How We Shot a Global Campaign During Covid-19

Production and creativity find a new way

There is something quite unique about standing in the middle of a full-blown production. The energy is infectious, and I love when I can take in the proverbial three-ring circus and say to myself, "What have I gotten us into?" That feeling of pushing a production to the next level to create something incredible is what I strive for. Working just outside my comfort zone is where the good stuff comes from and when you know you're doing something that hasn't been done before.

In early March, we were awarded a new project that involved a fully integrated global product launch—the kind of project everyone dreams of. Working with amazing client partners with an awesome brand that wants to do cool work that pushes the boundaries of both the brand and the industry is what nearly every creative desires. I was elated and couldn't wait to get started.

A day after the official award of the job in March, the world was turned upside down with the announcement of Covid-19 work-from-home regulations. In an instant, my entire team was fractured. No amount of planning can prepare you for this. We all know creativity and production in particular thrive on collaboration. The amount of detail, volume of work, and timing of the campaign, mixed with a fractured team, seemed insurmountable at the time. But we did what everyone did. We pivoted—quickly. We set up new processes and means of collaboration to ensure we wouldn't skip a beat. Did I mention that I love to work outside my comfort zone?

Flash forward to May. We now had an approved concept and were well on our way to developing out the full campaign. It was that magical moment just as you start pre-production. Normally, this is one of the most exciting times of the creative process. The moment you actually get to start making the stuff for real. But this time was anything but exciting. It was one of the most stressful times in my career. Covid-19 restrictions shut down all production pretty much everywhere in the world. We couldn't shoot if we wanted to. It was literally an hour-by-hour, day-by-day situation as new regulations were released and subsequently taken away. As we all held our breath, we got notification that production opened in Arizona. Being based in L.A., this was not an ideal situation. However, we were thrilled to have the ability to shoot.

Everything shifted in an instant. From casting to crew, to location to set design, we were fully committed to an Arizona-based production. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. The No. 1 thing on our minds was to ensure everyone would be safe throughout the entire production. This singular concern set in motion a series of events that would change how I viewed production forever.

The list of implications went far beyond having to shoot in another state. Checking temperatures, wearing masks during the entire production, staggering crew and talent, taking mandatory Vitamin D breaks, social distancing, disinfecting sets and equipment between scenes, and staggered lunches all equated to more time. And in the production world, that means more dollars, which is always a challenge. Everything took twice as long. Additionally, our client had a travel ban and was unable to attend the shoot. Not having our client in a production of this magnitude was not an option. We had to account for this and find a seamless way to integrate them virtually.

We assembled a core L.A.-based team consisting of agency leads, a line producer, director, photographer, DP and camera operator that would lead the entire production, and then utilized a local cast and crew in Arizona. Armed with a tight production book and a crystal clear plan of attack, we set out to pioneer one of the first Covid-approved productions.

Each day started with temperature checks, signing waivers, and masking up. The traditional first AD safety meeting was accompanied by an onsite medic who would ensure everyone was adhering to the Covid regulations. Video village was augmented with a remote login feature, giving our clients the ability to attend virtually. Every shot was broadcast and discussed via live time chat. We staged art department, wardrobe, hair and makeup, and craft services in their own isolated locations. We limited the number of people on set and split the studio to allow for small crews to shoot while others built the next set. Still photography was set up in another isolated location for stand-alone shots of cast members, while we also shadow shot on sets between motion takes. You could say none of this was out of the ordinary, really. However, it certainly was demanding, stressful, time consuming and at times infuriatingly slow. But what made it extraordinary was everyone's commitment, respect, and personal responsibility to this new way of shooting.

I have never witnessed such delight on set before. Having been out of production for months with no guarantee of when we could get back to work, everyone was ecstatic to be doing what they loved again.

In the end, what made the shoot possible was simple. A little bit of luck and a whole lot of creative spirit from an incredible group of people. I am proud to say there has never been a time in my 27-year career that I have not been able to "pull it off," including during a global pandemic.

Creativity always finds a way, and what's clear to me is that production as we knew it has forever changed.

If you're wondering, the footage and stills look amazing. We are in post-production, and I can't wait to share the work with the world.

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Carlos Musquez
Carlos Musquez is executive creative director at ELA Advertising.

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