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Real DMW employees weigh in on the business of virtual video in the time of COVID-19.

It’s been almost 9 months since the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. To say we’ve all been through a lot is an understatement. At DMW we had to adapt from daily, face-to-face interaction to 100% virtual communication almost overnight. Chances are you’ve had to adapt, too.

The show must go on, as they say. But when it comes to certain functions of business … how? To dig a bit deeper into that question, we decided to examine a process that occurs annually for DMW that was much different this year — the filming of TV commercials for our clients.

Business as usual sometimes becomes business unusual, but we keep going.

We polled DMW staffers who have been through pre-COVID TV shoots, and they break down the differences between traditional video filming and filming amidst a pandemic in a virtual roundtable discussion. This is what they had to say.

The Good

We asked: Tell us what you enjoyed about shooting A TV spot virtually? What worked?

Sue Sweeney – Sr. Production Manager

Sue Sweeney (SS): I don’t often attend the shoot itself, once I have everything set up. With virtual shooting, It was easy for me to “be there”. Being able to multi-task while still being present was also great. Though being on location is ideal, working remotely allowed me to participate, even while dealing with pressing matters coming in throughout the day.

Steve Gupton – Assoc. Creative Director

Steve Gupton (SG): Both DMW and our clients “saved” in a few different ways by shooting virtually — we cut a lot by cutting hours traveled (meaning all of us could have a full work day, instead of traveling, the day before after to keep other client work moving, too!). It turned out to be good thing for everyone!

Rachel Silva – VP, Strategy & Innovation

Rachel Silva (RS): I liked being able to chat about direction with the team quickly and quietly when there was an area that needed attention — it helped us see more immediate results. And the end product was great!

Emma Rodner-Tims – Account Executive

Emma Rodner-Tims (ERT): Being virtual, I was able to join the team at the shoot, even as I also tending to other commitments in between shooting, like Sue. I enjoyed being part of the team “at” the shoot and had an overall boost to my productivity — other work and client responsibilities were all totally on track.

Notice the masks in this DRTV spot? The weren’t just onscreen. Masks and other precautions were taken to ensure safety for the film crew and actors that were onsite.

The Bad

We asked: Tell us about the challenges … and maybe what could have gone better?

SS: Both shoots went really well, but they did take a bit longer than expected. Having to provide feedback online after each take was much slower than if the DMW team had been there in person. I’ll note that post-shoot editing also took longer, because, yeah, editing is part of the process, too. We had multiple conference calls during editing. In normal times, a DMW creative team member is in the studio with the production vendor working through issues before even seeing a first cut.

SG: We did have some WI-FI/internet issues throughout (talking about the connection with production company/crew), perhaps because so many people were using the same access point or site to connect. Also, this was the first time using these virtual technologies, so we had to work out the kinks. I missed the real-time interaction with the director, crew, and the client — but in the end, the spot still came out great.

Pat Donoghue – Assoc. Creative Director

Pat Donoghue (PD): Two things stuck with me: First, the virtual shoot involved another layer to communicate through. For example, non-direct communication with director (to be fair, this sometimes happens on live shoots as well, but not often). Secondly, from a copy standpoint, tracking the script against the words spoken by talent was at times difficult: Did the talent drop a word or did Zoom audio drop it?

Sean Clark – Creative Director

Sean Clark (SC): I feel it was harder to get feedback from all stakeholders— remotely, it wasn’t easy to detect how my clients felt through unspoken cues, like body language. I also saw connections and software issues, which left me wondering: Is there some fine tuning that will be missed because somebody doesn’t want to risk interrupting a Zoom call?

The Unexpected

We asked: Did anything funny, interesting, or unexpected occur during the shoot? Fill us in.

SG: Hurricane Isaias roared through on the day of the shoot causing local power, internet, and cell phone outages for the DMW team — OY, a crazy day! But fortunately, the production and film crew were out on location away from the storm and it didn’t affect them. And we were able to come together to produce a really great spot, despite the change in process.

ERT: Something that was really different, based on my previous in-person experience, was going through wardrobe. Virtually, we picked through items looking at photos of sweaters, shoes, whatever. But when we’re in person, actors try things on for us, sometimes unexpected things happen on a whim, and it really works! Little surprise wins like that … you don’t really think about losing. It all worked, virtually, but it was less spontaneous.

Virtual shoots open up the world. And they can save time and money!

PD: On one client shoot — a long day — there was no official “wrap” call from the director on set. So, a few of us were still connected while the crew started to pack up — they were startled to hear our voices emanating from one of the monitors as the equipment was being loaded and the lights turned off. I chuckled.

RS: While a shoot on set is a grueling day … I gotta say, a virtual shoot can still be an equally grueling day! Of course, a TV spot is just a lot of work – and virtual or “real” you only get out of it what you put in.

This DRTV shoot shined through Covid-19 and a Hurricane. Though the DMW crew was logged in from the Pennsylvania suburbs, cast and crew wore masks and social distanced while filming onsite.

Final Thoughts

We asked: What did you learn from your shoots this year and how could virtual DRTV shoots work better in the future?

SS: It did feel rewarding in a health crisis to know we made it happen without being on set or in person. We, and our clients, worked really well together in this new process and we produced some really great work. I definitely think we can continue to have virtual shoots in the future using the knowledge we gained from this year.

SG: Virtual shoots can work when necessary (e.g., during a pandemic, or when travel isn’t possible for all or part of the team) and they save time and money for our clients. It opens up the world, if you think about it. For example, if you’ve got a scene in a spot that calls for location in Greece and you want original footage, a remote crew/shoot could deliver that without anyone here having to travel.

PD: A takeaway for me as a copywriter: Be sure to do a read through of the script at the pre-production meeting to be sure everything matches. It’s always important, but more so when working remotely, and with the audio challenges that come with some Zoom calls. It’s really easy to miss a “the” or “and” here and there. And don’t be shy about asking the director about the “real world” camera angles and lighting, as they might not translate well onto your Zoom screen, you want to be sure you’re getting what you want and what the client deserves.

RS: It’s always great to have people on set, but this opens up the shoot to other client and DMW stakeholders that may not have been able to make the entire shoot.

SC: Preparation! There were a lot of last-minute adjustments to how the viewing and commenting process would be handled. Right or wrong — we learned through this process that we should pick a software, pick a method or rule of communication up front (and stick with it).

ERT: This experience was different than a typical shoot, for sure. A definite plus? The real-time collaboration with our clients. I feel like we really strengthened relationships having to work hand-in-hand remotely.

The world is always changing, whether it creeps in slowly, or a pandemic forces immediate change. Business as usual sometimes becomes business unusual, but we keep going. You heard it straight from those who know — there will always be a good, a bad, and an unexpected lesson to take from these changes. For agencies, whether it’s TV campaigns, pitch meetings, creative concepting, or other processes, we continue to strive for the best for our clients and each other as new virtual realities keep emerging.

Ready to reach viewers and get results? Choose an agency with hands-on expertise and years of experience in the studio and online to get your TV, OTT or other video projects live. Contact DMW.