Tim Whitwell
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Tim Whitwell, the Creative Director of ITV ‘A Very British Lockdown: Diaries from the Frontline’ speaks about the producing during the lockdown.

As the nation stays at home due to the Coronavirus lockdown rules, viewing figures continue to show us how TV has the power to unite and provide a valued source of comfort. A panel of TV producers and directors brought together by the BAFTA Workshops Programme, discussed adapting to the pandemic and social distancing while staying relevant for the audience.

Among the industry movers and shakers, Tim Whitwell, Creative Director of Shine TV which produced ‘A Very British Lockdown: Diaries from the Frontline’. The show was filmed within a 24-hour period and aired on the ITV April the 21st.

Among the people featuring in the show are:

  • Bernard and Karen, middle-aged Devon grocers who have lost their crucial tourist trade but are staying open to serve their vulnerable customers
  • The staff of Duffryn Frwd Manor Care Home in Cardiff, who decided to self-isolate alongside their residents to safeguard them during the pandemic
  • Sisters Jess and Laura, keeping their family-run nursery open for key workers in Thirsk, Yorkshire
  • Expectant Hertfordshire parents, Laura and James, whose due date for their baby boy is during the height of the crisis

In ‘A Very British Lockdown’, filmed on their own camera phones, people from across Britain tell their own lockdown tales of keeping calm and carrying on – or trying to. From shopkeepers to home-schooling parents, care workers to cleaners, teachers to nurses, expectant Mums to the elderly, Brits were “making their own telly,” according to the Creative Director.

From the comfort of his own lockdown house, Tim appeared on the Zoom screen sitting comfortably on his settee in shorts and a T-Shirt. “In a way, our role was easy – we just had to find the right participants,” Whitwell casually underplays the efforts of Shine TV.

Casting and Finding the Right Tone

watching TV in Lockdown
Making TV in Lockdown

The ‘reality TV on steroids’, that is ‘A Very British Lockdown‘, has the grittiness about it and the authenticity and was well received by the audience. “We were very cautious about striking the right tone,” admits Tim, “we were searching for people who were engaging with the hardship in a positive way. Dad’s Army kind of humour. Joy in darkness…” And, it would appear they’ve done a great job. According to Whitwell, the production team was ‘following’ 10 -12 A-stories and about 15 B-stories. Some, of course, dropped off.

Speaking of the casting in the lockdown, Tim divulged that “the casting calls were posted on social media channels and the casting was carried over via Zoom by casting executives Tom Hutchings and Tom Williams.”

One could argue it’s every director’s dream to make actors film themselves. Speaking of his experience, Whitwell revealed that it was very important for the participants to know that they had ownership of their story. “People were in charge of their own story; the way it’s being told. Not every documentary can do that. It felt liberating.”

The Production Constrains

The show was filmed on the participants’ own phones. “Initially, we planned to give out the phones for participants to film but we soon realized that all of them had pretty good devices capable of capturing good quality video and sound.” Where the sound wasn’t particularly good, the subtitles were added.

As far as the communication with the participants’ goes, Shine TV production team was available to answer any questions on the phone 24/7. Providing all the guidance, training, support required.

All participants had a LiveView app installed on their phones. It transmitted the footage straight to the server. The process didn’t go all that smoothly however. The large part of the footage, by Tim’s own admission, went missing but then was miraculously found on the server as it just wasn’t transmitted. Don’t we all love technology!

Coronavirus: Looking ahead

Sharing his lessons learned, Tim noted that working on projects organized in such a way, “you can’t be a control freak. You can’t physically check what everyone is doing and must trust the team.”

Indeed, with social distancing rules firmly in place, production companies must be very creative in approaching their job – working remotely as much as possible, stick to online meetings, and reducing the amount of staff present on set. Speaking about the impact of those changes on jobs, Tim is hopeful that they won’t result in job cuts. “We all need jobs, so I hope the industry won’t see major job cuts.”

The recent report by Ampere Analysis, however, reveals there might be troubles ahead for the industry running well into late 2021.

 

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Editor in Chief of Ikon London Magazine, journalist, film producer and founder of The DAFTA Film Awards (The DAFTAs).