TV stars make UK lockdown dramas with help of family, technology

By Sarah Mills

LONDON (Reuters) - While most drama productions around world have stopped shooting during the coronavirus pandemic, a team in Britain headed by Oscar nominee Jeff Pope filmed a series of four short stories for television that are already being aired.

"Isolation Stories" are currently running on free-to-air commercial broadcaster ITV and deal with different aspects of life under lockdown.

"Dramas can be normally ... a year, year-and-a-half, two years from first idea to screen. So we had to find a way of short-circuiting that," Pope told Reuters in an online interview.

In this case the process took just a month. ITV was keen to get stories of ordinary people dealing with isolation on the air while the public was still under lockdown.

"(ITV) commissioned very quickly ... And everybody just really went for it."

To make the 15-minute dramas, cameras and other equipment were delivered to actors' homes, and their family members shot the scenes with the help of a production team connected to the 'set' using Zoom.

"It was funny. After a few minutes, it felt very like a normal film set ... we had a director, we had a director of photography. We also had a first assistant director," said Pope.

The episodes feature actors including Sheridan Smith, whose fiance did the filming; Robert Glenister, whose actor son is in the episode and who was filmed by his wife; Eddie Marsan, whose wife did the shooting; and actors Darren Boyd and Angela Griffin.

Boyd had no one with him at home in London and so set the equipment up himself to make his episode 'Mike and Rochelle'.

He plays an actor self-isolating while on tour and who is struggling to cope. He seeks help from his friend Rochelle (Griffin), a part-time therapist.

Boyd used several smart phones that he set up using tripods and piles of books.

"By day two ... you find a routine and you ... lean into each other as much as, if not more, than ever. And if anything, it was more of a collaborative and a team effort than ever."

The series was produced by writer and producer Pope and the factual drama team at ITV Studios.

"What's amazing is I think the quality of what we've been able to achieve," Pope said. "There aren't really too many rough edges.

"It's one of the most heartening experiences of my career for sure, the way everybody came together in such a short space of time and worked so hard to make these little stories."

'Isolation Stories' started airing on ITV this week. 'Isolation Stories: Behind the Scenes' will be screened on May 7.

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)