5 TV directors explain the biggest challenges of the COVID era
“I had a mentor who always told me that creative opportunities are born out of restrictions, so we certainly had that happen,” says “The Daily Show” director David Paul Meyer about the challenges he has faced since the COVID-19 pandemic. The entire TV industry has had to find a new equilibrium due to the public health crisis, and we discussed the ups and downs with Meyer and his fellow directors Susanne Bier (“The Undoing”), Lisa France (“Queen Sugar”), Kenny Leon (“Mahalia”), and Michelle MacLaren (“Coyote”) as part of our “Meet the Experts” series. Watch our group discussion above. You can also click on each name above to watch that person’s individual panel interview.
Leon considers it to have been a “great challenge.” Amid the tragedies and hardships, it has allowed for creative growth: “If you’re the same artist that you were last year at this time, I think you’re going to be left behind. So I think that the writing is stronger, different, the acting is more committed.”
Bier adds that the pandemic has been “really painful,” especially for young people who have been traumatized by their isolation from their peers. But after “working nonstop for 12 years,” she found that “suddenly I was at home and not at an airport, and I think that was incredibly healthy, a proper wake-up call.” MacLaren also took comfort from being with her family, though it also meant that post-production on “Coyote” had to be done from afar: “We did everything — sound mixes, looping and everything — all from our homes. We sent iPads to our actors all over the world who did most of their looping in their closets because that is the most soundproof place.”
That lack of in-person contact with colleagues has been one of the most difficult challenges in such a collaborative medium. “There’s an unusual closeness that’s happened,” says MacLaren about Zoom calls giving her a peek into coworkers’ homes, “but of course it’s nothing like being there in person with them, and I miss that.” Meyer agrees that “you can’t replace” the value of being in a room with your team, “especially when you’re trying to write jokes.” France longs for physical closeness: “I actually really miss hugging people,” she explains. “When you’re dealing with sensitive subject matter,” as they do regularly on “Queen Sugar,” it’s difficult not to be able to lend that emotional support to the actors when it’s needed.
But it’s still so soon since the pandemic lockdowns — and health safety protocols are still in place a year later — that it may be too soon to tell what the artistic, emotional, and professional takeaways from this era will be. “I don’t think we really know,” says Bier. “If you ask us in five years time we will be able to have a proper answer.”