As I recently sat watching Brad Pitt fulfill his pre-ordained destiny of portraying Dr. Anthony Fauci on Saturday Night Live, it struck me how quickly the video industry and video production as a whole are adapting during COVID-19 –changing due to the necessity of social distancing, while trying to maintain the showbiz axiom “the show must go on.”
The Show Must Go On
It’s no secret that large scale production has been hit hard by the pandemic. It’s almost impossible to assemble a crew of 40 to 50 people when most places are still observing strict guidelines for businesses and group gatherings.
For SNL, a 45-season stalwart of broadcast history, it’s not just a paradigm shift from the “Live, from New York,” energy inside NBC’s Studio 8H but also a drastic change in the technology and creativity used to produce the show.
The cast and crew traded state-of-the art studio cameras for a combination of Zoom, smartphones and any other cameras they can get their hands on – a far cry from the sophisticated video production standards of a studio. Nonetheless, they are creating from inside their apartments, houses and other alternative spaces while maintaining social distance.
Truly, the show must go on, albeit in a slightly different way.
Across the dial, ABC recently ordered the final episodes of American Idol to move ahead, filmed largely on Apple’s iPhone 11. Twenty contestants are still in the running to be crowned Idol for the show’s 18th season, and now their fate is in their own hands, literally.
To ensure an even playing field, the network armed each contestant with a production kit featuring an iPhone 11, a basic lighting setup and a modest amount of production gear. (See for yourself, and decide if you think it’s working.)
However, what SNL and American Idol are showing us is that even facing a global pandemic, video productions can be scaled and scoped in myriad permutations to try and stay on track. Doing so may require rethinking how you shoot the project, how many people can be present and who is, or is not, required to wear masks, but it also means understanding visual quality limitations (“differences” as I call them) based on the situation at hand.
How do we make videos right now?
I think a lot of people are asking this question right now. And, for the most part, SNL and Idol are showing us a large part of the answer. You can, in fact, do it with the newer tools and techniques available.
We can use video conferencing to record executives addresses, conduct media interviews or, if the project calls for it, create a soap opera. At Jackson Spalding, we even connected a drone to a video conference meeting just to see if we could. Spoiler alert: it worked.
Additionally, remember, most of us are walking around with a camera in our pocket that shoots 4K video, and, with the right setup and post production, it can look fantastic. We can coach people on self-filming, if necessary, or even connect via video conference and watch their self-recording, directing them virtually.
A New Path Forward
There’s another old saying I’ve always liked: “Content is king.”
If you come to the table with important stories to tell or a truly meaningful message to share, it will transcend what camera was used to capture it. Whether you are working on an advertisement, a day-in-the-life brand story, executive message or any other idea on the drawing board, there’s probably a pandemic-adapted way to make it happen.
At the risk of sounding Pollyanna, we’re only limited by our imaginations.
COVID-19 created a production industry fulcrum, one that is tipping us toward alternative ways to still get the job done. All we have to do is put our heads together and use the tools available.
Stay tuned and don’t touch that dial!