BH&P’s favourite producer, Fiona Campbell, explains what a day in her life looks like, gives her perspective on the devastating impact of COVID-19 for film production, and shares what’s next for anyone wanting to make a TV ad in 2020.
Tell us a bit about your experience as a producer – what would a normal, pre-lockdown day be like?
I’ve been in the business for well over 20 years, and I’ve done a lot of different projects in that time. I started off working in animation, then moved into advertising, feature films, short films... you name it!
As a producer under normal circumstances, no two days are the same.
In pre-production, which takes anything from 2 weeks to 2 months, I’m busy talking about scripts, choosing directors, looking for talent, wardrobe, locations, booking studios, commissioning props and sets, budgeting and scheduling.
I’m also responsible for running the shoot – and if anything goes wrong, it’ll be me that goes to prison!
In post-production, I get involved in editing, graphics, visual effects, voiceover, music, sound mixing and get everything pulled together for approval.
Then we get it to air.
So it’s safe to say I’m fully embedded into every project I work on.
How have things changed for you over the last few months?
Well, quite frankly, everything has changed. The whole industry, from pre- to post-production shut down pretty much overnight.
At first there were a few soap operas still shooting, but even those didn’t last long.
My days since that point have largely consisted of sitting on more Zoom calls than I could care to mention, speaking to countless organisations from unions through to the British Film Council.
The consensus is that content is still desperately needed across so many channels and platforms. It’s not just TV, it’s also advertising, films and online. Now more so than ever.
So how can we get this industry up and running again when it’s so fraught with logistical difficulties?
The film industry is collaborative by nature – so how can we possibly work together when we can’t work together?
What workarounds are in place at the moment, and how are people getting back to work - or are we at a standstill?
We’re not at a standstill – and we never really were. For many, there’s been a considerable effort to move towards self-filming and stock footage.
One of my favourite ads that came soon after lockdown measures were announced was from EE starring Kevin Bacon in what looks like his back garden:
In the immediate future, many are moving towards remote shooting, using simple table-top and packshots.
In your view, what do the next steps look like for getting the industry running again?
Guidelines have gone to the government with a recommended way forward. We’re waiting to see exactly how things will pan out - but social isolation and travel restrictions will mean it’s going to be tricky for some time yet, and scripts will need to be reviewed to reflect what’s possible.
First we’re seeing some smaller studio shoots, as they’re easier to control. The things to consider include:
- Full disinfection of the studio before entry, and at regular intervals throughout the shoot
- Health & Safety specialist will be needed on set, no matter how small-scale
- Any people on set together will have to social distance (unless they are from. The same family / household)
- Different levels of PPE will be needed for different staff
- On-set catering is unlikely to be available
Once we’ve achieved that, then we’ll expect to see small location shoots next. For those, we’ll need to consider:
- Disclaimers will need to be signed by all cast and crew
- Celebrity endorsements will likely be non-existent
- There will be no insurance for cast and crew for coronavirus
- No chance of flying actors in from abroad due to quarantine regulations, and similarly very limited chance to fly cast and crew overseas
All of these requirements are being outlined and considered by the government.
British film is one of the biggest exports for this country, so it won’t be long before we start to get a clearer picture of the future.
It all sounds a bit gloomy… what’s your outlook on the future for the industry?
Despite all of this scary stuff, I’m genuinely positive about the film industry’s future.
The thing is, clever creators will always prevail.
I’ve personally seen an uptake in animation projects recently, for which you have an unlimited scope to innovate and be creative.
I’m excited to see how we prevail – I’ve no doubt that the film industry will return. Lots of people are working round the clock to make sure its return is done properly, safely and effectively.
Is it wise for clients to be issuing new film and advertising projects now?
Weirdly enough, now is exactly the time to do it!
Obviously people are worried about the difficulties involved, but some tentative scheduling for smaller films and advertising is starting to happen.
Since we won’t be shooting overseas anytime soon, if clients want to shoot any outdoor scenes in this country, they’ll need to do it by September. Which means, with 2-3 months to get through planning and scheduling, now is the time to make the decision.
The people who are flexible and brave are the ones that come through best.
Some of the biggest brands know that maintaining ad spend is the right way forward. When you see many nervous advertisers pull back – that’s when the time is right to find your USP and push it.
We can adapt scripts and concepts, and we can shoot things creatively and safely. It’s possible – and the reward for being brave is you getting ahead of the competition who stood still.