For Canada’s marblemedia, which specializes in producing live-action kids shows like All-Round Champion and Just Like Mom and Dad (pictured), the global shutdown of live-action productions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 has forced the company to re-think how it shoots unscripted content.
Bishop says marble was lucky because it wrapped production on season two of its competitive sports series All-Round Champion for Canadian broadcasters Knowledge Network and TVO, as well as US broadcaster BYUtv, just prior to lockdown requirements and the enforcement of social distancing in Toronto last month.
“We were fortunate to have everything in the can just before the shutdown,” says Bishop. “The marketing side, however, was a bit challenged because it had to axe a bunch of live [on-set] interviews with talent.”
Though the timing mostly worked out for All-Round Champion, marble did have to press pause on a pair of unscripted kids projects—a short-run Christmas series for a yet-to-be announced US streaming service and an all-ages outdoor series—that were both set to shoot this summer.
“Even though the Christmas series has been greenlit, it may or may not happen because it has to be ready for the holiday season, which is a tight window” says Bishop. “The other series is in a holding pattern until crews are allowed to shoot outdoors and in parks again.”
To help the company move forward, marble has implemented a risk-mitigation plan for its upcoming shows. Bishop says the studio is addressing a range of factors, including what changes to filming restrictions might mean for production schedules.
“When restrictions are loosened, there’s going to be a sudden bottleneck of studios needing to shoot, and the availability of crews and locations will be an issue,” he says.
According to the Toronto Film Office, it is not issuing film permits for up to 12 weeks while safety restrictions and public health orders are still in effect. It made the announcement on April 2 meaning productions will likely not resume until late June. Once the restrictions are lifted, Bishop says his concern will be less about permits and more about how to ensure safe social distancing on set, both in studio and on location. “We need to keep everyone safe,” he says. “We are concerned about preventing the potential of second or third waves of COVID-19.”
For its popular competition series Just Like Mom and Dad, which is awaiting third season pickups by YES TV in Canada and BYUtv in the US, marble may have to shoot it without a studio audience, if the show resumes production. This may have unintended consequences. “It’s obviously hard for performers, especially hosts, who are used to on-set energy.”
Bishop notes that particular set design elements on the show might need to change, too, so the host and contestants don’t stand too close together.
“Do we change the podium design to allow for more separation?” he says. “We’ve been asking these types of questions.”
In the meantime to keep development moving, Bishop says marble has been conducting writer’s rooms using virtual whiteboards and Zoom conferencing while the company works from home, studio and location scouting is also being done virtually, and the company’s casting directors have been accepting self-taped auditions from actors.
“We’re still spending as much time as we normally would in the writer’s room, and we’re still scouring for great casts and finding locations, but we’re just using different tools,” says Bishop. “The different ways of collaborating and working with people is a silver lining that has come out of this.”