The A Team Brings Innovation and CG Magic to Discovery’s First Socially Distanced Shoot

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

"Social distancing" is quickly becoming a popular term - and has forced production to change the way things are done. Shark Week is obviously super popular, so tell me a little about this Discovery shoot that you worked on and how you got involved with it.

We’ve had the good fortune to do work for Shark Week in the past few years so when we got the call from Discovery asking us to help them pull this off, we jumped at the chance.  We saw this as an opportunity to show our production community how we could get back to work responsibly, with health and safety at the forefront.  

This year, social distancing forced us not only to rethink all aspects of the physical production but also how we were going to tell our story.  How does a couple prepare for Shark Week from 6 feet apart? We really had to craft the storyboards and blocking of the talent’s movements to make sure their actions felt natural while still following all safety guidelines.

Marni Wagner, Principal, Creative

Safety was obviously a challenge. Can you talk about how you safely navigated the campaign, what are some of the ways you made sure the shoot was safe?

With safety being paramount, we followed all CDC guidelines as well as adding a few of our own. We had health screenings for our crew both 3 days prior to shoot day as well as 12 hours before and an on-set medic, who also conducted a health and temperature check for everyone upon their arrival and monitored set to enforce our social distance guidelines.  All cast and crew were provided N95 respirator masks, personal hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and individualized meals and snacks. A commercial cleaning crew was also present to sanitize. We invested in extra equipment and monitors in order to ensure that equipment wasn’t being passed back and forth from multiple people. Our cast was required to come to set hair and make-up ready so that we could limit close contact to necessary touch-ups only.  

Probably one of the biggest feats was establishing a virtual video village, with multiple breakout rooms, to allow both Discovery and Home Depot to be able to login from all over the country to be “on-set” with us enabling them to see the shoot and give feedback in real time. 

Nikki Blaszyk, Principal, Managing Director

There was heavy design/VFX - what did the creative process look like?

We were fortunate to have such a fantastic collaborative relationship with Team Discovery. This allowed us to work together in order to solve specific VFX challenges that would have otherwise been either unrealistic in the time frame or cost prohibitive. The VFX planning process started with the idea itself and how it could be tweaked in order to enhance the execution. Once we landed on a sound creative plan of action, we started working on the assets we needed on-set as well as the  look-development frames; which helped us to visualize what the final spot would look like.

Once on set, we virtually posed the shark on the lounge chair to ensure that we were happy with the overall size and shot composition. Once we entered the post-production phase we were able to create the interaction between the shark and the water to create realistic splashing and movement. 

Luis Martinez, Principal, Design Director/VFX Supervisor 

What was the pre-production like? 

Pre-production involved more R&D then we’ve typically done in the past since production looks so different now.  We attended several community film meetings about new safety protocols to ensure we were providing a safe environment and following all rules set not only by the CDC but also our community. We also knew we needed a substantial amount of PPE so we sourced that early on in the pre-production process in order to ensure we would have everything present on shoot day.  

Casting was another area that we had to adapt for.  Since auditions would be virtual instead of in-person, we had to begin the casting process sooner than we typically would to allow time for all of the submissions. This also required a lot of additional scrutiny since we weren’t able to have talent in the same room together to find the right chemistry, something very important when casting a husband and wife!

Nikki Blaszyk, Principal, Managing Director

Overall, how long did it take to complete the project? 

From the time Discovery came to us with this idea through R&D, pre-pro, and post-production it was approximately 10 weeks.  

Marni Wagner, Principal, Creative

What other challenges did you face? 

At the time we began pre-production,  Los Angeles was still closed to production crews,  so location became a bigger challenge than we anticipated.  As reopenings varied throughout the country, we needed to find a backyard location that could be “anywhere America” while also allowing us to utilize our LA production partners, so we spent a lot of time choosing the perfect location.  We discussed places such as Miami or Orlando but ultimately we chose Phoenix due to its proximity to LA and dry weather. 

Ben Frank, Principal, Creative 

What were some of your favorite parts of the project? 

As a company, we really love to work in a collaborative environment.  When we can share a client’s vision and then throughout the process share ideas that add value to the creative, we know a project will be a success. Working hand-in-hand with the Discovery Branded Marketing team to bring this idea to life was one of those times.

Luis Martinez, Principal, Design Director/VFX Supervisor 

Obviously with a big project like this, it's critical to have the right crew members to get the job done. What are some of the ways you ensure you have the right crew for the job? 

This project not only involved a shoot but also a large VFX component which meant we had to make sure we hired the right crew who was experienced in this type of production.  In the past, we worked with Director, Brian Eloe and DP Chuck Ozeas, on these types of projects so we knew we wanted them on our team for this one. Brian was able to direct the talent while communicating with clients in our virtual video village while Chuck’s expertise gave us the cinematic feel we wanted.  

Ben Frank, Principal, Creative

How did the entire A Team work together to make this a successful project?

For us, trust is the real x-factor to make a project like this a success, especially with the added challenges brought on by the pandemic. By building a strong relationship with our clients, they trusted us to use our collective talents to overcome these obstacles and elevate the spot. 

Establishing a relationship with our client built on trust allowed us to create a collaborative process throughout the project which we believe will always yield the best results. 

Our vision for The A Team began with a conversation about the fact that each of us brought different strengths to the table which we knew would not only compliment each other but give our clients a team with multifaceted capabilities.   Marni’s sense of storytelling along with Ben’s talent for pacing and attention to detail combined with Luis’ VFX skills and ability to develop new techniques throughout the project are just some of the things that made this project a success. 

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