Over the years, Done+Dusted has been a go-to production company for live TV events such as the past four Primetime Emmy Awards, the London Olympics Opening Ceremony, “Stand Up to Cancer” and “The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.” The company was already starting to branch into other businesses as well — but then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
That made expanding into other verticals more than a strategy for the seven Done+Dusted partners — it became a necessity. Over the past two years, Done+Dusted has started moving into new markets, including original series and specials, immersive experiences, brand presentations and gaming-related programming (with an eye toward finding a way into the hot topic of the moment, the “metaverse”).
“When there are no live events, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that’s not a very good business model,” says D+D president Ian Stewart. “I remember right back at the beginning [of the pandemic], we did the thing that everyone did, which was cry ourselves to sleep, feeling very sorry for ourselves. And then we woke up the next morning going: ‘We can’t stay here because that’s obliteration. So what the hell are we going to do?’ Sometimes they say it’s not the smartest that survive but the fastest, and we were fast.”
The initial answer was remote productions like the “Disney Family Singalong,” which aired in April 2020 and featured stars, taped in their homes during early quarantine, doing their renditions of classic Disney film and TV tunes.
“There was so many huge technical challenges and it was all new territory and there was no blueprint,” says D+D executive producer and partner Katy Mullan. “Producing talent through Zoom and helping them install the cameras themselves and their own audio equipment and their own lighting. It takes a hundred people all over the world, shooting and working with talent to pull these shows together. It was an incredible experience and incredible achievement.”
“Disney Family Singalong” was a smash for ABC, and spawned a series of specials, most recently one featuring the music of Queen.
“We were able to stay ahead of the curve with technology so every time we did one, it was far better than the last one,” Stewart says. “So those franchises sort of evolved. It just adds another whole string to our bow of repeating franchise programming. We’re known for high quality, large productions, so OK, how do we make a series of those and call it a series, not a not a one-off.”
D+D also launched the Amazon end-of-year franchise “Yearly Departed,” along with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” star Rachel Brosnahan as executive producer. “Yearly Departed” released its second annual edition at the end of 2021.
“We were making a show in COVID that was all about putting women at the forefront and women of color, and giving them a platform in the comedy world that they just hadn’t had up until now,” Mullan says. “And creating a space in a show where we had to make it look like everybody was in the room together. In year one, none of them actually could be in the same room together. We also created a new production model because obviously comedy needs an audience and we didn’t want these women to have to stand up and perform their five minute set with no reaction. So what we did was we set up the stream so that the other women could be in isolated green screen pods.
“And we had real reactions that fed back into the room so that they could see their peers performing and give them real reactions and then we can posit that in post and VFX,” she adds. “Harnessing the new technology and using it to our advantage, which is something we’ve always been really good at, and delivering really high quality production value, we’re super proud of because that wasn’t easy in that period of time.”
According to D+D chief operating officer Melanie Fletcher, the company wound up producing 33 shows in 2020 and 38 programs in 2021 via its U.S., U.K. and Middle East offices. “The pandemic pivot has just opened up so many other doors,” she says.
“I love the idea that they’ll live beyond COVID,” Fletcher says of the series. “We started thinking like that when we realized that this wasn’t a short term pandemic, which was, how do we create formats that will live beyond this that won’t be marked by this time.”
Fletcher adds that the company’s use of technology was was accelerated because as it cracked new ways to increase production values during COVID that were not physical. “Seeing the evolution of that over the two years, starting with just cameras in talent bedrooms up through the Queen Singalong, we had people performing on the top of the Roosevelt roof… We’ve learned an extraordinary amount around AR and VR, and we’re able to take those skills now into post-pandemic productions.”
D+D’s move into the tech and digital space comes as it produces events for companies like [omitted], YouTube (Brandcast) and Google (I/O conference). It’s part of an evolution in keynotes that perhaps started awhile back with Steve Jobs and Apple, but is now a necessity for entertainment companies in the tech space.
“What we’re finding is that a lot of these companies are coming to us now, people want to tell a story. People want to really engage with their audience,” says executive producer and partner Guy Carrington, who’s overseeing D+D’s branded business. “Once upon a time, the idea of somebody standing on a stage in front of a few slides was all that was needed. But now, it’s about putting that stuff in the real world. Because it’s not just developers and business owners who are watching these things. But I suppose all of it comes back to the core of what Done+Dusted is, and I one thing I keep saying to to all of the brands that we talk to, I just want to use the skills that we already have to try and elevate your product.”
This year, Done+Dusted is working on new projects with Disney Plus; the 2022 Mark Twain Prize for Humor is back after two years of pandemic hiatus; and several Google live streams are in the works. D+D is also cooking up a new project with ABC, a major gaming product launch in the spring and its first commercial theatrical immersive concepts will launch in North America, China and the Middle East this year.
But what really has the D+D partners interested at the moment is the metaverse.
“There are so many opportunities it’s eye watering,” Stewart says. “That whole area, it’s not creating the metaverse because it doesn’t exist yet, but it is playing in the bits of the metaverse that do exist. It’s going to revolutionize how we do things. For instance, for artists, you may not need to tour, ever. They can still get to more people and make more money. Suddenly you feel like the blinkers have come off and it’s almost like the Wild West. I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited or as inspired to walk into work as I am just at the moment. Every day there are just more doors open, more possibilities.”