How are TV shows filming during COVID-19? An inside look at ‘Snowfall’ and other series.

“Snowfall’s” Health and Safety manager Jillian Stern says “Snowfall” is one of the first larger on-location shows to come back, which has paved the way for other shows to reshape how they film as well.

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(PHOTO: IMDb)
​When the pandemic first hit last year, TV shows were left hanging in the balance as production shut down. Some were in the middle of production, while others were about to begin production. However, all would be forced to reconsider everything they know about putting together a TV show and come up with a new and safe way to film in the middle of a pandemic.

FX’s “Snowfall” was in the middle of filming season four when the pandemic hit and did not return to set until seven and a half months later. In that time, a careful plan full of health and safety protocols was put together by the union that all cast and crew would have to follow. “Snowfall’s” Health and Safety manager Jillian Stern says “Snowfall” is one of the first larger on-location shows to come back, which has paved the way for other shows to reshape how they film as well.

According to a video FX posted to their YouTube channel, one of the new protocols is testing everyone multiple times weekly depending on their activity on set and exposure levels and wearing masks and shields. There have been handwashing stations placed throughout the set along with signs that directs cast and crew to their zones to ensure they stay safely in their pods. These zones include “Red or A,” designated for those that have the closest proximity to the actors (hair, makeup, grips, actors, backgrounds, etc.) and “Zone B” designated for those who are near the actors but may not always be on set.

This season has also involved re-thinking some of the show’s most familiar locations that have already been shot at in the past but couldn’t be shot at this season due to the pandemic. To solve that problem, production built some of those locations including Alton’s shelter and Manboy’s barbershop on set.
“It’s a system that works. We’re really respecting the virus here. Just making everyone really bring their A-game,” says Damson Idris, who plays Franklin Saint, the main character.

Other shows have used some of the same protocols as “Snowfall” as well as doing things like table reads through Zoom calls to practice as much social distance as possible until it is time to film.

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TV shows in Chicago have also had to make change. FX’s “Fargo” went back to production in August 2020 after having to cut their season short. They were fortunate that the owners of the homes rented for production cooperated with the new schedule, but they had to work around the fact that it was supposed to be Winter in the show and they were filming at the end of summer by creating a time passage. They also saw a significant increase in their budget due to COVID-19.

“Judge Mathis,” which films in the NBC Tower, has reshaped the way they film as well by adding plexiglass and a small, socially distant studio audience. Other shows that tape live have been either filming from home or filming in their studio with no audience or a virtual audience. The consensus is that technology and working together is what has helped shows successfully film in the pandemic.

“It’s new for everybody, but on this show we call it family. So everyone is doing everything they need to do outside of the workplace to keep everyone safe at the workplace,” says Byron Marigny, gaffer for “Snowfall”. ~

Jasmine Smith, Contributing Writer

Jasmine Smith is a contributing writer for Rwebel Media. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago. Although she majored in magazine journalism, her work can be found on all platforms including online, print, blogs and social media. Her love for journalism doesn’t just stop at writing, she’s hands on with every aspect of putting projects together from editing and web development to reporting and researching.  Her work can be found on The Celebrity Cafe, Chicago Talks and Felix Magazine.

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