As COVID-19 guidelines for safe filming are being struck by governments, entertainment guilds and labor unions, stalled live-action TV shows and movies are gradually returning to life. Production protocols in harder hit regions, such as the UK, France and US state Georgia, have been drafted, while measures for California, the rest of the US and Canada are pending. Despite the progress, producers are now grappling with a number of financial and legal uncertainties as they decide how and when to bring back shows and features.
The clock is ticking particularly fast for live-action kids projects because producers rely on the short summer season to work with child actors while they’re out of school. What will happen if kids productions miss this all-important window?
In this series, Kidscreen checks in with producers and broadcasters to hear more about their live-action filming plans.
On the best of days, complex hybrid series that mix stop-motion animation, puppetry and visual effects with real actors require producers to solve a lot of technical problems on the fly. But now that shows must comply with new COVID-19 health and safety protocols, hybrid projects demand even more attention from producers.
Such is the case for Irish prodco JAM Media, which is looking at how to safely begin filming the live-action elements of its new CBBC all-ages series Tiara Jones in Belfast.
Greenlit last September for delivery in summer 2021, the 10 x 24-minute hybrid musical series follows 18-year-old pop star Tiara Jones and her tween sister on a concert tour through the galaxy. The series marks the first time JAM will use real actors to make up the main cast.
To ensure the health and safety of performers and crew, managing director Richard Gordon says in-studio personnel will be restricted to essential-only crew, remote working will be used when it’s possible and reduced interactions between cast and crew will be necessary.
In addition, the production will maintain social distancing in JAM’s Belfast studio [the company is headquartered in Dublin] by paring down physical sets and using more green screen where it can. CG crowd simulations (pictured) will also be implemented to decrease the use of extras. (No exterior shots in real locations were planned for the series due to its space setting.)
Budget wise, Gordon is anticipating some extra costs to meet the restrictions (such as personal protective equipment and additional insurance), but he is looking at increased efficiencies elsewhere. Limiting extras and physical sets, for example, could lower hiring and construction costs, while some assistant roles may become obsolete in the social distancing world, he says. Further savings could come from cast members doing their own hair and makeup, and travel and hospitality costs could be minimized by increasing the use of local crew and talent. As JAM works through the details, Gordon says it’s too early to put a number to the extra costs and savings.
Going forward, Gordon says Tiara Jones will be a more challenging shoot, but he’s confident JAM will still be able to produce the series with the same level of quality as would be expected prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and without delay to its original delivery dates.
The studio originally scheduled live-action shooting for August and September, but is re-jigging its dates to late September and early October.
“It’s tough for us because you really need to shoot in the summer time if you’re shooting for kids,” says Gordon. “It’s the golden window for filming, and if you miss it you’re in a trickier position because you have to consider taking kids out of school and getting them teachers when they come out to set.”
The delay, however, will give the studio more time in pre-production to work on the show’s animated elements and to set up strategies to comply with COVID-19 safety measures issued by production trade organization PACT last month, and new guidelines released by the British Film Commission earlier this week.
JAM is also following guidance from national screen agency Northern Ireland Screen, which is advising in line with guidelines outlined for the rest of the UK. As part of its strategy, the agency is planning virtual meetings for production companies shooting from August onwards to share tips and tricks for working within COVID-19 protocols. “Knowledge sharing will be absolutely key in the planning,” says Gordon.