Covid has made the most basic day-to-day tasks near impossible, let alone the effort it takes to make anything artistic. Theatre, Films, Television– all these art forms are group efforts and require people which Boris isn’t keen on at the moment.
AND YET, at the height of the pandemic in the UK, myself and a small team managed to do the impossible……make a film.
AND YES, I know that half-a-dozen celebrities did the same, but to be fair they had teams of A-grade professional crews sitting around L.A. waiting for big-boy productions to pick up again, so they don’t get the same “Brownie Points” as we do!
All the skills and information you need to get a film going are online; GOV websites have released guidelines and safe ways production can still move ahead and while it’s not seemed to work out for bigger productions (Jurassic World, Mission Impossible etc.) there’s no reason low-budget, small-crew indie filmmakers can’t thrive during this time.
I have broken down all my notes below in hopes others like me manage to be creative as soon as possible, or if you’d like to save yourself some time you can watch my breakdown video on the below link:
AN ODE TO TOM CRUISE | HOW TO MAKE A FILM DURING COVID:
The reason I was confident enough to even attempt a production during Covid was the Script; I had a story I wanted to make next and it seemed to suit what we had available.
It was 1x location so minimal movement of the crew and maximum time with the camera rolling. It was a 2x cast story, and they happened to interact over a computer screen so no one was at risk of exchanging germs mid-performance.
Finally, it was a short and sweet 8-page story that was meant to tug on heartstrings and go AWWW; no over complex monologues, no stunts, no camera movements or VFX required.
It was a simple story!
Casting (without Tom Cruise)
The trouble with casting now is that physical spaces are hard to share safely.
I opted to do online-only auditions, something I’d never done before. From past experience, I know I like to shake someone’s hand (NO) or have a little small talk (NO) but that wasn’t an option so I had to create an open and welcoming space for the performers via Zoom.
I recommend having a handful of agencies who you’ve contacted before, who you can send the script to and ask for self-tapes of talents you like, or even ask them to suggest people in their talent pool. That’s like….their main job.
Any self-tapes that caught my eye got a 20 minute audition slot at a time of their choosing in a shared Google Doc. The auditions themselves consisted of a brief hello, an overview of the project and one or two read throughs of the script.
The positive aspect of online auditions is you can record performances; when it came to the selection process I actually edited different performers’ recordings to compare pairings and made a decision from there.
If you have time, I would also suggest arranging a ‘Rehearsal Call’ to introduce any performers prior to the shoot, and so everyone is familiar with each other before getting to set.
Once casting was done, I thought about the logistics of the shoot day.
The best way to save time on set is to have a plan.
This doesn’t have to be set in stone, and more often than not once I get on set I’ll stick to maybe 50% of what I plan, but particularly with Covid you need to consider ‘time’. Do what you can to plan ahead, do not keep people over time, and be open to changing your plan once you’re on set.
I took photos of the room we’d be shooting in to give the DP an idea of the space, and then I chose some angles I specifically wanted to direct the camera. I also made a birds-eye plan of the camera placement and character blocking for each shot, again giving clarity to the crew and a clear image in my head.
Health and Safety Prep
I used a location that I had personal access to at the time, meaning I could create very in-detail safety measures for Covid Safety throughout the shoot.
Prior to the shoot I got a “ScreenSkills Certification of Basic Covid Safety Training”, something everyone can do for free! I also assured there were at least 2x other people on set who had completed the same/similar training so there were multiple eyes looking for risks on set.
As well as that, I worked out the “maximum capacity” each room could handle while sticking to safety procedures; all plans and safety points were emailed to the cast, crew and all agents involved 2 weeks ahead of the shoot giving all parties enough time to look over and ask any Safety questions they had.
We kept the location well ventilated where possible; rooms that were not filmed in had open windows to allow air circulation for those inside.
Gathering Crew during Covid was particularly hard; even though people are more available, they need to be paid– fair enough!
Thankfully, I regularly collaborate with filmmakers and do favour-jobs so I was lucky enough to gather a small team of high-calibre talents and low day rates. They all really delivered and I can’t highlight enough how important it is to get the right people for each project.
Tackling availability was tricky, but once again, I left it in the hands of the “Gods as Google Docs”. I shared a timetable and asked for dates everyone was available. Skype conversations and remote calls were had with all departments as and when needed to assure they were well-prepped for the shoot day.
To save time on the shoot day we also pre-lit the set, meaning my DoP and I could run through our plan and even get some test shots as seen below:
We started the day by gathering everyone (while practicing social distancing) to listen to a read-through of the script; while I know everyone probably read through it ahead of the shoot day, it makes a difference having everyone hear it out loud and be gathered together as a team before any work starts.
Across the shoot day, we followed our set schedule and shot list, changing and adapting when inspired or an idea struck, eventually wrapping 1 hour ahead of schedule. (Which, having worked as a 1st AD a lot, made me very, very, very happy!)
When packing up, the dismantling of the set was done department by department. The crew and cast vacated the set, leaving the Camera Dept to clear their kit, then Production Design stripped the set to how it originally was, and then I went in to clean. Assuring everyone was OK, everyone left one at a time and was encouraged to get in touch if they felt ill across the next 10-14 days, and thankfully— it’s been radio silence since!
Of course, filming right now is a real challenge, and certain scripts or projects just aren’t possible; but this was a great experiment to see how a small cast, single location, and a small crew of really talented crew resulted in something really interesting to watch.
So if you have found any of this useful, please check out my other projects on YouTube and Vimeo. Get thinking about what your project during Covid-19 could be with or without Tom Cruise.
Additional Film Links by Lexy Anderson:
Award and Festival-Winning Short Film: Blue Whiskey Independent Film Festival, OUTshine LGBTQ+ Film Festival, LA Live Film Festival, Alternating Currents Film Festival, The Pinewood Lift Off Sessions, Tallgrass Film Festivals, LesFlicks Cinema at LFEST, GeekFest Toronto, Women’s Film Festival , Raindance Film Festival, Tomorrow Unlocked Film Festival
Raindance Exclusive Three Triple A’s :
The film was made during Covid and described in the article above, click the image below to watch!.
I Spent all My Savings on Film Festivals:
How to Make a Film During Covid: An Ode to Tom Cruise:
*Missed anything from the above article? Check out the video breakdown with visual examples