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Shooting A Documentary During Covid

Back in July I got a phone call from a producer in New York at Jigsaw Productions, Alex Gibney’s production company. Alex Gibney gained notoriety 20 years ago with his documentary, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” He has made several documentary films and series since, often on high profile subjects. His latest project was a film about the government’s response to covid-19. They wanted to include an interview from Max Kennedy Jr. (grandson of RFK), who happened to be in Denver at the time. They asked if I was interested.

documentary production during covid

Boy, little did I know what I was in for. Gibney and his team were making the film “in secret” (as they put it) during the middle of a global pandemic. Being based in New York, which had the largest covid outbreak in the country, they had developed strict safety procedures they wanted followed on each of their shoots. That included needing to purchase three shower curtains to create a make-shift wall between me and the subject (Max Kennedy Jr.).

documentary production during covid

Additionally, I could be the only crew member. Usually on high profile productions like this one the crew is larger, including at least a sound recordist, maybe a camera assistant, a production assistant, and a make-up artist. Instead, I would be doing all those roles myself. On top that, Gibney was conducting his interviews remotely from his home in Maine and in a style created by the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris 20 years ago in which the interviewee looks directly into the lens and the interviewer conducts the interview through a system of mirrors so that the interviewee sees the interviewer’s face in the lens and vice versa. That meant needing to set up the mirror contraption developed by Morris (EyeOne Direct), but also a new device that allowed for pipping the camera signal into a Zoom call on a laptop. Meanwhile, I used my iPad in the mirror device to show Gibney’s image to Max. Follow all that?

Once more, they asked me to place my iPhone somewhere in the background for a second angle. So that’s now the camera, my laptop, iPad, iPhone, and sound equipment that all need managing at once. Phew! Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose.

documentary production during covid

Max was included in the film because he was a volunteer working the basement of FEMA during March and April and who was tasked with procuring PPE for the government. His experiences working with the Trump Administration were disturbing.

Per the New York Times review, the film “elevates voices who sounded early alarms about the virus and whose warnings were lost in a din of complacency, incompetence and political calculation. Not all of these interviewees or their messages have broken through to the public consciousness.”

Until now. Check it out on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and Fandango Now.

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