Sky drama “Temple,” whose first season will soon debut stateside on Spectrum, was about to roll cameras in London on its second season when the pandemic struck. Liza Marshall, head of production company Hera Pictures, describes the measures taken in the last six months to get back on track.
We were five weeks away from shooting the second season of “Temple,” our show for Sky starring Mark Strong, when the U.K. went into lockdown. It was a bleak day for our crew and cast.
As producers, we are first and foremost problem-solvers. But how would we ever get the show up and running again during a pandemic? This was the biggest challenge ever thrown at us. How would we return to work safely and how much would it cost to implement all the protocols we were discussing? I spent the majority of lockdown on Zoom, brainstorming ways forward with our incredibly experienced production team.
In those early few weeks, as the death toll mounted, there was a real sense of despair in the industry. We could develop all we liked, but if you couldn’t get a crew together, how would we all ever work again? It seemed impossible at first but we were determined to find a way through — our show is contemporary, all shot in London with a relatively small cast, and we had already built our huge underground set. Most importantly, we took our insurance cover out before the pandemic so COVID-19 was not excluded (although no one knows quite where we are with the insurance companies in this new world).
It soon became clear that we would need to significantly rethink our budget for the series. We now needed to hire a dedicated COVID-19 manager, for example, as well as a full-time health and safety officer. We also had to initiate wide-scale testing, bring in extra toilets, hand sanitizing stations — the list goes on. It’s probably at least three times the amount of work than usual with all the extra risk assessments, paperwork and added complications, so we’ve needed more people on our team. Every department has to make substantial changes to the way they operate and all of it costs money. The team at Sky have been very supportive throughout the process, with detailed guidance and shared learnings from how they have restarted other productions across Europe.
We also had to make editorial changes to the show, including reducing the overall episode count and rewriting the season finale. This obviously involved a huge amount of work for our writers, and all on Zoom. It was hard to keep everyone energized and focused during this time of uncertainty, but we just had to keep going. Did we really need that crowded bar scene? That huge funeral sequence? We’ve had to find clever ways around the restrictions, deciding when it’s really key to have physical contact between our actors and when a lingering look might work just as well.
Everything was done remotely where it could be, until it had to be in person. Now, when we arrive at our production offices, everyone has their temperature taken and is given a wristband if they are ok. The desks are all set two meters apart and everyone brings in their own lunch and drinks. We’ve had our tech recce on three buses, instead of one, and all socially distanced and wearing masks: only the driver could open and close the door and we hand sanitize before and after every location.
We’ve had art department meetings outside in a massive circle. We’ve gone entirely digital, so we no longer print out each draft of the schedule and script but use our iPads. All casting has been done on Zoom, as has the production meeting. Each actor gets only one fitting with our costume designer in full PPE, including mask, visor, gown and gloves — the same for makeup — and every room we use is fogged with disinfectant each night.
The crew is divided into three categories: the first (about 10% overall) contains all the actors, director, DP, makeup and sound. The second involves the rest of the onset crew, and the third contains the production office. We all wear appropriate lanyards at all times and the categories do not mix. We also have a buddy system: each person is designated one other person that they can breach the two-meter rule with if they absolutely have to (for example, if they had to carry a box). They can only do this with their designated buddy, the aim obviously being to try and limit cross-contamination if someone tests positive.
Moreover, each head of department is responsible for their team and has to remind them every morning to keep distanced. We have only a couple of monitors, for director and continuity alone, to prevent people gathering around them. Instead, everyone uses their iPads linked to camera. Overall, we have as small a crew as possible on set; it’s as if we were filming an intimate scene all the time. And everyone, apart from the actors during a take, are masked at all times.
We’ve disaster planned for every scenario that might come up over the next five months of our shoot but who knows what lies ahead? This pandemic is an awful reminder of how fragile our world is, but from what I can see, it’s brought out the best in our industry — everyone wants to get back to work and is acting incredibly responsibly. We’re really good at teamwork and problem solving, and I’m certainly very grateful to be working with such dedicated and talented people as we set off into the unknown.
“Temple 2” starts filming on Aug. 31 in London and will air on Sky in 2021. The first season of “Temple” will make its U.S. debut Oct. 26 on Spectrum.