How 'All Rise' Pulled Off Its Timely Virtual Episode

virtual All Rise-Publicity still - H 2020

Michael Robin was three days into directing the 21st episode of CBS' freshman legal drama series All Rise when the world suddenly stopped. In the days that followed the industry-wide production shutdown amid the novel coronavirus, the industry veteran worked with editors via Zoom in an attempt to salvage what he could, but, with only 18 minutes of useable content for the ultimately scrapped episode, began thinking outside the box. With CBS in need of content to fill newfound programming holes, Robin looped in fellow executive producer Len Goldstein to see if the sense of human connection he was feeling over Zoom editing sessions could be parlayed into a full-length episode of the courtroom series starring Simone Missick.

"What if we actually saw our characters in this situation? We could literally take a Zoom grid view of all of our characters going through something and maybe we could come up with a story where they’re literally in this time," Robin tells The Hollywood Reporter of the origins of Monday's episode, which was filmed, edited and directed remotely while observing government-mandated safer-at-home orders. As the lockdown nears the end of its second month, other productions — including NBC's Parks and Recreation special last Thursday — are utilizing the same protocol to deliver entertainment to captive audiences.

Robin and Goldstein then pitched the broad-strokes idea of the All Rise characters in isolation to co-showrunners Greg Spottiswood and Dee Harris-Lawrence and head writer Greg Nelson. With everyone immediately on board, the conversation shifted to what was happening in the Los Angeles judicial system amid the quarantine. The quintet turned to consulting producer and former L.A. district attorney Gil Garcetti (the father of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti) for answers.

"Gil said the Chief Justice of the State of California was basically pushing trials and the first batch of attorneys and judges were putting continuances in places and literally everything was just getting frozen," Robin says. "The concept of a right to a speedy trial became something that the state was having to start to figure out. Gil said they were going to have to start remote trials and then that became the legal spine of this episode."

After CBS, producers Warner Bros. TV and the actors all signed on, Spottiswood and Nelson — both based in Toronto — spent five days working on a script. During the writing process, Robin worked with the show's line producer and video playback company Jargon Entertainment regarding the best way to shoot the episode. Robin, who originally pitched using 4K cameras to film Zoom shots on HD monitors, turned to Straight Up Technologies to create a private room that was used for filming scenes via WebEx, which offered a better quality image.

Using a list of "locations" from Spottiswood and Nelson, Robin used Zoom sessions to scout areas of his cast's homes for filming areas, lighting and camera angles. That included finding a judicial-looking space to film Missick as her judge, Lola, had to preside over a virtual trial. "The actors served as a location scout, a cinematographer and ultimately a gaffer," Robin says. "They had to figure out how to light themselves, although we did FedEx plug-in lights that go on the front of your computer." The cast also took the All Rise costume department through a virtual tour of their closet so wardrobe decisions could be made, as well.

With three teams of editors working concurrently on different scenes, the entire episode, from the pitch to the final moment of postproduction, was put together in less than four weeks (down from a month for the writing process alone) using about 50 of the show's 90-person staff. (Crewmembers who were not able to work on the episode were sent a week's salary.)