Isolation Stories: How do you make a drama while socially distancing?

“We gave it a go,” says Jeff Pope.

The award winning producer and screenwriter is the brains behind a drama series tailor made for these lockdown times.

With most TV and film production suspended globally, the methods he and his fellow filmmakers used - he assembled a formidable team of screenwriters and directors to make each mini drama - have resulted in a series that has been made, not in the customary year or more, but in four weeks.

Isolation Stories came about through Pope’s own family suffering from coronavirus symptoms.

As his wife was recovering, he decided to make a series of short films about different people’s experience of lockdown.

But how to do that when social distancing had to be observed, the normal rules of location filming made impossible due to lockdown rules?

Actor Eddie Marsan's sons played the sons in the drama. Credit: ITV News

“The heroes are the families of the actors,” says Pope.

You can see what he means. Because in order to make the four dramas, the actors had to be filmed at home, the equipment, cameras and lights delivered to the pavements outside, and their families, mostly with no hands on experience of TV work, had to provide all the filming, lighting, sound etc.

Take actor Eddie Marsan. His wife Janine, a make up artist, had to sort the props and camera, for their drama Karen, in which a divorced man ends up looking after his two sons in lockdown.

The sons in the drama were played by his sons in real life, in between doing their home schooling. Their sister Tilly did the behind the scenes filming, for a documentary about the making of the series which will air on ITV next Thursday.

Actor Robert Glenister played a coronavirus sufferer being looked after by his son.

Professionals directed the drama through Zoom video calls. Credit: ITV News

His real son Tom plays his screen son. His wife did the filming on a smartphone.

Heavily pregnant Sheridan Smith played a heavily pregnant woman awaiting childbirth in quarantine.

She had her fiancé Jamie there, to do the filming.

Meanwhile in Mike and Rochelle, Angela Griffin was filmed by her husband as she played a therapist helping a patient over a video call.

They couldn’t do any of this of course without the input of the professionals, who may have to wait a long time yet, to resume their production duties on a proper set. They were on hand via video conferencing service Zoom, to direct the filming, and do their jobs, only not in person.

Sheridan Smith plays a heavily pregnant woman awaiting childbirth in quarantine. Credit: ITV News

Pope was keen for the dramas to focus on how separation has magnified problems and issues that can sit quietly in everyday life but somehow when people are locked together, can soon get out of control.

What does he think TV will look like after the pandemic has passed?

He feels that far from a rush to light and frothy dramas to offer some escape from these had times, there will in fact be more meaty subject matter that will dominate dramatic offerings on TV.

“After World War 2” he says “the most popular films were war films”.

Perhaps we will be looking to film and TV to help us process this crisis.

I am sure all creative sectors will be working on material to document what we are going through.

But Jeff Pope and his peers, have done something daring and, however unpolished the end product may look. ultimately successful, just by dint of the fact that they managed it.

The aim was to get the stories on air while we are still in this lockdown life.

Isolation Stories will be shown on ITV at 9pm from Monday to Thursday next week.

There will also be a documentary on ITV on the making of the series, to be screened next Thursday.