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Rhiannon Lewis, Managing Director & Senior Producer at The Gate Films

Production is all about problem solving. Restrictions due to lock-down has to be one of the biggest problems we’ve had to solve, but we’ve solved it. The Gate have overcome this hurdle by using our existing resources to create and deliver TV quality content. Many steps and actions were taken to make this a possibility for our clients and this ‘How to’ guide will hopefully help others who are struggling with the new restrictions get back to making great advertising content.

We have disseminated both the APA, and the British film institute’s guidelines, and combined them with our own knowledge and learning to produce an incredibly robust set of guidelines and workflow schedule which covers all types of production. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has agreed the guidelines, but it is down to each production to be responsible for following them. I aim to talk you through all the options that can be used to inform creative, timelines and budgets in order to successfully film remotely.

 

Shooting the basics

All attendees fill in a health questionnaire (remotely – the passing of paper is limited to essential reasons only). All crew wear PPE. Gloves, masks, and sanitising stations have become the norm.

Social distancing is always practised. It’s not difficult in 90% of cases, we are either outside with plenty of room, or in studio, with plenty of room – Big shoots out on location in someone’s home is an example of a more tricky scenario, that we’d advise against right now unless budget is no issue – in which case we might as well build a set!

Every area is deep cleaned and sanitised before and after the shoot with individual departments given time for the same. Every piece of kit is to be cleaned and sanitised prior to and after each job. Each freelance member of crew has to sign up to this.

We have had to work with not only minimal crew, but no attendance on set for both agency and client. Of course, where necessary, and travel restrictions allowing, if essential for the job we still want all key staff, crew, agencies and clients on set. But who is essential, and who can be logging in to watch remotely? This question will always be asked. Less people, less travel, less waste, less risk, less impact on the environment.

All the crew’s safety is to be risk assessed (as has always been the case) but this is now subject to spot checks by the H&S departments.

We now operate under this completely different regime. We started shooting in studio at the end of March and have had to put these very strict processes in to shoot during the lock-down. These measures have not only been vital to allow us to continue producing, but also have shown us the way forward, in a post COVID-19 production world.

These measures will now remain in place indefinitely, regardless of the threat level, as it makes good business sense.

 

Studio or Location? Both? With VFX?

It’s all possible again, but top line, here’s what you need to consider for each one –

 

Studio

All but one of the projects that we’ve shot since the start of lock-down has been in the studio, and we’ve really seen how flexible the studio offering, combined with post, can be. During lock-down we’ve continued to shoot for many clients across the food sectors We’ve built sets in advance, keyed in backgrounds created in post, and remotely dialled in clients in Denmark and the Middle east, together with the agencies in London and Canada.

We’ve shot the stills for them at the same time – to save them setting up another shoot.

The studio is fully marked out and has separate spaces allocated for all departments. We’ve moved most of production out so that these spaces can be used.

Ventilation is crucial, so lighting is a factor as with natural ventilation comes natural light, so we’ve been using more lighting to counteract that, rather than closing the doors. This clearly affects audio too, so dialogue should be kept short – not usually an issue in our game!

Travel is an important consideration – and we are advising against public transport. We ask people to drive themselves if possible or we provide access to a safe vehicle.

We’re lucky enough to own our own studio – which gives us full control over the space. We both use it for our clients, but also dry hire it, so it’s imperative we’re confident that the space is beyond government guidelines.

 

 

We have put social distancing road maps out throughout the studio to identify 2 metres of space, have signage up at all entrances and exits and have created off-site spaces to house crew to help social distancing.

 

Location

Councils are currently not granting permissions but may be doing so from July. In the meantime, many private businesses have large unused spaces with roads and buildings that can double as public spaces. We are currently negotiating a space in a private school. Clearly we have to be super careful that we’re adhering to all of the guidelines here, which is why Lindsay, our senior production manager, has been attending every single webinar and reading every piece of guidance, and is ensuring we go overboard with safety.

We also have a database of house & venue locations that can be used as they are not being lived/worked in at the moment, so actually the choices of venue are good. There are also many locations in the UK that can double up as abroad locations –

Again – limiting the amount of people is key – who really needs to visit the location for a view? Our Directors will be viewing things remotely where possible, and recce’s will be done with a much tighter team. Rather than a ‘viewing room’ in a location – this will be set up in a vehicle or separate unit base close by.

 

So, What Has Changed?

1. Onset Rules

Social distancing = more space needed = less people allowed on set.

In order to keep to as few people as possible to allow for social distancing, we’ve had to do away with multiple runners – so there’s no fancy coffee on set.

2. Camera & Lighting Department

We’ve partnered directly with No Drama, who can provide any camera kit from a basic camera and tripod right up to a Steadicam kit, track and dolly and even remote controlled cranes. As part of this, they have taken onboard sanitation both before and after the shoot and we have put in place remote camera kits for as much as technology currently allows.

3. Cast

We are carrying out many castings via Zoom at the moment – it’s actually a really good way of seeing how talent respond to direction live on camera!

We will need time to block out scenes individually with cast members before we shoot. This will both allow us to prep in advance without needing the cast all together at the same time but will also let camera and lighting rehearse too. Issues regarding avoiding face to face contact could be looked at creatively when conceptualising an idea. By blocking out any on-camera performance, we should automatically be on the right path to avoid keeping cast stood together for long periods of time.

4. Remote Sign off

Client and agency can login to a live stream of the shoot and sign off remotely rather than be on set in person. We will always have a live mobile feed to travel around the location or set to look at props/make up/wardrobe etc.

5. Post, VFX & Animation

(Graeme Hill & James Clancy – Fensa)

Clearly, it’s now ever more important that we consider the role post has to play. We have got all of our guys working remotely either from their homes, or from the edit suites and linking into other post houses.

One massive advantage of this period is that as the demand has gone up for post, we have increased collaboration, and now have a direct hook up with 9 suites in Manchester and all of Smoke & Mirrors Soho facility.

 

Planning.Time.Budget

The fundamental difference that all of this brings is time. It will now, ordinarily, take a little longer to plan, and to produce. This could have an impact on budget, but we believe that if we can be involved at a slightly earlier stage, and if your teams are aware of these guidelines, then this doesn’t have to be the case.

Although we will always strive to keep budgets as lean as possible, new factors mean that there will inevitably be additional costs that weren’t there before – PPE supplies for example.

 

Results

Graeme Hill: Apetina Cheese

 

Michael J Ferns: Spec Spot – Johnnie Walker

 

One DoP with a few lights, one actress and me on FaceTime. We shot this remotely directed, one man crew, spec ad for Johnnie Walker under
lockdown conditions. I worked closely with the DoP to plan remotely, doing virtual recces and building shot lists from there. His GF acted in it under my
direction on video calls and it went through post-production from a distance too. Graded, music composed, vocals recorded and produced all
adhering to government guidelines.

It shows you that, with the right attitude, not everything has to be user-generated and shot on Zoom!