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Just five days after the state of California and Los Angeles County lifted restrictions on film and TV production, CBS’ daytime drama The Bold and the Beautiful will resume filming on Wednesday.
“We feel we’re ready to go,” executive producer and head writer Bradley Bell told The Hollywood Reporter. “Safety is our utmost concern and will be as we return to production.”
Like hundreds of other productions, The Bold and the Beautiful shut down in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic led to stay-home orders for nonessential businesses. The show (which CBS recently renewed through 2022) eventually ran out of pre-taped episodes, and CBS has airing themed weeks of repeats for the past eight weeks.
Bell spoke to THR Tuesday afternoon as the show gets ready to return to filming about how the long-running soap will adhere to safety guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic — everything from dividers in the show’s control booth at Television City to having the real-life partners of actors acting as “love-scene doubles.” He also discussed the preparation for resumption of filming, including reworking some scripts, with the goal to have new episodes on the air in a few weeks.
How long were you getting ready to go back to work, prior to the lifting of restrictions on production on June 12?
We’ve been preparing for this over the last month, month and a half. We knew the day would come, so we’ve been modifying our spaces, modifying our studio, our booth, staying up to date on what the most important health and safety protocols are. We feel we’re ready to go. Safety is our utmost concern and will be as we return to production.
What kinds of modifications have you made?
We’ve been working with a group called Reel Health, and they provide great COVID response services. We’ve been looking to them to guide us through a safe path back to production. We’ve been doing testing — everyone has been tested. Actors will be tested at least once a week, maybe multiple times a week. All production personnel will be tested on Mondays, and we’ll be filming Tuesday through Friday.
In terms of the booth and control room, we have plexiglass between the director, the AD, the [technical director]. We’ve spread out all of our production people so they’re at least six feet apart and divided by plexiglass. We’ve moved the lighting department to an auxiliary area where they have more space. We’re limiting the number of people on set at any one time, and keeping the actors eight feet apart at all times — which will be tricky, especially during love scenes [laughs].
Right. Daytime drama is built on intimate and close-contact scenes. How do you plan to handle that?
We’ll really rely on our directors to employ all techniques. [Actors will] shoot eight feet apart, following all the safety standards, but use the tricks of the business. We’ll shoot one side of the couple in a romantic scene alone in the room, but looking at a spot very close to them, and then shoot the other side alone. When we edit it together, it will look like they’re nose to nose.
Does that then increase your post-production time?
It will increase post-production. We’re also bringing in, in some cases, the husbands and wives of the actors as stand-ins for their [characters’] significant others. So if you see hands touching faces in close proximity from a wide shot, instead of a stunt double we’ll have a love-scene double, where it will be the husband or the wife doing the actual touching. Then when we edit it together, it will look like our couple on screen.
And we’ll probably also be using some of the classic, old-fashioned tricks of soap opera, where when things heat up, we pan to the fireplace or pan to a candle to indicate things are getting hot [laughs]. All in all, I think a lot of it will be done with the eyes and the voice, and there can still be love in the air and romance on the screen from a safe distance.
You’re following safety guidelines set by the industry and the guilds. Are you adding additional layers for safety beyond that?
We are adhering to all the guidelines from the state and the DGA and working closely with SAG-AFTRA to make sure we meet all standards and being extremely cautious on every level. We have our own protocols in place, and they’re very conservative. We’re just making sure that we employ all safety standards the industry sets, and our own as well.
What kind of conversations have you had with your cast and crew in the time you’ve been off? Are people ready to get back to work?
The vast majority of our cast and crew are eager to get back to work. They’ve been waiting for the world to open up, and now that restaurants are able to function, and salons, and businesses of all types are able to go back if they meet safety regulations, we feel we’re safe to go. Everyone’s excited and ready to start filming again.
How soon are you looking to be back on air?
We’ll start filming tomorrow. We have our first scene scheduled for tomorrow, and then back at it Thursday and Friday and into next week. We’ve eaten up our pad — usually at this time we have a month or a month and a half between tape and air. That’s disappeared now, so I think after a week or so of filming we’re going to turn it around and be on the air within a few weeks. It’ll be quick.
Can you give a sense of how the logistics of production will work? Will have you have fewer cast and crew on set than you normally would?
We’re counting the bodies on the stage at any period of time and limiting that to a specific and low number. Anyone who’s on the stage — hair and makeup, lighting, props — they’ll all have their designated areas and have to stay in those areas, and keep six feet from everyone, wearing masks of course. The actors will be wearing masks other than during their scenes.
Are you filming scripts written before things shut down?
We have a stockpile of scripts. We’ve gone through them all and taken out some of the group scenes. We’ve kept the scenes down to two or four people. Some of the scenes where we had child actors, we’ve written them out for the time being, just for another level of security. But hopefully we have stacks of good drama on the page, and the audience, we’re hoping they’ll watch and say, “How did they do it? They look like they’re nose to nose and right next to each other.” But they’ll be eight feet apart at all times.
Will you incorporate stories about the pandemic into the show? Or do you want it to be separate from the real world?
At this point, we may make mention of the pandemic. But my feeling is it’s covered on every other channel and all news channels. We’ve always been about providing some escapism. We’re telling stories about families and romance, love stories and staying clear of diving into the pandemic.
I would imagine you feel some sense of pride to be the first production in L.A. to go back into the studio.
We’ve always prided ourselves on being a very nimble production company. We’ve shot all over the world, we’re doing 250 episodes a year. So this is another challenge, and one we’re proud to meet and anxious to pull off successfully.
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