One of the worst-hit industries by the ongoing 9-month lockdown is Entertainment. Many, if not all of us, lost our livelihood—Writers, Directors, Producers, and Artists. With all the restrictions set in place beginning March, all shooting had to stop. It was next to impossible to create new content for film and television when rules changed every 15 days. We were all lost, and yet we were at home. And if there’s anyone we turned to during the seemingly endless days, weeks, months in isolation, we turned to people from entertainment to help us get through our boredom. They somehow helped keep us sane.
And for those who were able to pivot their content online, it was a brave new world to conquer.
But yet, for artists and entertainers, nothing beats performing for an audience, and for all of us fans of many, many artists, nothing beats watching them live in a show, in concert, or in the cinemas.
That’s essentially what we all lost in all this—the opportunity and gift to interact with each other person to person.
Anyone who works in Entertainment will tell you that we feed off energy from each other, and that is why most shows have live studio audiences. We need each other to feed off each other. A singer sings better when they are able to see their audience in front of them, an actor knows that they will be watched on the silver screen by many audiences who line up at the box office. You just cannot replace that experience.
But because “social distancing” has become the new norm, all that is gone for now.
Somewhere in the middle of the lockdown, I was asked to pitch four new show concepts for one of the two remaining (more) popular TV Networks (ABS-CBN had just been shut down by Congress). And with the world being so uncertain and so many restrictions set in place in perennial extended community quarantine, I thought to myself, how are these shows going to be produced in this kind of climate?
But first, I had to get the shows approved first. They were. All four. A Fitness Show (seeing that everyone was working out at home and posting their workouts on social), a Musical Talk (being people were always now on Zoom), a Musical (knowing that music eases all our doubts, anxieties, and worries), and a Reality Show about High Society (wanting to find out how the great equalizer that is COVID affected all walks of life). I simply looked for opportunities for great content with respect to what we were all going through collectively.
In the content democracy where everyone can now create a show seeing that a media giant is put on pause, everyone in the industry was excited to do something new, create something somewhere else, and work on discount—everyone was jobless for months! So any work at all was welcome.
So going through pre-prod in a time of pandemic became much trickier and yet much more efficient. Meetings that would take weeks or months with ocular inspections and filing for music rights were suddenly hastened. People had so much more time, so everyone was working much quicker. We went into pre-prod for three shows simultaneously without ever having to meet physically.
In the months of preparation, all meetings, presentations to executives were done at home and online. We only met once in person to iron out details. And once, to do a first and final script table read.
I honestly wasn’t sure it was going to work or if we were going to finish.
Finally, production shooting days were set. We would film the Fitness Show, WFH (Workout From Home) first in a bubble, meaning in a locked-in capacity where none of us can leave the shooting premises in 4 days. Going into location, we all needed to be swabbed and tested. That was a prerequisite to shooting.
Once we were all negative, we went into shooting 13 30-minute episodes in just 4 12-hour shooting days. Imagine that. It meant we would have to average 4 episodes a day!
And for anyone who has worked in production, the prospect of that alone makes you feel tired already. But, because there is a pandemic, we were all just excited to go to work and create new content for everyone at home.
The first day started rough shooting out in nature to make use of available light. There were days when it would rain, and we had to transpose locations indoors. And there were days when we were still finding the right balance in chemistry of our hosts. But by day 3, we finally got momentum and were able to finish shooting one season on the fourth day.
The next two shows were much harder to accomplish as we had only a total of 9 days to shoot two seasons with 13 episodes each for a total of 26 episodes.
And though we were shooting in a controlled location, a studio, the production required a much bigger team of people—lights, audiomen, cameramen, gaffers, set men, an art department, production staff, Directors and Assitant Directors, Writers, Producers, Hosts, and Guest Artists. All of which needed to be swabbed and tested before entering the studio.
It was a long, hard, sleepless 9 days of back to back shooting, an average of 3 episodes a day, all of us needing to go on a trust system that everyone will go straight home and come to work straight from their houses because we were not staying at the studio.
Strict safety protocols were in place, masks had to be changed every four hours, a group of safety personnel and a team of nurses were always on standby.
On the second to the last day of taping, one cameraman woke up with a fever, and we all had to be kept outside the studio until the cameraman tested negative. Thankfully, he did and just developed fever out of exhaustion, and we all could resume work. Imagine being shut down on the second to the last day of taping—that would have been so tragic!
But thankfully, and by the grace and protection of God, we were all able to wrap the three shows in a total of 13 days, with everyone remaining safe and healthy.
We never had a studio audience that would have translated on TV, but we all did our best considering the circumstances.
When I was still working in Network Television, with staff and crew numbering in the hundreds, it has always been a dream to “can” shows, like canned goods—meaning to start airing a season having finished shooting all episodes, similar to how Streaming Services do it now. A season is made available to you, all episodes all in, all at once and it’s up to the viewer to watch at their own time.
But of course, we needed ratings and audience feedback, so “canning” shows never really became a reality.
But now, in the new normal, everything is so different. Most shows are now available to studios or networks as a complete finished product. And maybe that’s ok. Because we bulk together months of work in just a few days. That gives us more time for ourselves, our families and other things—that’s if we didn’t have enough time already in our hands.
But if there’s one thing I learned in the pandemic, we only really have 2 two things—time and health.
The Musical Talk Show, “eXes&whYs with Pops&Martin” starring Concert Queen & King, Pops Fernandez and Martin Nievera premieres Saturday, December 19, 9PM on Colours on Cignal TV and Cignal Play app, the Musical Show “Louie O Live With Robin Nievera” starring Musical Director Louie Ocampo and Millennial Musician Robin Nievera premieres Sunday, December 20, PM, also on Colours on Cignal TV and Cignal Play app. And the Fitness Show “WFH – Workout From Home” starring Hideo Muraoka, Sam Ajdani, Noel Agra, and Roxanne Barcelo pilots in January.
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