If my Slack inbox is any indication, the question that' on everyone’s mind these past two weeks has been; “Is this shoot really happening? Do we really get to do this?”
It probably would have been the question on mine too, had I not had something a little more personal weighing on me. How was I going to tell my family I was doing a shoot in Atlanta just a few days after the statewide stay-at-home order was lifted? The same Atlanta, where down the street, my sister is a surgeon still fighting on the front lines of a global pandemic.
There was just no way we could pull this off in a major city while also guaranteeing everyone’s safety.
In the end, I didn’t have to, because we didn’t do that shoot in Atlanta. In the week before we were due to meet on set we all got together on Zoom and levelled with each other; there was just no way we could pull this off in a major city while also guaranteeing everyone’s safety. We needed to go to plan B.
Above: The crew of the Orangetheory Fitness shoot with Tony Ciampa, front centre, in baseball cap.
So, five days later, with all the safety precautions taken to the best of our abilities, we went cameras up for the first time in this brave new world in Knoxville, Tennessee — quietly one of the largest production markets in the United States, and one that has been *knocks on wood* minimally affected by Covid-19.
How did it go you ask? Let’s walk through it.
Here’s what to expect on your first shoot back.
1) It’s a good thing the Super Bowl isn’t coming up soon
If you’re looking to spend a few million dollars on a production right now, I have bad news for you; unless you’re planning to hand out stacks of cash at the craft services table, I’m not sure there’s any way to blow through your big fat budget. Due to local government guidelines, we were allowed a maximum of 10 people on set. TEN! Gone were the ensemble casts, the art department, the extras, the stylists. Hell, we didn’t even have a line producer. Good luck making 1984 right now.
Gone were the ensemble casts, the art department, the extras, the stylists. Hell, we didn’t even have a line producer.
2) You’re going to find out pretty quick if you’re 'essential'
One of proudest moments of my creative career, a moment I’ll never forget, is the moment when I was told for the first time as a young creative that I was confirmed to be attending the shoot for a project I helped concept. I’d been left home so many times in the past. I’d worked so hard to become 'essential'.
But, for now, a lot of people are going to have to wait a little longer to make the list. On our set this weekend, we had one measly creative (me, also directing the spot). One client (who also had a role in the spot). Zero producers. The final attendee list was rounded out by two more talent, our multi-talented DP, one gaffer, one audio guy, and three other agency staff who also served as HMU, craft services, and PA, amongst many other roles.
3) Every introduction was like 'white people fist bump.gif'
Introductions were WEIRD. It’s not just that we hadn’t physically seen each other in months, it’s that now that we’re back together, it’s still not back to normal. We’re not supposed to shake hands or hug for now, we all know that, but our muscle memory doesn’t. If I had a dollar for every time someone reached out their hand only to clumsily pull it right back, I’d be able to add another year to our usage rights.
It’s going to take a while before it doesn’t give me sweat-inducing anxiety to approach someone and not give them a handshake.
Long story short, it’s going to take a while before it doesn’t give me sweat-inducing anxiety to approach someone like a CMO in a professional setting and not give them a handshake, especially if they accidentally extend their hand to me first.
4) I didn’t gain five pounds
Anyone who’s ever spent a day on a film set knows the blessing and the curse that is craft services. It’s not just a food table, it’s the table where you mindlessly eat three bags of beef jerky and four Kit Kats before noon. Well, I’m happy to report that in a mask-and-glove-wearing world, I only consumed one half of a Kind bar on an entire 10-hour day.
5) Masks; placebo or life-saver?
I’m no immunologist, so I can’t answer this for sure, but I can say for sure that they’re definitely at least a placebo. Before getting to set I had serious concerns as to whether or not we’d feel safe enough to do our jobs, and without question everyone having a mask on the entire time made a huge difference in my mind. I felt confident giving direction to talent, I felt confident interacting with the DP, I felt confident conversing with the client on the sidelines. Masks work, I think. We should all wear them.
Masks work, I think. We should all wear them.
6) I’m really missing the bigness
It’s not just the five-star hotels in exotic locales that make big budget production so enjoyable. It’s not even the sushi dinners or the personal drivers. It’s the people I get to work with that challenge me, push me, teach me, and elevate me. I love interacting with a director ten levels my senior, reviewing treatments with them, asking them questions and seeing their vision.
I’m not sure when I’m going to bring on the A-level talent again... given the current state of affairs, I’m not sure how we’d spend a budget worthy of their talents.
I love working with the teams they assemble, even when we butt heads. Right now, I’m not sure when I’m going to get to do production like that again. I’m not sure when I’m going to bring on the A-level talent again, because even if a client had a budget for them, given the current state of affairs, I’m not sure how we’d spend a budget worthy of their talents within the limits of the reopening guidelines. And that’s a bummer. That’s the kind of work that inspires all of us.
Above: Behind the scenes of the Orangetheory Fitness shoot.
7) I think I’m going to buy stock in Taylor Swift
All I could think about both during concepting and shooting was how important music licensing is going to be for the rest of the year. If we can’t invest in big productions and big ideas in-camera, then music is going to become integral to the idea more often than not.
With a limited camera crew, no art department, no stylists and no line producer keeping me on schedule, there were times where I had to make minor concessions on my grand vision.
8) Good editors will be worth their weight in gold
You know the old saying, 'we’ll fix it in post'? Well, against all odds, I didn’t hear it once on set during our shoot weekend. But there were more than a few times where I, as the director, thought to myself, 'I’ll make that cool in post'. With a limited camera crew, no art department, no stylists and no line producer keeping me on schedule, there were times where I had to make minor concessions on my grand vision. But I never moved on before playing through in my head how an out-of-the-box editing sequence could bring it to life. What we capture on set isn’t going to be perfect right now, but an imaginative, collaborative editor can save the day.
Above: A sign of the times.
9) The best part was just getting back to work
Throughout all of this quarantining, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a salaried job where I can continue to do what I love day in and day out. The same can’t be said for all the independent contractors who make this industry (and the work) what it is. Being able to get back on set and give work to the camera crew and the actors that I’ve always enjoyed making things with felt special after these past few months. Hopefully next time I’ll even get to bring back a producer.
So, that’s a wrap on the first shoot in the new world. I don’t want to do it like this forever, but I do hope to do it again soon.