by FWV Creative Team
COVID-19 has taken countless lives, devastated the global economy and changed the way we live and do almost everything. From March through September, many agencies had productions postponed, or worse, simply cancelled. For those of us who represent brands that depend on producing fresh content on a regular basis, finding a new normal was the only way forward.
At French | West | Vaughan (FWV), we’ve had to reframe how we approach capturing content. And now, one of the safest places you can be these days is on set with a crew that is following COVID-19 safety guidelines. The measures we’ve put in place provide a safe framework for all stakeholders to stay productive and continue to make best-in-class content. They also provide the important assurance that we all need when interacting with a group of people, usually in tight quarters, for long days. Although the crew may become like family during a given production, it’s important to not let safeguards down or slide into a “safe bubble” mentality.
“On set, the No. 1 goal has always been to capture amazing content for our client. Now, we have two No. 1 goals: capture amazing content AND keep everyone safe while doing it.”
– John Moore, FWV, Creative Director
The stakes have never been higher. Normally, the pressure we feel during a shoot is due to making sure we meet or exceed client expectations. Production can be exhausting. There are countless decisions to be made, equipment to be set up and takes to redo, again and again. Now we’ve added new issues regarding personal safety to mitigate the risk of a potentially deadly airborne illness. However, at FWV, we’ve found that with thorough planning and due diligence, it’s possible to overcome the combination of these old and new challenges.
One of the challenges we’ve been faced with is restricted travel. Although some people are starting to feel comfortable returning to recreational travel, federal, state and self-imposed guidelines have work related travel trending at an all-time low. As I write this, I’m supposed to be on a mountain in Oregon. But this year, everything is different. That means instead I’m almost 3,000 miles away art directing from my laptop to support an Oregon-based crew and talent. The level of detail in our planning is immense, but it is what we have to do to continue producing content at the level we always have.
“It’s good to see productions are still able to happen during these times if smart precautions are taken for safety. Plus, it was great to be on a set and see clients and colleagues.”
– Katie Johnson, FWV, Vice President
Even when safe travel is within reach for the production budget, some folks on the crew may still not feel comfortable staying overnight in hotels or Airbnbs. This means more production locations are being planned closer to home to the people who will produce the content. In our case, we opted to execute a large cocktail recipe production for Pendleton Whisky at a bar near our headquarters in Raleigh, N.C. We used props and built set pieces so the resulting content would align with the brand’s “Western” feel. At the time, the bar was still closed due to state orders, which gave us access to the entire space for a full week. The bar, having been closed for seven months, was more than happy to rent the space to us for the week, and we hired the owner as our bartending, on-camera talent.
The Pendleton shoot required a small crew of five people. So that everyone could stay focused on producing quality content, we hired an additional Production Assistant (PA) who was charged with handling our on-set COVID compliance guidelines. Before arrival, every shoot participant filled out a questionnaire regarding his or her exposure risk to COVID-19, symptoms and recent travel history. When we arrived on set every morning, the PA took our temperature with a contactless thermometer and logged it. When we left at the end of each day, our temperature was taken again. Anyone with a temperature that ranged above normal was not allowed to enter the location or work on the production. Although this thankfully never happened, it provides a helpful reminder of what could be a major disruption to a production in the event the videographer or talent were to have spiked a fever.
Masks were non-negotiable on set. We all showed due diligence and compassion to one another by consistently wearing our mouth coverings while together indoors. PPE supplies were on hand near the entrance and available at all times for anyone who needed them. I personally found that my lovely homemade cloth face covering became too hot when worn for hours at a time and switched to a more comfortable white and blue medical mask. And while we’re on the subject, the final answer is…blue goes out, white goes in.
“I was very pleased with the safety measures put in place during the shoot. I also felt very safe and comfortable despite having to wear a mask all day and keep my distance with those on set. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would’ve been.”
– Rich Griffis, FWV, Senior Art Director
Like clockwork, the compliance PA would sanitize our hands and wipe down high contact surfaces every hour. Pro tip: If you are sensitive to certain types of hand sanitizer, I recommend bringing a small bottle of your preferred variety and using it instead of whatever happens to be purchased for the production PPE kit.
The days of grazing at tables of catered goodies are no more. We kept up morale on set while supporting local businesses in need of customers by getting take-out for the crew at a different restaurant each day. This also provided us with individually packaged lunches, which we ate outdoors on socially distanced tables. This was the only time we took off our masks throughout the entire day, and it was glorious.
While we have established new protocols at FWV that allow us to safely create high-quality content during a pandemic, sometimes it makes more sense to rethink the production altogether. During these last seven months, we have seen a shift to more DIY approaches to content capture, and it works great for certain concepts. These approaches can be rewarding in that we’ve been able to work with talent from all around the country to produce selfie style videos that we stitch together as a montage in post-production editing.
To effectively direct remote talent from afar, we provide them with thorough creative direction. We compile a document that explains everything in detail, including scene composition, background preference, lighting, time of day and orientation. In some cases, we have shipped talent specific gear, including an LED ring light and tripod. Recently, we produced a video that shows talent exactly how to set up their lighting and camera in order to capture the best content possible.
We are in a client service industry, and our clients still have production needs. So, it was only natural that FWV would evolve and expand its production techniques to continue solving creative challenges on behalf of its clients. It is really inspiring to see the lengths our team will go to continue doing the work that we love. Ultimately, it comes down to being more prepared. Pandemic or not, the more work we put into pre-production, the better we can do our job. We’re all looking forward to a return to normalcy in all aspects of our lives. In the meantime though, we are donning masks, washing our hands obsessively, staying socially distant and having a ball creating the best content we can.