How 'The Corona Connections' Shorts Were Shot Amid Quarantine Restrictions

Ben Wicks
Adele James, Eleanor Byrne

Shoreditch Pictures' produced the web series that sees American and British actors play characters in lockdown, while shooting, lighting and art directing their stay-at-home performances.

Not waiting for the Hollywood shutdown to lift, British producer Shoreditch Pictures has released on YouTube the transcontinental web series The Corona Connections, which sees sheltering American and British actors play characters in lockdown during the coronavirus era.

The six-film series, each around seven minutes long, includes two episodes that star the Los Angeles-based British and American viral comedy duo, We Are Thomasse, also known as the married couple Nick Afka Thomas and Sarah Ann Masse. Ben Wicks directed the short The Formal Friday, which stars Thomas and Masse, using video conferencing software, laptops and cellphones as cast and creative work remotely without the usual tools of the big studio set.

The episode, also starring George Caporn and Kiki Darlowe, features Jack and his fiance Annie, both front-line doctors, using Skype to hold a virtual dinner party with their "Hollywood" friends 6,000 miles away. The short's cast while portraying the lives of characters in lockdown had to each shoot, light and art direct their performances from home.

Masse told THR that since she and her husband produce their own comedy shorts, they had much of what they needed at home to virtually collaborate with director Wicks. "We own a bunch of gear and are lucky to have excellent natural light in our apartment so that part wasn't too complicated and we sent pictures of wardrobe options via email ahead of time," she recalled.

Both writers, actors and digital filmmakers themselves, Thomas starred in the Oxford Revue with Katherine Parkinson and Fleabag exec producer Jack Williams, while Harvey Weinstein accuser Masse launched her #HireSurvivorsHollywood initiative amid the #MeToo movement.

A quarantine-set challenge for The Corona Connections was blocking scenes and establishing camera angles, but Masse recalls Wicks ably walking his cast through rehearsals and everyone playing with camera movement to avoid a static, dull video conferencing feel.

For Wicks, The Corona Connections completed amid severe physical distancing limitations underlined the physical and psychological hurdles faced by self-isolating filmmakers and consuming TV viewers during the pandemic.

"What was key for me was to find stories that really highlighted the importance of staying connected with loved ones and friends during this unique time in which we find ourselves. Stories that could resonate with the general public showcasing the same drama, and even comedy, that we are all experiencing during the lockdown," Wicks explained in a statement.

For all the speculation about what filmmaking may look like post-pandemic after shuttered Hollywood film and TV production resumes, The Corona Connections also underlines how filmmakers are already busily making and distributing short work shot under quarantine orders.

“We wanted to use this lockdown as an opportunity for fresh, new writers and cast to shine, as well as the likes of some established talent, such as Sarah and Nick, without going the route of utilizing exclusively established talent like many other companies are currently doing," Sarah Culverhouse, who produced the web series and directed one of the episodes, Bubbles, explains.

The first two episodes — Magic Moments and  Plenty of Fish, directed by Wicks, are already on YouTube. The remaining four episodes — Formal Friday, by writer Alastair Bathgate; The Audition, written by Issy Knowles and Rhys Whitfield; Adele James' Match Made in Isolation; and Culverhouse's Bubbles — will be released on the online video platform each Friday until May 29.

For Masse, keeping busy in her home studio shooting two episodes of The Corona Connections, virtually connecting with casting directors, recording audiobooks and working in two remote writers rooms has helped break through the tedium of self-isolation.

"Art has often been a way to channel fear, pain and uncertainty into something productive and The Corona Connections is a wonderful example of something positive and connecting coming out of a time of global pain and trauma," she explained.

The Corona Connections web series also stars Maggie Nash, Issy Knowles, Rhys Whitfield, Adele James, Amanda Abbington, Eleanor Byrne, Shereener Browne, Max Waldron, Patricia Loveland and Nicholas Lumley.