Some filmmakers are managing to shoot commercial work, and make money, during the pandemic. Here's how.
Cowboy Bear Ninja is a production and development company that creates all kinds of content from TV shows like PAID OFF WITH MICHAEL TORPEY and LIQUID SCIENCE starring the GZA, and for commercial campaigns for Playtex, Greenpeace, New York City, How have they been handling the pandemic shutdowns that brought almost all video production to a screeching halt?
“The coronavirus crisis sent us home from our NYC office and shut down production plans we had for March,” explained Director, DP, and Head of Brand at Cowboy Bear Ninja, Miguel Drake-McLaughlin to No Film School. “But we immediately found that our partners had just as many (or even more) needs for production services to communicate with audiences.”
Cowboy Bear Ninja, which is comprised of directors, producers, cinematographers, and production designers, wanted to figure out best practices for new workflows. When they couldn’t find that information in any one central location, they decided to make it themselves.
“Since we were sharing tools and workflows with distributed teams anyways, we knew that it would be useful for partners of ours around the world dealing with similar problems. It's been a good way for us to memorialize what we've learned, and stay in touch with our peers who are facing the same challenges.”
Miguel Drake-McLaughlin was kind enough to sit down with No Film School to share specific projects that Cowboy Bear Ninja has been able to pull off successfully in these times and that have informed their compilation of remote resources. Learn how to create video from home from people who are still working!
Shoot #1: Remote Monitoring on a Tabletop Commercial for a Big Client
Cowboy Bear Ninja was able to create an industry caliber tabletop shoot for a well-known bank with a production team all on Zoom at the height of the lockdown. How did they do it?
“It was showcasing app features - basically, how to deposit stimulus checks without going to a bank. We took the knowledge we had from tabletop shoots with Samsung (from before the crisis), and worked with a DP who was in quarantine with someone we trained to hand model. Because we already knew how to shoot this kind of material with a full crew on set, we were able to create a workflow with creative directors, production design team, and clients all on Zoom. Using multiple cameras on our set to monitor both the footage and the setup really made this production go smoothly.
When shooting using real cameras but with remote crew members, it’s all about monitoring.
Check out the CBN breakdown: How to Create a Remote Video Village with iPhone
Shoot #2: Live Event for Businesses and Organizations
More than ever, companies and organizations are needing to move their events online. For Cowboy Bear Ninja, creating a virtual gala for the Women's Refugee Commission was a great way to make use of these times.
“This is an NGO we have worked with before who have an annual luncheon to raise money, which was impossible due to the pandemic,” described Drake-McLaughlin. “We were able to create a live video event instead, supported with interactive chat. Using iPhone kits, we helped non-technical people to film themselves all around the world. The event actually brought way more guests than usual, because international supporters were able to “attend” for the first time.”
Think you could help a client with an event like this?
Check out CBN breakdown: The Virtual Fundraiser
Shoot #3: Stories that Use Technology in New ways
Wise people point out that from limitation, the imagination expands. Here is a great way that CBN is using the limitations of quarantine to make creative new stories.
“We're working on a unique multimedia project, VIRTUE, in connection with actor/producer, Paten Hughes,” described Drake-McLaughlin. “Adapted from Emily Bohanon's stage play about communication, interconnectedness and value systems in the age of globalism, the play was uniquely equipped for a production plan that utilized Zoom and iPhones to create a hyper realistic experience and melded the best of stage and screen. We've been learning a lot about rethinking performance for a remote production environment, and utilizing these tools for heightened stylistic effect. We are excited to share it when complete (we are picture wrapping this week).”
Want to soup up your set up for something working within similar parameters?
Going Forward with Production as States Open Up
As many states are opening up for business, filmmakers are wondering if and when it will be ok to start up full-blown production.
“We are using our best judgement and updating a document "what can we make right now" of what is both legal and safe to do,” explained Drake-McLaughlin. “While we don't anticipate doing game shows with a live studio audience anytime soon, something like the live call-in show we did for PAID OFF WITH MICHAEL TORPEY is totally possible.
We are always very concerned for crew safety, and will likely be on the conservative side of what we're willing to shoot. But, using cleaning procedures and careful location selection, we have been up and running doing shoots with subjects in a socially-distant style for a few weeks. Sets aren't exactly "normal" but there is a lot that can be accomplished even as the spread of the coronavirus continues."
Why You Should Adapt Now for the Future of Production
We're learning new ways to shoot during coronavirus. One big question: will this change the way we do storytelling for good, or will the tricks we learn now become a distant memory?
“We fell in love with production in part because of the camaraderie and we think the industry will again find ways for people to work closely together,” Drake-McLaughlin explained to No Film School. “But some hacks like remote monitoring and cloud-based proxy generation are going to stay in use even if we don't have a pandemic to worry about. Honestly, nothing will replace the magic of being on set with a great crew and great talent, but we are enjoying the day-to-day challenges of figuring out how to get there from here.”
Cowboy Bear Ninja plans to release more useful breakdowns and case studies each week on their Remote Production Blog, so keep tabs and learn everything you need to know to work from home or SFH!