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Some genre shows start scripting ways of 'rounding the story up early' in case of additional shutdowns

By Jacob Oller
a discovery of witches Teresa Palmer

The rampant coronavirus pandemic has had a devestating effect on the entertainment industry, whether seen from the high-level perspective of theater chains considering bankruptcy or the simple detail of Tenet's constantly delayed release date. The world of TV and film production has only recently begun inching its way back into business, and then only within the bounds of strict safety guidelines. But guidelines only go so far — a lockdown could come again at any time, especially as contingents of the population disregard mask protocol and flood public spaces. So some genre shows are implementing an innovative policy: write contingency finales into their scripts in case of an unexpected production shutdown.

Deadline reports that some U.K. shows from Sky Studios, including the AMC co-production A Discovery Of Witches, are readying for production (planned to start by the end of September) by scripting potential ways to end the season into early episodes.

Speaking at a virtual Broadcasting Press Guild lunch, Sky Studios CEO Gary Davey explained that their plan to go back to work inherently considers the possibility that it won't last long. “In order to be cautious about whether or not there is a second wave of COVID, it’s been a really interesting exercise to rethink the editorial of a lot of the shows, especially the bigger shows," Davey said.

That means not only adhering to a 55-page safety “bible," but thinking about how the show works on a narrative level. How do you write a show when the plug could be pulled on production — effectively ending the season — at any time? Write routes to mini-finales that can be utilized if needed.

“So, for example, we have rethought the number of episodes and had a good look at the editorial to figure out that, if there were a crisis, is there a way of rounding the story up early," Davey said. "So if it’s a 10-episode production, is there a way of managing the script in such a way that — if you had to — could you get out after six [episodes].”

Fans have already seen a version of this play out, unplanned, with shows like The Walking Dead. The undead AMC juggernaut couldn't finish post-production on its finale due to the coronavirus shutdown, leading to the 10th season's penultimate episode acting as its finale. The real finale then became an upcoming special event - basically a standalone mini-movie between seasons. Sky is looking to avoid that scheduling kerfuffle - and the costs that go along with it.

“It’s prudent to [plan this way] because having to shut down a big production again mid-shoot would be really quite catastrophic,” Davey said. This knowledge comes firsthand: Sky saw almost 30 shows shut down mid-production due to COVID-19. Nine are starting production back up.

As film/TV work slowly picks up, approaching with caution in all forms is paramount for safety and the continued success of efforts to create alongside a viral threat dependent on an entire population's coordinated response. "It relies on the principle of reduced sets, groupings, distancing, and testing," said Sky chief commercial officer Jane Millichip. "But also we are planning this for the long haul, with the idea that we can continue to produce safely if there are spikes.”

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