Production Activism: Using Video To Help People During The Pandemic

A 100 square foot patient overflow isolation room that my friend, Theron Whitney thought up to help patients and healthcare workers during our current Pandemic crisis. I quickly produced a video to help him make healthcare administrators aware of it.

Besides being the title of a really cool 1979 Talking Heads tune, “life during wartime” feels like what we are all enduring right now with our battle against the COVID 19 virus.

Like most of you, my business has been heavily affected by the outbreak of the COVID 19 Virus and the subsequent lockdown and quarantine. All of the projects I had booked for March and beyond have canceled or been delayed indefinitely. I’m not bitter or too frustrated about it, some events like surviving this Pandemic transcend common concerns that all of us have about making a living. Regardless of what happens from here on out, realize that both you and I are living through a historical moment, not too different, in a way than our grandparents or great grandparents when they had heard about the Japanese Bombing of Pearl Harbor or Hitler’s troops rolling into Poland. Much like the previous generation, we are at war, fighting for our survival against a common enemy.

It encourages me to see all of the sacrifices that people in my community are making to keep a sense of normalcy in our lives as we as a creative community endure the COVID 19 Pandemic. I see neighbors offering their own food, supplies, yes, even toilet paper to their neighbors and community who are in need.

When we compare ourselves to what so many in our local communities are going through to just work and not get the virus as they try to do their jobs, even though many of us are struggling financially, most of us have a roof over our heads, food to eat, the Internet to keep us entertained.

Not only was our own National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas canceled but effectively all trade shows for the foreseeable future have been canceled.

A friend of mine, Theron Whitney, is the owner of a trade show exhibit company called Xibeo. By now I am sure that you know that the biggest tradeshow in our business, NAB, was canceled. Extrapolate that to every tradeshow in every business has been canceled for the foreseeable future. Theron had to lay off his entire staff three weeks ago, which was extremely painful for him but with no possibility of supplying his clients with booths and exhibits, his business is in the exact same position as most of our businesses right now, dead in the water. Instead of curling up and sitting at home, Theron called and asked me if I could produce a quick, down and dirty video for an idea he had to quickly assemble hospital patient overflow isolation rooms. I was intrigued.

He explained that he had some 95” high exhibit frames and panels in stock that are cloth on the outside and rubberized on the inside, so that they can be easily disinfected, could be used to construct about 100 patient overflow rooms. He sent me a cell phone picture and I could see what he meant. The rooms are 100 square feet, would have a sealed Vinyl floor and a plastic translucent roof to let in ambient light. While not hermetically sealed, the rooms utilize a zippered Nylon door and would provide enough isolation to reduce the spread of the virus in an emergency healthcare setting. As a disclaimer, since we are discussing equipment that could be used with medical equipment in a hospital or clinical setting, neither Theron or myself are healthcare professionals and we make no claims as to the medical suitability or efficacy of the isolation room.

While there was no budget to produce the video, I was immediately interested in helping him spread the word about the isolation rooms to local hospital administrators, healthcare supervisors and Southern California politicians who have the connections needed to deploy the rooms. Theron had been trying to get the attention of this audience using phone calls and emails but to no avail, the concept behind the rooms was too hard to explain succinctly in a phone or text message. We quickly decided that a short 3-4 minute video would be worth it to show the room concept and how it’s lightweight, modular construction and quick assembly would be a valuable asset to local hospitals as they gear up for the incoming overload of patients. We’ve been seeing images on social media of hospitals laying out open cots in parking garages to cope with the flood of patients they are expecting to be overwhelmed with any day. An isolation room is a much better choice for containing exposure of the droplet borne virus and allows for much less constant viral exposure of healthcare workers.

Production Challenges

Unlike the projects I normally work on, which usually have at least some pre-production time to plan logistics, hire crew and plan post, this video needed to be shot as soon as possible and posted on YouTube immediately. Both of us believe that the implementation of these patient overflow rooms could actually help to save lives by reducing exposure as patients go through the battle with the virus. I quickly charged up my camera batteries and packed my gear to head to Theron’s warehouse.

A 4K capable mirrorless hybrid like the Fujifilm X-T3 mounted on a handheld gimbal was a practical solution to shooting a walking tour of the patient isolation room.
The Tascam DR-10L lavaliere recorder provided the perfect solution to recording good quality audio while having talent wire themselves up due to distancing.

Upon arriving, we both agreed that we would practice distancing as much as we could, we stayed at least six to ten feet apart for the few hours I was at his warehouse to shoot the video. I decided to utilize my Fujifilm X-T3 mounted on our Zhiyun Crane 2 as Theron wanted to shoot a quick tour of the structure so I felt that the small, light mirrorless camera on the gimbal would provide me with the most mobility to follow him with the least amount of weight and bulk. Our normal cameras are the Canon C300 MKII and the C200, either of which would have worked for this shoot, but we don’t own a larger gimbal like a Ronin 2 for either so going with the X-T3 and the Crane 2 gimbal made the most sense.

My main concern instead of lighting for this video was to make it sound good. What Theron would be saying was far more important than how beautifully lit and shot the video looked so I resigned myself that trying to photograph a 100’ square foot room tour in a rather un-photogenic warehouse space, while shooting, handling audio, directing Theron myself meant that lighting each scene properly would take me too many hours without a crew. I decided to basically try to flood the exterior of the room with softlight and to locate a single lighting source above the translucent roof so that the light would shine down through the diffused plastic to light the room interior was about all I had the time and equipment resources for. As much as it pains me as a DP, for a video like this, lighting it beautifully really didn’t matter. The audience wouldn’t care, my client didn’t care, even though it pained me as a DP to shoot something not lit very nicely. But the goal was to set up the lighting, shoot and get back to home base as quickly as possible.

What About Sound?

Rycote Overcovers have been a lifesaver in situations like this shoot where I had to have talent be able to easily affix a lavaliere microphone to the inside of wardrobe.

I devised a plan to put a lavaliere microphone onto Theron for him to deliver his message to camera. I didn’t have a location mixer so using a boom for moving shots wasn’t practical. We own three of the little Tascam DR10L lavaliere audio recorders, we’ve been using them on our docu-series when we don’t have a location sound mixer on set and they have been working out remarkably well. With no wireless UHF or 2.4Ghz signals to pick up interference or deal with, the Tascams simply, cleanly record sound from an attached lavaliere.

My plan was I would bring two of the Tascams to the shoot, one for me to demonstrate how to mic myself, then watching me, Theron could do the same to mic himself. I demonstrated how to power up and start the recorder recording, plug in the lav and mount it, using a Rycote Overcover, to the inside of his shirt. Theron was a hero, quickly picking up on how to start and stop the recording and he placed the lavaliere on himself and we began shooting.

The roof of the patient isolation room, highlighting the translucent roof panel that I shone an Aputure LS-1S Lightstorm LED panel through to light the interior of the room.

Finishing the Shoot

We shot for about three hours, which sounds like a lot of time for a three to four-minute tour but like every shoot, especially those not well planned with lots of pre-production, we had to work out what he was going to say on camera, what worked and didn’t work. One challenge was how to place one of our Aputure LS-1S Lightstorm LED panels about 12’ up in the air to shine down through the roof. The original plan was to place the light on one of the warehouse’s forklift extensions. Unfortunately, the forklift maintenance company had not been by to service the forklift and it stopped working, luckily right after the roof had been placed on top of the room. We ended up placing the light, using a baby stand and some Bungee cords at the top of a 10’ ladder. It wasn’t as high as I would have liked to have had it, only allowing me to rake the top of the room with light rather than place it directly overhead, but it worked.

A still capture from the video of Theron Whitney showing off the translucent roof of the patient isolation room.

The End Result

The next morning, I loaded the footage and the audio files into our edit system and quickly cut together the video. I sent the cut to Theron for approval, we made just a small tweak and then he posted it to YouTube. To date, the video has received about 500 views, but it wasn’t our intention for this to become a viral hit, it was simply a way to show local and state officials what is possible to stem the tide of patient overflow that are hitting our hospitals and clinics. We are also spreading the word to other exhibit trade show companies nationwide as the materials to assemble the rooms is commonly available throughout the exhibit industry. Using the video, Theron has established contacts with our local Congressional rep, local Assemblyman and state Senators and several local hospital administrators. He is currently working on making contact and showing the concept to FEMA officials.

The video we created has been viewed over 500 times over the past week or so, hopefully by local healthcare officials who could use the protection for their staff of workers during patient overload from the virus.

How Does This Relate To You?

My main goal of writing about my experience is to encourage you to utilize your skills, gifts and gear to the cause of helping your community through this dark time. None of us know when quarantine will end and when life will return to “normal”. Most of us feel that the new normal is going to be different than in the past. Of course, take care of yourself, your family, neighbors, and friends in the best way that you can. I took a calculated risk in driving to my friend’s warehouse to shoot this video about a week after the quarantine was in place, but my exposure in working with Theron to shoot this video was minimal since we distanced and disinfected during the production and the end result has the potential to save lives and help the healthcare system deal with the coming Tsunami of virus patients.

A still from our latest video, a tips and tricks training video to help teachers who are in quarantine to be more effective visual communicators with tips about how to set up and use the webcams in their laptops and phones for distance learning to teach their students under lockdown.

We’re All In This Together, How You Can Help

We are all creative or we wouldn’t be in this business. It’s so much better for your outlook and creativity to engage in work to produce something useful to help people instead of moping and stressing about our situation. Use your creativity to offer your community a way to help overcome these unprecedented challenges we are all facing, you are only limited by your own creativity. While we cannot assemble a crew and cast right now, what about a stop motion or tabletop video to help to get important messages out to your community? If you are talented at motion graphics, you can team with local officials to get their vital messages out with some style and engagement. While it may not directly help your finances, it will make you feel better to know that you are helping your fellow humans deal with this difficult time.

You can view the video tour of the isolation room that we created below: