3 ways to shoot broadcast content during a pandemic

As recently as a few months ago you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Covid-19’s effect on the production industry was going to be short-lived – that an intense period of lockdown would be swiftly followed by an opening of the floodgates where we’d make up for lost time.  We expected 2020 to be a year of two halves – first famine, then feast.  Now we know that this is unlikely and that we’re probably facing a long and gradual phasing out of social distancing while we wait for a vaccine to be developed.

What this means for the production industry is that we’re likely to face a number of restrictions for at least the remainder of the year – making it difficult or even impossible to produce a lot of the content that keeps the industry working and content on the telly.  Recently there’s been a lot of focus on how post-production houses have adapted to provide remote services during lockdown, but the question now is: how can broadcast content producers continue to shoot content during the different phases of containment?  We’ve got some suggestions…

Phase 1: lockdown

With only essential services in operation, production during lockdown is largely limited to self-shooting and live streaming from people’s homes.  Fortunately, with the introduction of high-resolution cameras on smartphones and live video chat applications like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype, it’s possible to capture and share content from contributor’s homes without any professional equipment or crew on site.  However, while this approach may work for news content, viewers expect higher production standards for other genres of programming.  This is where solutions like Studio-in-a-box can be useful.  These small, contained kits come complete with an inbuilt camera and lighting to provide bi-directional video and audio in a single package that’s easy to set up.  The production team can have the Studio-in-a-box delivered to contributors’ homes and then use the Quicklink Manager Portal to control everything from the lighting, audio and camera setup to adding Chroma Key backdrops, camera movements and additional inputs.  With the right remote technical support, these kits provide the ability to capture professional broadcast content with limited on-site resources.

Phase 2: social distancing

Once we come out of social isolation, we’ll face the challenge of producing content while maintaining social distancing. The exact parameters that we’ll have to comply with are yet to be determined, but there’s little doubt that this will continue to make it difficult to shoot a wide range of content – particularly shows with big studio audiences and dramatic shows where cast can’t keep their distance from each other. There is one production approach, however, which is inherently compliant with social distancing and which has already proved enormously popular with international broadcast audiences. Fixed-rig productions use remote head cameras to separate the camera positioning from the crew and camera control, making shows “24 Hours in A&E” “First Dates” and “Gogglebox” possible. The fixed rig approach is appealing because it allows audiences to be a fly-on-the-wall and observe situations that were previously impossible to shoot with a normal camera crew – either because it’s prohibitively expensive or because it would be too difficult or dangerous to put personnel into these areas. While no one expected that the chance of contracting an airborne disease would make “normal” shooting dangerous, fixed rig production techniques can certainly mitigate this risk.

Phase 3: restrictions on international travel

With the government advising against foreign travel “indefinitely” and nine out of 10 flights currently grounded it’s highly likely that we’re going to be hit with international travel restrictions for much of 2020. The concerns we had about Brexit’s effect on our ability to create broadcast programming pales by comparison to the limitations we now face – particularly when it comes to creating culturally and geographically diverse content. One way to simulate international locations, which has already been successfully used on films like “Murder on the Orient Express” and series like “The Mandalorian,” is to use LED displays to create backdrops of foreign destinations – effectively allowing producers to cheat anything from a simple view from the window to entire settings. LED screens provide a far more versatile and realistic effect than chroma key, with fewer lighting and camera movement restrictions and more creative options; more ambitious productions can elevate simple video backdrops into mixed reality environments using a combination of LED screens, camera tracking technology and servers running real-time content manipulation software.

There’s no question that creating broadcast content in the months ahead will be challenging, but if we’ve learnt anything in the last few weeks it’s that our industry will always find creative solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. We look forward to playing our part.