Filming through a COVID-19 LensChallenges and Changes to On-Site Videography During a Pandemic
December 14, 2020
As the pandemic spread across our nation, photo and video production came to a screeching halt. Standard practices of filming were called into question for the safety of all involved, so we needed to get creative – and fast – to adapt to the new normal. That meant conferring with industry colleagues about new safety protocols, scouting new locations to allow for safe distances, and filming at-home instead of in-studio.
I joined my colleague and videographer Patrick Priest to share a behind-the-scenes look at how our team navigated the challenges of creative production in a COVID-19 world. Clear communications and agile thinking helped us deliver for our clients while keeping everyone safe on set.
Set the ground rules.
AD: From the outset, we established a clear safety protocol that all employees, talent, and clients had to agree to follow. Maintaining appropriate distancing, cleaning equipment, and even setting clear arrival times to avoid crowding during set-up were important to keeping everyone safe and comfortable with the situation.
PP: We try to keep all the shoots outside if we can, since we find that it makes everyone more comfortable. If anyone feels uncomfortable, the feeling of uneasiness can spread, so we make sure to remove that anxiety by aligning on the rules beforehand. We’ll achieve the best results when everyone on set is comfortable, cooperative and on the same page.
AD: The standard is to hold a pre-shoot call with the talent on the location, but with the difficulties around travel today, it can be a bit harder to pre-plan. Overcommunicating is key in these situations to ensure everyone feels comfortable and safe on site. Remaining distanced, masked and aware of everyone’s responsibilities helps the shoot run smoothly.
PP: Traveling to video shoots out in the field was my biggest concern. Where in normal times we could take a quick flight and drive, we’re now avoiding most public transportation, which inherently poses a burden for us.
We sought out airlines that respected the “no middle seat” rule, which made me more comfortable traveling, particularly when I’m carrying around video equipment. When there was no alternative to sharing a vehicle with a colleague, we had to trust that the other person had been maintaining safe distancing measures and quarantining where necessary. I was grateful to travel with people who took that seriously. We’re all doing our part to make up for those who might not be when we are on location.
Get creative and stay nimble on set.
AD: For agricultural and turf clients, particularly those with beautiful golf course scenery, capturing the right look and feel is easy. The bigger challenge comes when we are on-site with clients who own factories or other facilities, forcing us to be agile and adapt in different ways.
PP: It forces us to get creative about what the new scenes should look like and how to tell the story in a fresh way. By going around the exterior of a building, in front of the club house, outside of the chemical and maintenance sheds, we found opportunities to showcase the setting without spending prolonged time indoors in close proximity with other people.
AD: One of our protocols is a ban on lavalier mics, which are worn close to the body and require close contact to place on a speaker. This posed some challenges for conducting interviews, particularly in the popular “walk and talk” format. Now, we usually ask the talent to stand in one spot with a hand-held microphone just out of frame.
PP: We’ve found that we are really maximizing the potential of all our camera equipment. We’ve even made use of aerial drone photography to try to do a walk and talk, shooting in 4K and exporting in a lower resolution so that we can zoom in and grab closer footage. We’re using technology in ways we haven’t previously. Staying nimble and adapting to changing conditions on set has taken on a whole new layer of importance, and it’s allowed our creativity to shine.
Still photography poses its own challenges that required us to develop unique workarounds. Some of our photographers have built makeshift studios in their homes, with clients shipping product samples there directly for them to shoot and edit themselves.
We dispatched Art Director Whitney Fincannon to Senior Motion Designer Mark Zhu’s home studio to complete a photo shoot for one of our manufacturing clients. They met, fully masked, and directed the shoot at a distance of six feet apart, maintaining a safe and respectful environment while capturing all the right creative content for the client’s campaign.
Adjust the live experience to deliver the best content.
AD: Live events pose some of the biggest hurdles. While some events are being canceled or held in a fully remote online format, others are following a hybrid in-person and virtual model that allows remote attendees to view conference presentations as a webinar post-event. This can be difficult to produce, however, when people attending the live event pose a challenge in maintaining distance while capturing footage.
PP: Particularly for clients who had taken strong stances on maintaining safety, avoiding the appearance of a crowd in any of the event footage was just as important as capturing the products and presenters themselves. We had to get creative about photographing products without any attendees standing too close to one another – or without a mask – near the product, which would contradict the safety messaging. Wider shots that captured less than a full person in the frame helped to convey the environment of social distancing and ensure non-attendee audiences that the venues were being maintained at the utmost levels of safety and precaution.
When we’re bridging the gap between physical and virtual in this way, it can be difficult to convey that feeling of being in the “room,” but it’s even more critical to ensure that we make the effort to show customers not only how great the product is but also how much the company respects the need to maintain a safe and healthy environment for all stakeholders.