As Hollywood begins the long, arduous process of restarting production, one thing has become abundantly clear: TV production isn’t going back to normal for a long time. Temperature checks, social distancing, and other such safety measures are going to add to the already complex feat of making a TV show, and this places an outsized burden on small, independent productions. Many indie filmmakers don’t have the money or expertise to sanitize film sets at the same level as big studio productions. But this new world order in Hollywood may just end up being a springboard for indie filmmakers everywhere. So for any indie creators struggling to continue making art during this pandemic, I’d like to introduce you to Stories From Quarantine.
A Socially-Distanced Web Series
We made Stories From Quarantine at the height of the COVID19 pandemic. We’re talking the middle of April, when things looked bleakest. Reopening was still just a pie-in-the-sky term thrown around by CNN pundits, and there was certainly no TV being produced. We had already finished production on several episodes before The Parks And Recreation Special had come out.
Stories From Quarantine was made remotely, from start to finish. With the exception of two actors (who live together off camera), none of our cast and crew had met by the time the first episode aired. In fact, most of them have still never met. Our editor, the wickedly talented Vanishonko, never even set foot on the same continent as the rest of our team. Each of our actors directed their own episodes and either filmed them, or recruited a family member to serve as DP. Any notes were given over the phone or via email, and all footage was transferred over the internet.
And the end result? A four-part anthology web series premiering on Instagram and IGTV. Logline: Bored out of his mind during the COVID-19 quarantine, a student documentarian embarks on a project to interview (remotely) his best friends to see how they’re staying “safer at home”. Each episode chronicles a different person’s quarantine experiences and the series is presented in a mockumentary format.
Here’s a quick taste of Stories From Quarantine:
How To Make Art During COVID
Obviously this method of production won’t work for every project. Your Christopher Nolan-style mind-bending Sci Fi will have to wait for a vaccine. But if you’re interested in putting all of this free COVID-time to good use and making something while social distancing, here are a few useful tips we discovered while making Stories From Quarantine:
- Write for the quarantine. We used an anthology format, meaning characters appeared in one episode and never returned. We also never had more than one character (or set of characters in the case of our couple episode) appear in an episode. This helps to make the lack of multiple interacting characters as easy to forget as possible. Trying to film characters interacting when they’re not really in the same city is going to make your project stick out like a sore thumb.
- Format format format. If each of your actors’ spouses are camera operators, you can ignore this one. But, if not, this is going to be vital. Watching Stories From Quarantine, I’m sure you can tell it was filmed on iPhones. The footage is handheld and some episodes are slightly grainy. But the wonderful thing is that it doesn’t matter. The subjects are supposed to be filming themselves, which means that our audience would actually turn up their noses if it wasn’t handheld. So look for ways to bake the low-res cinematography into your story. A mockumentary. A ZOOM call. Etcetera.
- Go for Happy! This one might make me a bit of a backseat driver, but I thought I’d mention it anyway. This is a scary time, and people want to feel better. There’s a reason Parks and Recreation got a Quarantine special and not The Walking Dead. Whether your COVID-TV is directly related to the pandemic or not, you’ll have better results with a lighter, or at least more hopeful message.
A New Type of Indie Filmmaking
While one could dismiss this as a moment to be forgotten as soon as there’s a vaccine, I prefer to think of it as a new type of TV production. While I’m proud to say that there were few examples of Quarantine-era TV when we started production on Stories, that is no longer the case. The aforementioned Parks and Recreation Special, Apple’s Mythic Quest: Quarantine episode, and Paul Lieberstein’s socially-distanced take on The Office, to name a few, show that Hollywood is recognizing this moment and the potential benefits social distancing can bring to the TV landscape. And the benefits are even more pronounced for indie filmmakers.
- During the age of COVID, people are quickly getting used to a different type of viewing experience. ZOOM is becoming a touchstone in people’s day-to-day lives and the world is getting used to watching entertainment through that medium. As more and more Hollywood shows begin to rethink their futures in the ZOOM-friendly world, your ultra-low-budget short starts looking closer and closer to what’s on TV.
- The barrier for entry is nonexistent. The money and crew required to produce an excellent web series or short film using ZOOM or an iPhone camera is negligible compared to making the same project using traditional filming methods.
- Your team is right there with you. Even as your potential cast and crew venture back out into the world, they’re doing so in a world with fewer jobs and more danger baked-in to the jobs that are available. Many actors, editors, producers, etc, would jump on the opportunity to make a high-quality web series without leaving their apartment.
This is a scary time, not only in the world of creatives, but for everybody. And yet it’s always up to us to find the silver lining in situations like these. And, while we may have to wait a whole year to watch the new Fast and Furious movie, COVID-19 is going to end up being a blessing for creatives, lowering the barrier for entry and creating a whole new pop culture craving for indie creators to satisfy.
You can watch all four episodes of Stories From Quarantine on Instagram.