Simone Missick, the star of CBS legal drama “All Rise,” received a meat mallet in the mail during quarantine.
Missick doesn’t eat meat; it was a prop that her character used in the place of a gavel during the show’s virtual finale, which was shot entirely in the actors’ homes.
Other shows, including Apple TV Plus’ “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” have now shot remotely produced episodes too, and in each case, the actors or contestants had to not only improvise and roll with the punches to get the job done, but they also had to take on myriad jobs usually left to professional crew members.
In addition to receiving props from production that she then had to keep track of, Missick had to do her own wardrobe, hair and makeup for the at-home shoot. She set up her own shots, which for the hour-long episode utilized multiple rooms in her home, including a staircase. And she had to find ways to give herself cues, rather than relying on her fellow actors’ physicality or even eyelines, since there was no one in the room with her.
That latter element was one of the biggest challenges, she says, because it was “almost like blind acting.”
“There was a moment where our director Michael Robin said, ‘Simone, Jessica [Camacho] is on that side of the screen.’ I was like, ‘No she’s not, I’m looking at where Jessica is,’” Missick recalls. “So I had to cut out pictures of everyone in the scene and tape them to the screens in order to be able to make sure that my eyeline was correct, which is hard when it comes to emotion and connection and catching all of those little beats that someone might do.”
For the cast of “A Parks and Recreation Special” had returning to their characters five years after the series’ finale was the easy part; the acting hurdle they had to get over was performing alone in their space, with only the show’s producers and director walking them through the scene via a Zoom call.
“I was improvising with imaginary ghost versions of the characters,” says Aubrey Plaza. “Some of that works because they could then go to someone else and say, ‘Aubrey improvised this, so maybe you could respond to that.’ It was a lengthy, backwards way of improvising, but once we got going it was a bit freeing.”
The key in shooting scenes where they couldn’t see their fellow actors was to “trust the direction,” Retta says.
Wearing multiple hats while shooting the special “Quarantine” episode of “Mythic Quest” was not a new phenomenon for Rob McElhenney, who not only stars in the show but also serves as co-showrunner and directed the episode. He says he found the energy of such a shoot exhilarating because the quick turnaround required him and the rest of his cast and crew to “move at 100 miles per hour.”
Just as Missick had her husband, actor Dorian Missick, home to help her with shooting “All Rise” (he also guest starred in the episode), McElhenney’s wife, actor Kaitlin Olson, proved to be integral to the process of “Mythic Quest: Quarantine.”
“Kaitlin was operating the camera — she was behind the monitor display just watching. It was not in the script that I should be naked, but she was the one that said, ‘You should just do a take where you reveal at the end that you’ve been naked the entire time,’” McElhenney says of a scene that features his character, video-game developer Ian Grimm doing a company video meeting from his hot tub.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if that’s going to play, it might be kind of gross,’ and she said, ‘It’s definitely gross, but you should do it anyway,’” he continues. “Nobody really knew until they saw the final cut.”
While scripted performers had multiple days of shooting and plenty of takes to get their performances right, Jaida Essence Hall, who was crowned the winner of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” Season 12 in the series’ first-ever virtual finale, had only one shot at knocking it out of the park.
What was especially complicated for the drag queen was that she and her fellow finalists only had a small (8 foot by 8 foot) space in which to perform their final lip-sync to “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. This required more focus on face and tight movements, whereas usual performances on the show see queens utilizing the whole runway.
Hall says all the finalists received “the same equipment” from the show, in order to “make sure that everything was the same across the board.” Then it was up to the queens to pull out their best look and choreography.
Hall has worked at bars that have small stages, so she was no stranger to having to “work and turn it out” in a limited space. What was new was having to dance on carpet — and not having the energy of a live audience off of whom to feed.
“I always live for the reaction — for the audience — it just builds you up like a hero almost,” she says. “We didn’t have a crowd — we didn’t have that cushion of support — but I thought if I want to win, I have to find the inner strength and just turn it and give everything that I got. When I was about to go on, I thought, ‘This is your moment, I don’t care who’s out there cheering you on, just imagine all the people who love you, lifting you up right now, and just kill it.’”
For Hall, successfully “giving it the most” from home and winning the crown and the title helped her prove she could “serve it up from anywhere.” But for everyone, producing art, mostly alone, at home, proved to be a sobering reminder about the importance and beauty of collaboration.
“It’s humbling and it reminds you why you’re doing this in the first place,” Plaza says. “When you work on a show, you work with professionals who are so good at their job, and you just have such an appreciation of what goes into it.”
Danielle Turchiano contributed to this report.