Show goes on even as production houses battle COVID challenges

Three months after shooting resumed, show makers recount the everyday obstacles caused by COVID and restricted production budgets

e4m by Sonam Saini
Updated: Sep 24, 2020 8:52 AM

It's been three months since the shooting of TV shows began with Government guidelines after a lull of three months due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Despite growing numbers of positive cases in the country, production houses have continued to shoot for shows. 

In June, Maharashtra Government allowed production houses to resume shoots for TV and web series followed by strict compliances to all necessary government rules, regulations and safety protocols. However, the production house owners say that they are not only following Government protocols but also making necessary arrangements to ensure safety procedures.

While talking about the current scenario, Abhishek Rege, CEO, Endemol Shine India, who is currently shooting for one of the most talked-about reality shows, Bigg Boss 14, shared: “The risk of getting a virus remains the same and you could always have some cases. Our idea is to identify them in the early stages and isolate them so that we can replace or resume shoots accordingly. One of the challenges that we face is to continue shoots if it happens to your cast -- the key people that are on-air. Largely all production houses are facing the same issues.”

He added that formal agencies have been hired to take temperature checks and other safety protocols so that identification can happen properly.

The Writer- Creative Director and Producer, Mukta Dhond, who is currently working on shows like Naagin (Colors TV), Kundali Bhagya (Zee TV) and Kasauti Zindagi Ki (Star Plus) said that at Balaji Telefilms, they have been following all the protocols at sets like temperature check, wearing a mask and maintain social distancing. She said, “If anyone on the sets tested positive, as a safety measure, we have to take a break 3-4 days and come back for the shoots if everyone tested negative.”   

She added, “Most shows have a bank of 4-5 episodes but new shows don’t. For instance, we just launched Naagin so we have to take extra care. We find different ways to shoot to reduce outside contact as much as we can because there is no other way to shoot. It also becomes even more challenging if the show's cast tests positive because we need to find a replacement for work on a different story, which is again time-consuming and impacts the shoots and the show.”

Even though we are seeing an increase in ad volumes and revenues on television, the stress on production budgets still remains the same. 

Dhond commented: “These are unprecedented times. We have to check the temperature and sanitize the whole set before shoots, which take almost two hours of productivity. In the current market scenario, there are budget pressures. For instance, shooting is worker heavy. Since now you can’t have more people on sets, the work has become slow. But we are thankful that our industry has started working. At least 40-50% of staff income has been coming in.”    

Sharing similar thoughts, Rege said, “It is affecting production budget and there is stress but on COVID prep and everything large chunk has been taken care by the broadcasters.”

Sony TV India’s Best Dancer’s judge  Malika Arora took a break from the shoots. As per the reports,  Arora was tested positive two-three weeks back.   

Binaiferr Kohli, Producer, Edit II Productions of Bhabhi Ji Ghar Par Hai fame, said that COVID -19 has been impacting shows due to the budget cuts caused by less ad revenue.

"Secondly, we work so slowly that we begin late with all the testing and safety checks. Also, if someone gets infected we stop shooting for three days. There is a banking policy that we can't meet up to. All the producers are going through a lot of stress," said Kohli.

Ranjit Thakur, co-founder Frames Production, said: “ We are still shooting under extreme conditions.  In fact, in the current scenario, shooting is more stressful because of Unlock; and now, more people are prone to getting positive, hence, more precautions have to be taken now.”

He explained, “The shootings have opened up, but the economy hasn't. The revenue stream of the channels is not as high as it used to be. It will take at least six months to get back to normal and previous budgets to come back. There are around 20-25% cuts in budgets depending on the projects. It's still not restored to pre-COVID levels.” 

Similarly,  Fremantle India, the production house for shows like Indian Idol and India’s Got Talent, has also been shooting for its international formats. MD Aradhana Bola informed that the production is taking extra care of safety measures and not following only the Government guidelines. She also said that now the process has changed for shoots.

She recounted the challenges when Fremantle India shot for America’s Got Talent in India: “There were participants who couldn’t travel due to the pandemic. We took all the necessary permission and took care of all the safety measures and shot their performance for the show without compromising on the excellence of our product." 

Bola added, “Taking inspiration from America’s Idol, where they shot the show on 110 iPhones across 25 locations in America with everyone at their own home, this year the entire process has been online so that we don’t put anyone on risk.” 

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