Riddle us this – How do you shoot a commercial, in the midst of a pandemic, on multiple sets, over a half-dozen cast members and a crew numbering up to 45 people, and still ensure the health and safety of all concerned?
Answer – if you do it with the right set of guidelines, rigid adherence to safety protocols, a determination to make sure your clients’ money is effectively spent and above all a passion for getting things done and putting people to work, it’s entirely possible.
That’s what New York-based CinemaStreet Pictures’ EP Dana Offenbach and director Ed Han took away from their experience on a four-day studio shoot that took place early last month.
Working for an advertiser who we can’t yet reveal (their campaign won’t break until the fall), Ed and Dana took over a studio in Passaic, NJ and brought in over 27 vendors to take a campaign comprised of pre-pandemic scripts and bring them to life.
“We spent two months gathering protocols and guidelines from all over the world,” Offenbach shared with Reel 360. Han also shared, “Our mantra was do for the crew what you would do for your family. That’s how we approached the safety issues at every step in the process.”
Offenbach and Han recreated several different household interiors, rather than shoot on location in actual homes as they did in the past. And since the initial scripts called for a scene in a farmer’s market, the producers found a studio that had a large enough parking lot that they could recreate one close to the sets, so minimize travel and content.
Offenbach also noted, “We had each department head work with us on a plan for their department. We took those conversations along with the various protocols and created a six-page health and safety guidelines document that was shared with crew, talent and clients.”
And in the process, they didn’t sacrifice any of the creative or strategic intent of the advertiser’s message and ensured that everyone who helped make it a reality where well-cared for. Watch below:
To date, over a month after the shoot wrapped, there has not been a single positive coronavirus test result from anyone who took part in the production.
“Three weeks after the shoot, I literally followed up with every crew member to see how they were doing. And the good news is that everyone was safe. That was the big win,” Offenbach said.
The Production Process
In order to convince the advertiser they could pull this off, CinemaStreet put together a detailed best practices guide that showed the way. For talent, they cast a real family and a real couple, all of whom quarantined together before the shoot, and then they filmed them on different days so they wouldn’t be exposed to one another.
Frequent breaks were taken to sanitize the set, there was an on-set medic, and two young women with medical degrees who’ve logged time in the Peace Corps (politely called the ‘COVID police’ by the crew) were hired to supervise the process. Hair and makeup did its part, too, with single use gowns and brushes; talent wore their own clothes, to minimize the need for wardrobe.
Everything was previewed via Zoom, as was all the pre-production, including the casting process. And no clients attended the shoot, to minimize the number of people who had to be on set.
“It was probably one of the smoothest shoot experiences I’ve ever had. Even the clients mentioned that. All the credit goes to Dana and her production team for making it all happen during a pandemic,” Han shared.