Published on 20 May 2021

Five Things We’ve Learned in Lockdown

Five Things We’ve Learned in Lockdown

A year on and we could never have anticipated the impact that this pandemic has had on all of our lives. Although it’s brought with it a heavy dose of sadness and suffering for many of us, it has given us a once-in-a-lifetime chance to ‘down tools’ and take a good look at how we work. For a company that traditionally prides itself on international storytelling from the remotest parts of the world, it’s meant going back to the drawing-board. 

So here are five things we’ve learned in lockdown, setting a precedent for times to come:


1. Prepare for the unexpected

As any filmmaker knows, when you get to a location to film, there are always last minute decisions to be made on the fly. Our instincts are to look out for those tell-tale signs and put together sequences in our heads on the spot, shaping a particular story as we go along. 

So when FIND came to us with an ambitious project to recreate an imaginary world where CV19 still exists AND yet we can still travel freely, to be shown to the WHO in a matter of weeks, there was a fair bit of head scratching.

Behind the Scenes of Normalise

Filming scenes in three countries (Kenya, Estonia and India) without the benefit of travel meant we had to plan down to the finest detail in advance. Storyboarding each shot in detail, sourcing local reliable crews, finding locations, actors, costumes, voiceover, set design; we even had to build props to recreate next generation technology that might exist to allow testing to be as normal as brushing your teeth.

The results…

Have been liberating! We’re now thinking bigger and bolder than ever before. Cutting out travel means we can shoot in more locations in a short space of time.  This increased preparation required has seen shoots go smoother and edits run faster with more impressive results than ever before.


2. Get Good People on the Ground

Deborah Mclaughlin (top left), Peruvian fixer

One benefit of the pandemic is it seems to have made the world a smaller place.

When we were approached by Health Action International to make a film about the lack of insulin access in low income countries to mark the centenary of the discovery of insulin, we were left wondering who we knew in Mali, Peru, Geneva and… The Wirral! Luckily an old BBC colleague Steve had worked with in Peru years ago proved to be the right woman for the job.

With a detailed brief and script in hand, Deborah wrestled with COVID19 lockdowns, escalating rates of infection (one of our main contributors had to drop out due to infection at the last minute – he’s ok!) and floods caused by La Niña. Against the odds, she still managed to help us get the most powerful story in Northern Peru we could have wished for.

Since the pandemic, we’ve been building on our established network and working with international and regional fixer companies to grow a pool of producers, filmmakers and local talent that we know we can count on.

The Results…

They’ve been amazing! Rather than sending in people from the outside, we’ve had locals making films about topics that relate to them. It’s created deeper, better access to lives that were otherwise off the grid for us.


3. Stay Firmly In Touch 

Zoom can be a curse or a cure for many. For us it’s provided a direct line into people’s lives that we could never have imagined before.

FICO wanted to create a “fireside chat” between two Digital Transformation experts that felt more personal, responsive and of higher quality than a regular zoom conversation. Not an easy thing with two contributors on opposite sides of the US.

Thanks to the ability to connect a broadcast camera to a zoom session, we’ve been able to proactively manage shoots from the other side of the world. We can interview subjects directly as if we were there in the room, or have them talk to each other! It might take a lot more planning, but using this technology means we’re having more live conversations rather than communicating on email.

The results…

We’re actually talking to our clients more. We’re able to chat to and see our local partners and there’s generally a much greater sense of collaboration at every stage of the video production cycle. Clients now attend remote film viewings on zoom – the only challenge is to remember they’re still in the room when we have a giggle at the outtakes.


4. Co-create

We’ve set up new systems that combine Zoom, document collaboration and regular catch ups, bringing our clients to the centre of the creation process, as we found with our latest project for FIND.

This film featuring a new test for schistosomiasis was not an easy story to tell. The complexities of explaining the life-cycle of a tiny water snail that wreaks untold damage on its unsuspecting victims is not a straightforward task in just over 2 minutes.

Working with leading expert Dr Sarah Nogaro, the local project manager in Kenya, Dr Sammy Ngenga and local cameraman George Muiruri, together we planned the best way to tell the story. Within 2 weeks of filming, rushes sent directly to our editor via FTP, we had a beautiful film that contained all the information and emotion we like in our stories.

The Results…

We’ve seen more collaboration and co-creativity than even before as our clients provide invaluable suggestions to briefs and shooting scripts. This is giving our clients a real chance to shine. They’re loving it, we’re loving it and our viewers are loving it!


5. Adapt

The logistical challenges of lockdowns have thrown up all sorts of roadblocks, so we’ve had to spend a lot of time with our problem solving hats on. This has been true for our clients too, and we’ve found often the best way around it is more collaboration with them throughout the whole planning process, with regular gentle reminders of next steps, as we all have a lot on our plates these days. 

World Courier have been working especially hard to deliver vital medicines around the world during the pandemic. They wanted to show what life is like on the ground for their couriers. Showing real human stories is at the heart of what we do, but it’s not practical to sit in delivery vans with lots of different people right now. 

Lights, camera, action! with our zoom packs.

Making use of high-quality video recording tools, such as, sending out ‘Zoom packs’ with a ring-light and microphone, and briefing our contributors how to film themselves, we’ve managed to capture the passion that drives a company like World Courier to deliver against the odds.


The Results…

Capturing all strata of the organisation from the CEO right through to the delivery people on the ground, you could say the pandemic has democratised our storytelling!


What Next?

Covid has helped us rebuild our internal and external processes from the ground up. Now as the world starts to slowly open up, all of our sharpened skills in planning, collaborating and using new tech are poised ready to embrace a new era of productivity, creativity and understanding.


C9M team on a Pre-COVID shoot