LBB's Laura Swinton interviewed production service companies across the world to find out how they rose to the unexpected challenges in the year of Covid.
The article gathers the viewpoints of our production service colleagues from Brasil to South Africa to Ukraine, touching on themes including: remote production, virtual set ups, and tapping into the streaming wars.
We've included the entire interview with our Managing Director / Executive Producer, Sarah Drummond, below.
Read the full story published on LBB Online here.
Sarah on location in 2020 - a COVID-safe set
LBB: How did the first wave of the pandemic hit you and your business?
Sarah: There is no doubt it hit us hard. We were gearing up for a bumper year – in fact, myself and our CEO, Marie Owen, had just returned from our annual sales trip to LA. LS Productions had ambitious goals, as always, set for 2020. Of course, those plans had to be put on hold until we figured out how to responsibly promote and safely conduct productions (spoiler alert: we did figure it out with the invaluable support of the APA and our industry peers).
LBB: What were your options? Did you consider shutting down?
Our main focus is, and always will be, our people including our freelance family. The biggest concern we had was being able to retain our team, particularly when work was at a total standstill during lockdown. We are a unique production service company in that we have a full-time production and location team. Fortunately, the business was robust, and could take advantage of the furlough scheme, allowing for reduced schedules of team members when more flexibility was introduced. We did look at all options, and admittedly at times it would have been easy to say let’s close up shop, at least until the other side of this. Yet as decision-makers we were all aligned on putting our people first, and so shutting down was last on the list. What came out of the dark times was creativity (per usual!). We consulted each member of the team, and items were proposed such as reducing staff hours and encouraging sabbaticals from staff with side hustles. For example, our PM in Manchester is taking time off to work on his incredible cocktail brand - Crozier Drinks (shameless plug for him!).
LBB: What changes did you put in place and how did you change your business in response?
We did not so much change as knuckle down on the brilliance of the UK that remained - pandemic or not. We have got a really committed group of people working for LS, as well as within the wider industry, and so we have used this year to promote the UK’s talented crew, locations that are both unique and also that can double for New York or Scandinavia, plus tapping into resources in existence to aid the hosting of safe sets from technological support to key staff trainings.
Additionally, we made the decision to keep going after one of our longer-term goals we’d had at the onset of 2020: bring more film and TV work to the UK (benefitting all industry players, not just ourselves!). We knew it wouldn’t come fully to fruition in 2020 anyways so, to that affect, we brought Tara Halloran’s expertise into the fold as a Sales and Marketing Consultant based out of LA. She’s got a long, impressive history in the film industry with niche knowledge of US-UK industry relations. It was by no means easy to pull our heads up from looking at the immediate ground (quicksand!) at our feet, but we hope that by asking for guidance from our network we’ve given ourselves a platform for next year and beyond.
We did not change our business model, but certainly worked to clearly communicate the benefits of working on productions here in the UK to all of our markets – particularly during the pandemic with travel restrictions and locations that can double for major cities, castles and estates.Sarah Drummond MD / EP
LBB: Did you change your business model or take on new kinds of work?
We did not change our business model, but certainly worked to clearly communicate the benefits of working on productions here in the UK to all of our markets – particularly during the pandemic with travel restrictions and locations that can double for major cities, castles and estates. While it’s been a ride this year, we have managed to achieve a personal goal of mine - we brought a Christmas TV advert to the Scottish borders as the local production: TK Maxx’s ‘The Lil’ Goat’ produced by MJZ.
LBB: And on a technical level, how have you changed your technical capabilities (remote shooting, virtual production)?
We have not only done ‘COVID fixes’ like providing QTake playback technology on sets to reduce numbers for visiting teams, but we are also working to future proof the business with what I’ve been calling ‘the gift of time’ (you have to find something to be positive about with 2020!). We are working on a new company website that will make it easier for our clients to see where we can support them and their budgets, as well as the range of locations we can offer. This theme of streamlined communications goes beyond the website to other platforms now available through tech innovations and we hope for it to have a big impact, both internally and externally for our clients, in the years to come.
Overall, the vision is to hang on to what makes the UK work well – what makes it great for this industry – and then to do whatever it takes to keep as many individuals actively involved and afloat until pandemic woes are fully dismissed. As a production veteran, myself and this industry are used to reacting to unforeseen circumstances and problem solving the impossible.Sarah Drummond MD / EP
LBB: And now that we’ve been in this situation for nearly a year, how has this experience changed your vision of the business? Will you emerge from Covid different or stronger?
Different and stronger I would say. Good things are already coming, as I’ve alluded too, and we have definitely made sure to encourage creativity in full force - both problem solving within the business and partaking in external activities.
Some of the team are working on a short film as we speak that LS Productions is contributing to by providing the staff resource. It will also pay off for us as a company as staff gain more experience in roles one or two levels up from their current position. Win-win. I myself have rejoined the Board of Screen Education Edinburgh, as again we look towards the future and how to promote more individuals getting into this industry. In the film and TV world, we are greatly anticipating the opening of the first major studio and sound stage in Scotland, and we are also looking forward to the 10th of December, when Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming film starring Meryl Streep, Let Them All Talk, is released. LS Productions was the production service for the UK portion of filming.
Overall, the vision is to hang on to what makes the UK work well – what makes it great for this industry – and then to do whatever it takes to keep as many individuals actively involved and afloat until pandemic woes are fully dismissed. As a production veteran, myself and this industry are used to reacting to unforeseen circumstances and problem solving the impossible.