the pride and dedication that runs through every facet of the business. I was very pleased with the final outcome, which I think celebrated a great British success story.” “It was good fun and it was interesting,” says Chinery, “but I’m a small part of a big team, and I think how the company as a whole was portrayed was very positive.” “Every time the narrator said ‘meanwhile, back in the South of France’, I couldn’t breathe!” laughs Hutchinson. “But everyone was really pleased with the result and I think it was great for the brand.”
‘Britain’s Biggest Superyachts: Building Perfection’ was aired on BBC2 in the UK on 15th April 2016. If you missed the first showing, repeats are planned on the BBC in the UK and the programme will be distributed throughout BBC territories in the coming months.