As South Africa's television soapies turn sexless and are even kissing kisses goodbye during the Covid-19 pandemic, producers and directors plan on using nifty camera tricks and other cinematography secrets to fool viewers as filming resumes on the country's local primetime productions.
Lots of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban studios reopened this week for cameras to roll on soaps and telenovelas. Broadcasters and production companies now have to juggle and adapt story demands and completed scripts with stringent on-set coronavirus preventative regulations.
According to the latest published Covid-19 regulations for Level 4 of the country's national lockdown period, the responsibility is on broadcasters like the SABC, e.tv, M-Net that runs channel collections like Mzansi Magic and kykNET on DStv, as well as MultiChoice, to ensure that series that were already in production adhere to the latest rules like replacing craft services with packed boxes of lunches and a total limit of on-set cast and crew of 50 people.
NO SEX SCENES, PLEASE
While the casts and crews where soaps have started to reopen are all wearing masks and face shields on studio lots, actors' masks come off when they're in front of the camera, although they're filmed standing further apart and in single scenes.
The regulations have banned intimate scenes or close contact between actors, and this is where writers, producers, cameramen, directors and video editors will have to become creative.
It's the end for bed-hopping and smooches for the young crowd of SABC1's Skeem Saam filmed at Sasani Studios, which began on Monday.
"We have had to make sure that we restrict the number of people shooting at a time so that we are able to keep safe distances. There will no longer be scenes filmed where there is close contact between characters," publicist Sumaya Mogola told Channel24. "Whether it might come across differently on screen, we can't really say at this point."
Generations, produced by Morula Pictures in Johannesburg, also won't be filming any intimate scenes. Production and filming resumed on Tuesday with groups of cast and crew divided into workflow teams to keep them separate. The production team now consists of three teams of up to 12 people.
"Yes, there won't be any physical contact between the actors," says Generations publicist Nandipha Pantsi. "No kissing, holding hands or intimate scenes. Actors will also be practising social distancing on set. Camera trickery will be used to make them appear closer together."
South Africa's most-watched TV show, Uzalo on SABC1 produced by Stained Glass TV on its Durban studio lot switched on the cameras again on Wednesday, and here, too, there will be no on-screen canoodling.
"No intimacy will be permitted in performance," Uzalo publicist Nomfundo Zondi tells Channel24. "Where possible, the number of cast members participating in a scene will also be limited."
In the fictional Hillside suburb of SABC2's 7de Laan, filming resumed last week Friday at Sasani Studios although the workflow never stopped. The Afrikaans weekday soap that would have run out of episodes by 25 May had a core team who kept working to complete further episodes already filmed. The editing team worked from home during Level 5 of lockdown managing to complete episodes to now keep the show on the SABC2 airwaves until at least 1 June. The scripting department also kept writing and churning out new scripts from home.
7de Laan also confirms the end of kissing and any other intimate scenes between Hillside characters. "Extras will only be used if it's absolutely necessary to do so and this will be kept to the bare minimum. There will be no intimate or close contact between actors," the soap says.
e.tv's two Sasani Studios filmed soaps – Rhythm City done by Quizzical Pictures and Scandal! done by Ochre Moving Pictures – as well as Imbewu filmed in KwaZulu-Natal from its harbour-front studios in Sydney Road all resumed production, keeping to the new regulations with a ban on kissing and on-screen intimacy.
"Scripts will be adjusted accordingly without compromising any storylines," says Marlon Davids, e.tv managing director.
Getroud met Rugby (GMR), produced by Overberg Produksies at Atlas Studios in Milpark, Johannesburg as one of kykNET's three weekday Afrikaans soaps also kicked off again on Monday with filming.
"We're incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be able to work again," executive producer Soné Combrinck tells Channel24, noting that the rugby-themed production "jumped to quickly prepare everything according to the latest government rules and regulations".
"It makes everyone feel safe knowing that the studio environment is safe to work again. The team quickly adapted to the new regime of temperature checks, wearing masks, sanitising hands and surfaces."
She says GMR's directors and camera team are extremely creative and that while adjustments are being made kykNET viewers can still look forward to the soap that will be filled with a lot of drama, intrigue and humour.
kykNET's Suidooster produced at Atlantic Studios in Cape Town by Suidooster Films, and Binnelanders produced by Stark Films at Stark Studios in Johannesburg, were also asked about their shows but didn't respond with any answers.