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Exploring the new normal of production during a pandemic

With Covid-19 at large and the country in lockdown, many livelihoods, businesses’ and workplaces have been altered to meet the new norm. Here, StopPress talks to Sweetshop, Augusto and Motion Sickness about the new normal of production, and how they’ve altered to stay creative despite tight restrictions.

Sweetshop

Ben Dailey

Ben Dailey and Kate Roydhouse, executive producers at Sweetshop, say the team have relied heavily on remote production technical solutions to continue with jobs in post and pre-production.   

“For post-production this means offline, grade and online approvals remotely with editors, colourists and flame artists working from home studios. And in pre-production, scoping, casting, boards and any post-production prep being done for when we are in a position to shoot,” says Dailey.

Roydhouse says many scripts were put on hold when the lockdown was announced, however Sweetshop decided to focus on how they could support their clients during this period and have managed to have other parts of the businesses proceed.  

“We want to be able to support our partners and keep the industry going. The best way to do this is to work with the governmental mandates and find new, creative ways to produce work,” she says.

Kate Roydhouse

Sweetshop has offices in five countries, and with each country working through different restrictions at different times, the company continues to update production solutions. This also means the company is able to shoot in Australia and Shanghai with while making sure they’re meeting Covid-19 health and safety best practice and considerations.

In line with alert levels dropping, Sweetshop will use direct camera feeds to agency and clients anywhere in the world for New Zealand based directors so that they can continue production in New Zealand.

In terms of campaigns, Roydhouse says the company has had some put-on hold, however has also had campaigns proceed based on working through new processes.

“Essentially, we’ve work hard to find new ways to proceed with the different phases of production. Remote casting for example and new platforms to review edits. A lot of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype video calls too,” says Roydhouse.

Dailey adds there has been other factors play into the new normality of production, one being the messaging, and whether it is still relevant in the new Covid and post-Covid landscape.

Although Covid-19 has brought with it many difficulties and challenges, it has also made companies look for new ways to produce work, ways they may not have even thought about beforehand.

“Would we love to be able to have a meeting in a room full of people? Hell yes! But we have also learnt new processes that we are sure to continue using, no matter the climate. I consider that a big positive,” says Roydhouse.

Augusto

For Augusto, the lockdown affected all scheduled production overnight and had clients entirely changing what they wanted to say with their content. As a result, Augusto’s in-house creative teams jump started to find new ways to get messages out in a safe and relevant way.

As a back-up plan, the team has resorted to phones, screen capture, zoom records, stock footage and motion to still produce captivating stories. Head of production Simone Goulding says they have received an enthusiastic audience response following their ‘make do’ actions.

Simone Goulding

“It felt like instantly, there was a new aesthetic set and conversely, if you tried to up the production value it would feel disingenuous,” says Goulding.

“A couple of examples of this would be the work we’ve been doing with Mitre 10 and Wendy’s, both of these clients were quick to recognise the need to keep communicating with their audiences.”

During lockdown production has been pushed to its at-home limits, however post lockdown, the limits will return to sky high. Goulding says it has been refreshing seeing the candidness and directness to getting jobs done during this period and says it will be interesting to see how broader communal themes start to play out in a brand space post covid-19.

“I think this event has demonstrated that with a real need, people can be infinitely flexible. Augusto have always been nimble, but we’ve been supporting even faster turnaround and ever-changing projects during this period.

“And to be honest, I don’t think there is a standard way of production, you never do the same job twice,” says Goulding.

Offering advice to other production companies and clients, Goulding says there are a lot of people at home, meaning many eyes searching for good content.

“I guess my advice would be to embrace the opportunity of the ‘nothing to lose’ mentality. It’s not often that as a whole sector, nation or world we all undergo a change at the same time, and even though it’s fraught, creatively it’s revolutionary.”

Motion Sickness

At Motion Sickness, when the lockdown was announced, the company immediately saw several shoots postponed due to the two-metre physical distancing measures. Luckily, around 50 percent of the business is creative strategy, which has seen more clients making the most of the increased online activity.

In terms of production, the company has developed a new set of standards that should allow shooting safely during level two and some smaller shoots during level three. Other practices like temperature testing and logging crew and talent as they arrive on set will become mandatory for all shoots. During level four the team has strictly stayed in their bubbles.

Founder and creative director, Sam Stuchbury, says in times like these it pushes production to be more creative in terms of the concept.

Sam Stuchbury

“If you do things right, emotion and story transcend fancy production. We have been utilising phone footage and animation a fair bit along with just good storytelling. Photography has been easier as some of our team have photography gear at home along with lighting so can shoot in their bubbles.”

Before the lockdown was put into place, Motion Sickness created a video to encourage physical distancing and virtual contacting to protect those at risk. “We can keep together by keeping apart” involved a Facetime video with a staff’s older family members, which took a mere two days to create from the initial concept to posting.

“It’s awesome what you can do with a strong idea and Facetime. To be honest though, that was a few weeks ago, and I am starting to get over Zoom and Facetime style brand ads now, I expect consumers are too. We need to keep things fresh and push the boundaries of our creativity,” says Stuchbury.

Another change to production has been speed. As the demand is high and resources are low, many companies have been producing content at a faster rate than usual. Stuchbury says some of the projects Motion Sickness have been working on over the past few weeks have been created very quickly, simultaneous to our fast changing world.

“One client project was 48 hours concept to go live, it came out of necessity but also due to the fact it was using a lot of stock and phone footage. So yes, I guess out of necessity we are all moving pretty quickly right now.

“I also love how quick meetings are now, a quick Zoom chat then onto the next thing. Let’s try to keep that efficiency post-lockdown.”

Offering advice to production companies and clients during this period, Stuchbury says agencies should continue to focus on creative thinking rather than what they can’t do in terms of production.

“From a practical perspective stay on top of your numbers, do your forecasts in detail for the next 4 months. Forecast extremely conservatively even if you are an optimist. It’s far better to forecast for a worst-case scenario and be pleasantly surprised at the end of the month.”

For clients, Stuchbury says it is important to realise although there are many challenges, there are also huge opportunities.

“Some of the social media and digital campaign results we have seen across some of our clients have been pretty incredible. They have landed well with the customer, built the brand and generated sales.

“I read ‘it’s okay to make money during a crisis, but it’s not okay to make money from a crisis,’ keep that in mind. Don’t feel bad about finding great opportunities to grow your business if it’s done in the right way.”

Finch

Finch production company recently also had to alter the way in which they operated. Showing what could be achieved with its For Tomorrow TVC.

Production time for Finch and Clemenger BBDO was less than a week. With on set crews remaining in strict small numbers and keeping their distance. The shoot was live streamed to the directors and Clemenger so that they could make real time observations and amendments.

Bex Kelly, Finch EP says, “This was a great case study of how our industry can continue to adapt to the changing world we find ourselves in. Our crew was amazing, and from the Hokianga to the deep South, came on board with much interest for a new way of working”.

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