Filming During COVID-19
After being in business for 20 years, we thought we had seen pretty much everything when it comes to commercial video production. However, filming on-location during COVID-19 in New Jersey and New York City provided a unique set of challenges for the GSF crew. Recently, due to COVID-19, we’ve conducted a lot of virtual productions, and smaller, more local productions. In early September, we had one of our first larger productions since the onset of the pandemic. We faced the challenges with vigor and were thrilled to be back on set. Additionally, filming in New York City on September 11th was one of the most surreal experiences the Grey Sky Films team has had on location. It was certainly humbling, and we were grateful for the experience.
One of our large healthcare clients in the New York City area has opened two new locations in lower Manhattan, and they enlisted us to create a video campaign promoting their new locations and also to encourage people to be proactive about their health and schedule appointments, either in-person or via telehealth. During this project, we learned that many people have canceled, or delayed, necessary routine check-ups due to the pandemic, which can lead to more severe healthcare outcomes down the line. It’s an important message that we’re eager to release to the public.
We filmed over the course of one week — one day in Buttertree Studios in East Hanover, NJ — and two days on-location at the healthcare centers, one on William Street and the other on Worth Street in Tribeca, both in lower Manhattan. We originally scheduled a fourth day for shooting, but we had to cancel due to impending rain. In typical Grey Sky fashion, we rose to that challenge as well, splitting crews on both days in Manhattan so we could accomplish two shoots in one day.
We also wanted to proactively minimize the number of people on set and were grateful to utilize the studio’s remote login capabilities to enable the client to view the set live as we were filming. While they may not have been physically present, they were able to contribute as if they were. We were able to communicate with them in real-time so they could make comments on, and contribute to the overall creative vision of the shoot from the comfort of their homes.
While this wasn’t our first time out filming during the COVID-19 pandemic, this was a tricky commercial video production for the GSF crew to tackle because of the following challenges:
- Casting. Because everything needed to be done virtually, we relied on self-tapes and reels, and virtual casting sessions to select our actors.
- Acting with Masks. Fortunately, for this video campaign, our actors didn’t have to deliver any lines — the dialogue is all voiceover. Our director and fearless leader, Mark Serao, had fun working with the actors to portray their emotions via their eyes and eyebrows.
- Production Studio vs. Set Rentals (i.e.: homes, offices, etc.). Our original plan was to rent and film in a single home to minimize our footprint as well as the number of shooting days. We planned to find a home to rent that could be made to look like two different homes so we could film for half a day with our female character and another half day with our male character. However, we quickly discovered that, due to COVID-19, many people who would ordinarily rent out their homes for video productions, were now wary of doing so, and rightly so. We made the choice to move our commercial video production to a studio where we had space for a slightly larger crew, and the ability, with the help of a set designer, to make each scene look exactly as we needed it to.
- Set Design. Since we initially thought we’d be renting a home to film in, complete with the props and decor we needed, we had to embrace a larger prop and set design budget, and bring in an experienced set designer to bring everything together.
- Minimizing On-Set Crew Members. At Grey Sky Films, we like to keep our film crews lean, and to ensure the safety of everyone on set, we streamlined our crew even further so only essential crew members were on set. To combat this challenge that filming during COVID-19 presents, many studios have enabled the ability to watch and contribute via remote feeds so clients can contribute to the creative vision of the project without having to be physically present on set. We encouraged our clients to take advantage of the remote and virtual feeds.
- Constantly Checking in with the Talent. Since the studio set we used for filming needed to look and feel like the actors’ homes, they needed to be on set and filmed without masks on. Our first priority was making sure the actors felt safe and were comfortable with everything happening while we were filming. To do so, we made sure to maintain open and honest communication with our actors as well as every crew member on set. Prior to production, we made sure everyone was aware of what we were planning for each scene so if anyone was uncomfortable with a certain request, they could let us know ahead of time and they weren’t asked to make any difficult decisions on the spot.
We thoroughly enjoyed being back on set, and even though there were some bumps in the road during this commercial video campaign, we rose to the challenges and overcame them. Everyone at Grey Sky Films is passionate about what we do, and we focus that passion into creating amazing video productions for our clients. We’re back on set and ready to go — contact us to discuss your next commercial video production!