How one director pulled off a remote shoot for State Farm

For director Zack Seckler, shooting remotely during a pandemic is challenging -- but doable

Where and how does one shoot an ad in the middle of a pandemic? 

That’s a challenge director Zack Seckler faced in creating a series of branded spots for State Farm to run on Conde Nast’s YouTube channels.

State Farm and Conde Nast were forced to push back the production date, set to begin in early April, a number of times after the pandemic hit. The shoot finally moved forward in August, with strict social distancing guidelines that meant much of the team participated remotely — including Seckler.

“We had a very limited crew on set,” Seckler explains. “Less than 20 people. Everyone was separated. Nobody traveled to the set besides the talent.”

It was Seckler’s first remote shoot, and he was the lead creative on the project. In spite of the obvious challenges of directing remotely, Seckler found a number of workarounds, including setting up “several screens with a real-time camera feed on Skype,” he said. 

One camera and a larger speaker were set up for the talent to be able to hear Seckler on set, allowing him to give notes. He also set up cellular walkie talkies to communicate with the crew. State Farm and its agency had access to the video feed as well, looping everyone into the shoot in real time. 

While the logistics were difficult, the biggest challenge was actually keeping actors socially distanced in various scenes, Seckler said. “How do you make sure they are safe without looking weird?” he says.

Ultimately, the State Farm and Conde Nast teams were pleased with the way the spots came out. Shooting remotely is not ideal, but it’s doable, Seckler said. 

Although the jury is still out on how remote shooting will impact production quality in the long-term.

“Can you do it with fewer people? Yes, but what amount of production quality or creative might you be missing?” Seckler asked.

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