In 2020, Hollywood productions worldwide were shuttered due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Reality TV shows were some of the first programs to return during quarantine, thanks in part to producers finding clever ways to adapt to their new surroundings. In Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Reality TV panel, four such storytellers — Joseph Guidry (“Full Bloom”), Joseph Litzinger (“Life Below Zero”), Craig Plestis (“The Masked Singer”) and Graham McTavish (“Men in Kilts”) — explain how they pivoted during the pandemic to keep the lights on.
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“We were two weeks into our show and then Covid happened,” Guidry says about the competition series he directs that tasks florists with creating beautiful flower arrangements. “We were down for five months, and I think we were one of HBO Max’s first shows to come back into production. We eased into production. It was just a different world, just trying to figure out how to shoot the same show that we had pitched to the network five months prior. Another challenge I had was to try to figure out how to get those super tight close-ups but stay six feet away.” Guidry’s team eventually added robots and cranes to get all of the shots they needed.
McTavish and Sam Heughan‘s road trip-style series filmed during the pandemic in various locations around Scotland. “We were very lucky, really, in that when we’d chosen to shoot, which was late August into early September, fell between the two lockdowns that the U.K. had experienced up till that point,” reveals McTavish. “So we were able to film in relatively okay circumstances. We had protocols on set. There was all the testing and the masks, etc. Anybody that we were encountering on-camera was tested. So there were a lot of logistics that the production had to deal with that they didn’t have to deal with before.”
Litzinger’s “Life Below Zero” films in remote locations in Alaska, so the cast had already been practicing social distancing for years. “When there’s no one around you for 600 miles, you’re pretty safe,” the showrunner remarks about his Nat Geo series. “That said, of course, we have to get crews to those locations. Basically we were shut down for about five months while BBC and Disney tried to figure out how to get back to work safely.” For the crew members who went up there, they essentially lived in the same households with the people they were filming, so everyone “could sort of ease restrictions after two weeks of quarantining and protocols.”
“The Masked Singer” was one of the first shows to return to a studio during the pandemic. “Luckily, we already had masks, so were just one step ahead,” Plestis jokes about the Fox ratings juggernaut. “The way our show is structured, no one can talk to any of our celebrities, so they’re already isolated on the set.” The producer adds, “It wasn’t easy. The protocols, the getting people there, we couldn’t have an audience for those seasons, we needed to figure out a way not to have as many props on the stage, we used augmented reality set pieces … What it did was, it pushed us all to be more creative for those seasons than we ever had been before.”
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