Television

South Indian channels brace for production resumption

Karnataka to resume indoor serial shooting from 25 May

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Photo by Julian Schiemann on Unsplash

MUMBAI: After an extraordinary lull of two months, during which the entire TV production activity came to an abrupt standstill ravaging advertising revenues in its wake, general entertainment channels (GECs) in some south states soon can air fresh content. While the Karnataka government has given approval for resuming indoor shooting of serials to begin from 25 May, the Kerala government has responded favourably to the TV producers’ request.

The lockdown caused by the Covid2019 pandemic has affected the television industry adversely. While news channels, having been put under the essential service category, continued to function, most of the GECs found the going tough. It has been even tougher for those entertainment channels which aren’t lucky enough to have a vast movie library to boot.

In fact, those with a huge movie depository sustained, and even flourished. In Kerala, for instance, Surya TV got lucky with its huge movie bank as it made up for the lack of fresh programmes by banking on its movie library. The GEC, part of the Sun Network, edged out Asianet from its top position in week 15 of BARC just by airing movies back-to-back from its bank. However, between week 16 and 18, it has slipped to the second spot.

But, not all are lucky. And the unlucky ones are now seeing a glimmer of light at the end of this lockdown tunnel with the prospect of resuming shooting.

“You will need to give a plot recap before you start airing the fresh sequences to soaps,” a programming head with a Kannada TV channel quipped wryly. That pretty much sums up the desperation on the ground. After all, how long would you bank on the library to keep a home-bound, entertainment-hungry audience hooked?

Cost constraints

Regional channels, faced with the twin challenges of cash crunch and limited resources in the changed scenario, will have to adjust to the new normal.  “GECs, especially regional ones, have to deal with the problem of costs and cannot cough up more. They cannot afford to have the kind of strict parameters and protocols that have now been put in place in production activities by studios in Hollywood,” said a senior hand working with an entertainment channel in Bangalore, who prefers not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the media.  

Viacom18 regional TV head Ravish Kumar said: “We are currently awaiting approvals from the relevant authorities and will adhere to all norms, formalities and SOPs. We will resume shoots only once we have a formal go-ahead from the concerned authorities and will continue to follow best practices and guidelines laid down by them to ensure safety and well-being of all involved.”

Viacom18’s Colors has two entertainment channels in Tamil and Kannada.

Programme producers say that things will not be the same as they were before. “No liberal shooting will be allowed. There will be a lot of restrictions like the number of people allowed in a shooting set, etc. So many things cannot be visualized unlike in the past. We need to plan because of these reasons,” said a programme executive in Karnataka.

With outdoor shooting still a distant dream, serial plots will go for a lot of changes. Scenes where outdoor shooting are required will have to be rewritten or tweaked.  

As of now, entertainment channels have an oversupply of scripts for serials and other programmes. “We are ready with scripts for 40 to 50 serials. Writers, with plenty of free times, have been churning out serial plots prolifically since the start of the lockdown. But we are not yet sure as to how we can work it out with all the restrictions,’’ he said.

SOP for shooting

The Karnataka government has given tentative approval for TV serials to resume indoor shooting from 25 May, with a lot of restrictions. Shootings in the state came to an end on 22 March following the lockdown.

Karnataka Television Association (KTVA) has put in place operational procedures for shooting from 25 May. As per the SOP, only indoor shoots are permitted. The social distance should be maintained at the location. Only required actors for the shot and main technicians should be at the spot and others have to wait outside. The number of crew members should not exceed more than 18 people. The director and production manager should decide on crew and casting on a daily basis so as to maintain the minimum crew at any point of time. The artist support staff/ personal assistant should not stay at the shooting spot. They have to drop off and leave.

The body temperature of each member needs to be checked before entering the shooting spot and if it is high, they should not be allowed. The producer has to provide a thermal scanner at the location. The name and address of all the cast and crew members should be recorded on a daily basis and the same to be provided to visiting government/medical officers at any time. The production manager needs to record this every morning without fail and ask the cast and crew to write it in the ledger.

Producers have to provide transport for all the actors, technicians and crew members and follow the government instructions on transport facilities. People travelling in generator vehicles too should follow general Covid2019 instructions. No vehicle should be overloaded than the prescribed number of passengers. If not followed, authorities will have all the rights to cancel the shooting.

The producer has to provide hand sanitizer, liquid soap and other materials to maintain cleanliness at the shooting spot. Everyone at the location should follow instructions provided by the government on covid-19 situation.

Refillable sanitizers have to be provided along with hand wash dispensers at the wash basins. Covid2019 precautionary instructions have to be printed in bold letters and pasted at shooting spots (both in English and Kannada)

Except for actors acting before the camera, everyone at the shooting spot should be wearing masks and hand gloves all the time. All the actors and crew should carry their own mask and wear in all the time

Makeup crew should get sanitized before putting makeup on each artist. No back-to-back makeup without sanitizing. Usage of wet cloth is banned and the same has to be replaced by wet tissues and needs to be disposed of carefully.

Makeup crew need to report early and artists have to go for makeup according to the shooting plan. Wet tissues have to be provided to actors and they have use it themselves and put the used ones in dedicated waste bin

The microphones, both lapel and boom rods used in the set, need to be cleaned with sanitizer before putting it on the actors and bringing it into the set.

Disinfectant spray should be sprayed before and in between the shots at the location. Phenyl mixed with Dettol should be applied on shooting floors, doors, windows, sofas, tables, chairs and other properties before use.

One set assistant should be kept only for this and he/she should be wearing washable hand gloves and masks all the time.

Follow the standard travel plan for cast and crew members and make sure no vehicles should carry more than the prescribed number of passengers. All the vehicles needs to be disinfected before using for shooting purpose

Pressing of costumes should be avoided at the location and all the actors should get ready to wear costumes from their home. The direction and production team need to inform the artist well in advance about the respective costumes with continuity details.

Only packed food, sealed in aluminium foil, to be provided at the shooting location. Actors and main technicians ideally should carry their own food if possible and avoid sitting next to each other and eating.

Those travelling from outside for shooting have to follow the self-quarantine rules as per the government order. Actors, associates and assistants need to be informed 15 days in advance to reach Bangalore and be in home quarantine before coming to the shooting spot.

In other states

Elsewhere, in Tamil Nadu, the channels are keeping their fingers crossed as they have yet to receive a go-ahead signal from the government. The television fraternity in the state has made representations with the government, hoping for a resumption of production activities. The government allowed post-production works from 11 May.  

"As of now, we have not got any approvals from the government. We will follow the same SOP proposed by the IBF to the government,” said the business head of an entertainment channel.  

In Kerala, broadcasters are hoping for a favourable decision from the government to resume the shooting activities. Malayalam television fraternity, an association of television directors and producers, the other day met the chief minister in this regard. The CM has assured the fraternity members that he will consider their request favourably.

The GECs are hoping that a favourable government decision will come very soon. ZEE Keralam’s business head Santosh J Nair said that the industry is going through very tough times. “There is no new content and advertising revenue is also at the lowest. We are eagerly waiting to start shooting soon keeping in mind protocols. Based on government approvals we will start our work. All this while, we relied on our content bank. But after our original banked episodes were exhausted and shooting stopped, we did not have fresh content. We have survived with a mix of reruns of fictions and films.”

“The fraternity members got an assurance from the CM. A quick decision will come soon. But it is uncertain about the kind of controls that will be put in place for shooting. But it will be done in a controlled environment. It is unlikely that outdoor shoots will happen,” said Kairali TV programme head Unni Cherian.

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