BAFTA Games Awards: Lockdowns, Prerecorded Speeches and a Host Working From His Basement

BAFTA Games Award - H - 2020
Credit: BAFTA/Carlo Paloni

Rather than cancel the ceremony because of the coronavirus pandemic, BAFTA's awards team worked remotely amid a government-enforced lockdown to deliver an entirely preproduced show to be streamed online.

On March 13, the British Academy revealed that the BAFTA Games Awards had became one of the first major awards ceremonies on the creative industry’s calendar to be impacted by the coronavirus crisis.

It may not have been wholly unexpected given the event's date of April 2 and a planet grappling with what the World Health Organization had just a day earlier officially declared to be a global pandemic. Festivals and markets across film and TV were being pulled en masse, with L.A.'s E3 conference becoming the largest casualty within the video games sector.

But rather than cancel or postpone the awards, as many others were doing, the British Academy took a different approach, insisting that the show would still go on, albeit in a different format.

For reasons of health and safety, the ceremony would become an online live stream to be broadcast on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Twitch, scrapping the red carpet and audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on London's Southbank and foregoing the need for the many international guests and nominees to fly in from oversees.

The move now seems somewhat prescient — less than three weeks later, the prospect of anyone jetting into London for something as nonessential as an awards evening amid a near-global travel ban seems almost impossible, while the thought of people from around the world amassing in one space given government restrictions over social distancing practically sounds criminal.

But the increasingly tightened rules — including a partial lockdown imposed by U.K. authorities March 23 and the insistence that anybody who could do had to work from home — has meant that even the recalibrated Games Awards has had to drastically evolve. Since the original announcement, it has been through various iterations as BAFTA closely monitored developments, with the "live" element of the live stream eventually having to be removed.

"As things progressed, it was clear that we needed to move to a preproduced show," explains BAFTA’s director of awards and membership Emma Baehr. 

Putting together a prerecorded awards event in the middle of the coronavirus crisis has seen BAFTA shift gears considerably, with the awards team producing the entire show remotely, working from home as per government instructions, coordinating time with talent and arranging script meetings.

"It’s been a challenge as we are all adapting to each other’s home circumstances," admits Baehr. "But everyone has been really supportive in pulling together to make it work. I hope they have found it creatively rewarding.”

The first call following the decision was to the awards' longtime host, stand-up comedian and TV personality Dara Ó Briain, who for his 10th awards relocated to his own basement, where he set up a home studio to record his segments and voiceovers. He even, notes Baehr, adhered to the black-tie dress code.

"He's been brilliant," she says, adding that despite having prerecorded all his bits, Ó Briain still won’t know the actual winners until everyone else does on the night.

Baehr’s team had the nominees — this year the list includes the developers of titles such as Death Stranding, Control, Disco Elysium and Call of Duty: Modern Warfarewho are now set to be watching from their respective homes — all record their own acceptance speeches, should they win. Baehr says many also wanted to contribute — remotely and in advance, of course — to a special celebration of Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima, who is receiving the BAFTA Fellowship, the Academy's highest honor. 

Re-creating the same atmosphere of an actual awards ceremony might be currently beyond the realm of possibility in the digital world, but the hope is that nominees, the audience and even Ó Briain all get involved on social media (ideally using BAFTA's @BAFTAGames handle). Baehr claims several BAFTA members and nominees are planning to get dressed up and host viewing parties for their households. 

And as for the physical awards, these will have to be presented another time, with BAFTA  currently looking at holding a celebration later in the year, one that also gives the nominees and winners a chance to properly — as in, face-to-face — catch up. 

"Live events are hugely important to what we do: they bring the industry together to celebrate, they provide an atmosphere and an opportunity for the industry to network with one another, continuing that brilliant creative work," Baehr says.

Airing a prerecorded awards show online is obviously far from ideal for BAFTA, which puts on arguably the best known and most-watched industry celebrations in the U.K. (and the Britannia Awards in L.A.). But rather than scrap the Games Awards altogether, or wait until the crisis has subsided to find a slot in what is likely to be a bottleneck of postponed events, it has adapted to the current situation.

That said, there are two higher-profile ceremonies lurking on the horizon, on which it will likely have to make a decision in the coming weeks. The BAFTA TV Craft and TV Awards — originally scheduled for April 26 and May 17, respectively — were officially postponed earlier in March, but no new dates were put forward.

Given the ever-changing news headlines and wildly differing opinions on how long social restrictions might need to stay in place, it's perhaps too soon to formally get the wheels moving on transforming either into preproduced shows. But Baehr admits BAFTA is "currently working" on how they might look. 

The BAFTA Games Awards takes place Thursday, April 2, 7:30 p.m. in the U.K. (11.30 a.m. PT) on all major social platforms including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Twitch.