Pivoting Advertising Production in the Age of COVID

September 22nd, 2020 | Roma Ahi, Vice President of Production, Diamond Marketing Group

Close up of black and white clapper boardIs it just me or has life felt a smidge different lately?

Yes, no matter the industry, everybody has had to adapt to a world dealing with the chaos, confusion and all-around challenges that have come with COVID-19. That’s been particularly true in our industry, where current events have transformed the way we approach production at every single stage.

At first blush, it might seem like COVID safety restrictions might automatically lead to serious budget savings. Fewer people involved has to result in lower overall costs, right? We discovered in the preliminary stages of creating our latest TV spots for a major advertiser, that this isn’t the case. The limited amount of people on set resulted in longer, fragmented schedules. Factor in additional costs for cleaning and the need for additional equipment to accommodate a virtual setup, and it’s pretty easy to see how the budget could really swell if left unmonitored.

Consider creative casting solutions

Pulling off commercial work under these constraints means casting the right (and sometimes most versatile) people so you can work with them to create what appears to be “traditional” work in a non-traditional setting.

In this environment, there are some key obstacles you may have to navigate, and you’ll need to find opportunities to handle those obstacles.

  • Planning a shoot that adhered to COVID-19 restriction guidelines
  • Finding the perfect “bubble couple” cast
  • Shooting with a non-bubble cast
  • Being prepared to adapt casting to reflect diversity recommendations.

We experienced this first-hand in a recent TV commercial shoot.

Virtual casting has quickly become the new industry norm when hunting for the right talent. In fact, not only is this approach being used with increased regularity but ideas like finding actors that are “bubbling together” are becoming commonplace. At every stage, it’s important to keep safety regulations in mind. For example, in Phase 1, we cast actors best suited to handle more than just the on-camera needs of the project. That meant finding talent with the ability to self-film and use their home as a featured location.

Added production time and how to trim it

The challenges posed by a much more restrictive (and largely virtual!) shoot quickly revealed themselves once shooting began. Due to the need for team members and our cast to serve multiple roles, we found production was initially taking 10 to 30% longer to complete. The limited resources and available team members also provided challenges in trying to nimbly triage complications in filming and creative adaptation. To offset some of these inevitable issues, we leaned on employing creative solutions that were equal parts budget-friendly and restriction-ready.

One solution we used that was invaluable to our production was filming with only one actor per scene and digitally inserting their partner in post-production. Like in a CGI-packed blockbuster, our actors found themselves performing with a tennis ball as their co-star.

Female actor sitting at a table talking to a tennis ballFemale actor sitting at a table talking to male actor

It might look a little silly out of context, but consider the challenge posed by having actors outside each other’s bubble, and that tennis ball helps solve a lot of problems. It’s one of the ways a creative solution helped overcome an obstacle, but still created work that’s just as good as it would have been if shot in a restriction-free environment.

As with any good shoot, your experience in creating the work will produce some excellent insights on new ways to add efficiency without sacrificing quality. Going forward, we know that things like increased virtual casting can be a valuable tool in times with or without physical restrictions. We also know more about the added costs associated with shooting under strict restrictions and the value of team members with specialized skills.

Tackling TV advertising production in the COVID-19 era is understandably intimidating, but with the right mix of planning, pivoting and production budgeting, you can set yourself up for success. Heck, you might even get a slightly used tennis ball out of the deal!



Roma Ahi, Vice President of Production, Diamond Marketing Group

Roma has 15+ years of experience in award-winning production across North America, starting her career as a commercial photographer in LA. Having spent almost 10 years in the US producing everything from live shows, commercials and film–she travelled back to Canada and entered the TV industry with advertising to follow. Roma has developed and produced campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands and manages an internal team of 15+ producers across Video, XM and Events. Having lived in 23 cities, 10 states, 2 provinces and 5 countries, her sense of adventure and adaptability is seen inside and outside of the office. She’s known for story telling about production adventures, and her son’s latest mischief.