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While most films and TV shows stopped in their tracks this year as COVID-19 shutdowns halted all productions, Love in the Time of Corona, found inspiration in the new circumstances and created an interesting workaround to kept everyone safe while filming pushed forward. It was a gargantuan task, but here’s how this limited-series got the cameras rolling when everything else in Hollywood was still on lockdown.

The first concept for the show was introduced to showrunner Joanna Johnson soon after her other project, Good Trouble, shutdown production in March. From its inception, she knew this project would have to function like none other before it. First, Freeform had to begin a talent search for actors who were already quarantining together before a single script could be written. 

“We had to cast it first and write it next, which is the opposite of what you normally would do,” Johnson told TV Guide. “Casting any show can take months, so we were scrambling to cast [actual] people quarantining together. People were calling up these agents and saying, ‘Hey, what actors live together? What actors are married? Who’s quarantining together?’ And so we’d get the lists from the agents — this one’s quarantining with that one, but this one’s married to this one, or these two are quarantining and married but they don’t want to work together…What an insight, by the way, to Hollywood coupling.” 

Eventually, they found their impressive cast, which includes, Leslie Odom Jr., Nicolette Robinson, L. Scott CaldwellTommy DorfmanRainey Qualley, Ava Bellows, Gil Bellows, and Rya Kihlstedt. Johnson says the scripts were then written in about two weeks, which is an incredibly short amount of time for what amounts to four episodes of TV. 

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The next step was figuring out how to create a full production in the actors’ own houses. Normally, professional sets have hundreds of people making sure the trains run on time from camera operators to lighting and sound experts all the way to hair, costumes, and makeup. All of that had to be essentially thrown out the window, leaving the actors with quite a bit of responsibility for the project.

Performers did their own hair and makeup and mostly wore clothes from their own closets. They also were responsible for moving the cameras around inside their own house, with the help of a handful of crew members, only one of whom was allowed in the house to help with the original setup. From there, everything was done remotely with the help of wifi and walkie-talkies. 

“I was in a van outside on the street, outside of the actor’s houses, and I had a monitor where I could see both cameras. I had a headset where I could talk with the DP and a headset where I could hear the actors and a walkie-talkie to talk to the actors.” Johnson said. “It felt a little bit like a student film, but with all these highly professional people who knew what they were doing… I had a blast. I just had fun. It’s not ideal to direct by walkie-talkie, giving notes over a walkie-talkie. Usually, I like to give them quietly to the actors. But everybody was game, and it felt really intimate.”

The finished product has a beautiful indie feel to it, but you’d never be able to tell that any corners had to be cut in order to make this production work. And while you might wonder why one fictional couple’s toddler always happens to be just off-camera in the next room, you’ll also be completely able to immerse yourself in these separate quarantine stories that feel utterly relatable.

Love in the Time of Corona premieres Saturday, Aug. 22 at 8/7c and continues Sunday, Aug. 23 at 8/7c on Freeform.

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Tommy Dorfman and Rainey Qualley, Love in the Time of Corona

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