How the entertainment industry learned to be more efficient during the pandemic

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By Zsarlene B. Chua, Senior Reporter

THE KISSING SCENE is mandatory for certain types of drama, but became forbidden overnight because of work safety rules imposed during the pandemic. The US TV network Lifetime got around the prohibition by having actors kiss through plexiglass, and then digitally removing the barrier in post-production. These adjustments, some small and many large, all of them disruptive in some way, paint a picture of an industry having to frantically make up new rules as fresh problems arose.

GMA Network, Inc., the country’s largest television network, was caught out by the lockdown with two films in production — one in which crews were “literally in the middle of shooting,” according to Ianessa S. Valdellon, GMA Network first vice-president for public affairs, in an e-mail interview with BusinessWorld. It also had to halt production of various television series and had to air reruns until September, when Descendants of the Sun, the Philippine adaptation of a Korean TV drama, resumed filming.

“We were supposed to produce our second film this year, but I’m afraid this will be pushed back until such time that quarantine restrictions are relaxed,” according to Lilybeth G. Rasonable, GMA Network senior vice president for entertainment, also in an e-mail interview.

Despite the restrictions, GMA managed to produce five shows under “new normal” rules while TV5 managed to produce a slew of scripted and non-scripted shows.

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Production company IdeaFirst also had “to stop and reevaluate all our plans,” its president Perci M. Intalan said by e-mail. It had movie and TV projects that had to stop because “they just weren’t feasible considering all the safety requirements and logistical restrictions.” Instead, it had to regroup with new projects that “can be produced safely and realistically.”

One of those new projects was the web series Gameboys, shot remotely and via videoconferencing, except for scenes in which the characters met. It aired in May.

Gameboys was unique because it was produced during ECQ (enhanced community quarantine, the strictest phase of the lockdown) — so we forced ourselves to shoot 100% from home and figured out ways to send props and equipment and to direct actors and finish entire episodes virtually,” Mr. Intalan said. He called it a “slow and laborious process” which “we are very proud of.” 

Mr. Intalan was quick to add that this may not be possible for other series.

“It’s not something you really wish to do over and over again…(that) won’t work for other projects especially those where characters have to interact in the same physical space,” he said.

The pandemic health regulations included a 50-person limit for on-set personnel, a half-day shooting window, locked-down shoots, regular testing, and monitoring by a health and safety officer. All of these imposed added costs.

“Without giving a number — it varies depending on the size of the production — it is definitely more expensive to shoot drama programs now with the need for swab tests, lockdown accommodations and food, PPE (personal protective equipment) and the observance of disinfection and safety protocols on set,” Ms. Valdellon said.

Mr. Intalan said shooting is “definitely” more expensive as in the case of his company’s TV5 Christmas special, Paano Ang Pasko, which had a P6.9-million safety budget, forcing the production to exceed its overall budget.

“You can’t scrimp on this. There are no shortcuts. You cannot risk anyone getting sick,” according to Mr. Intalan, who is also the head of programming at TV5.

The show ultimately had to rope in three directors — Mr. Intalan, Enrico Quizon, and Ricky Davao —  to distribute the added burden of pandemic-style production. 

“This is bayanihan,” said Mr. Davao, who was originally only a cast member.

The added costs of shooting, according to Jade Castro, a director, forced productions to be more efficient, particularly in response to the limited hours of shooting, which was for years on the wish lists of many industry workers. One byproduct of the lockdown requirement was that “everyone is in the same location.”

“For such a long time we have been pushing for shorter shoot times and now in the pandemic we proved that it can be done,” Mr. Castro said during an online interview with BusinessWorld during the promotion of Boys Lockdown on Oct. 7.

He added that he hopes this becomes the norm from now on, because shoots used to run for over 24 hours at a time, posing health risks for both cast and crew.

Locked-down shoots lay the groundwork for productions that are “more controlled. I think it would benefit the television and movie industry to continue studying this kind of setup and improving on it for the future,” Ms. Rasonable said.

“Despite the pandemic being a negative, I think that it has pushed producers/creators to be more imaginative and innovative in coming up with content and in the manner by which they produce such content. Out-of-the-box ideas, smaller and more efficient productions teams, new ways of story-telling, more experimentation on new technologies, new formats, etc. These, I believe, will be the long-term positive impacts of the pandemic on production,” she added.

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