Lockdown has changed the way we consume culture and TV may never be the same again

A new approach to creating content has begun to emerge from the ruins of normality. Creative output has become more intimate, with a focus on individual experiences replacing high production values

Staged clip: David Tennant and Michael Sheen on homeschooling

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the inevitability of a global lockdown became clear, theatre, television and film production came to a shuddering halt. Performers and production crews were sent home, confined to their own individual households just like their audiences, with little indication of how creative industries could continue.

However, a new approach to creating content has begun to emerge from the ruins of normality. Creative output has become more intimate, with a focus on individual experiences replacing high production values. In some cases, artists are seizing the means of production and distribution themselves. This could lead to a small screen revolution, paving the way for permanent changes to the way we tell and share stories.

This response to lockdown was almost immediate, particularly in television. Adaptations were made to allow some filming to go ahead. The recent run of Alan Bennett’s re-staged Talking Heads monologues, for example, reflected this sudden change. Each episode had to be filmed under strict lockdown conditions, with remote preparation and rehearsals, executed with as few crew members as possible and filmed on existing studio sets. The effects of watching an intimate, single-handed drama unfold on our screens when we ourselves were isolated brought additional poignancy.

Some programmes have been created specifically for current lockdown conditions, embracing restrictions, and framing our own experiences in the process. Staged, starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant, was an entirely made-in-lockdown commission. The BBC comedy, presented in a series of 15-minute episodes, exploited the necessary filming restrictions and made it the focus of the story, proving that it is possible to be creative within the boundaries of limited production. Isolation Stories on ITV, a series of four shorts about the difficulties of life during the pandemic, was also written, filmed, and edited during lockdown. The cast filmed scenes at home, adhering to social distancing, and were advised remotely by production staff.

But there has also been an increase in artist-driven content, as performers have taken the opportunity to create their own output and engage directly with their audience through social media. The use of Twitch and other live streaming services by performers has enabled an immediacy to the release of creative content. A combination of accessible technology, with social media platforms as a catalyst to engage directly at grassroots, has stimulated creativity without the need to adhere to the traditions of commissioning. As we look beyond this visceral reaction from performers to create an artistic comfort blanket during lockdown, these opportunities now need to be turned into a viable income stream.

Television drama has often been a slave to high concept, flagship programming. Audiences now expect international shoots, a cast and crew as big as an army and a budget to match. Television as a spectacle rather than an opportunity to focus on the story being told. The pandemic has forced a shift in focus, right back to the basics. It has brought an intimacy to what we see on screen, as we concentrate on the words being said and the nuances of characterisation. There is a boldness in the simplicity of it. As time goes on that approach could become the new normal. A focus on the narrative, rather than the distraction of CGI or set-piece scenes to push forward the action. It has removed false barriers between performers and audience.

As audiences adapt, the shift could raise questions about whether the circus that often surrounds production is even needed going forwards. It could help to level the playing field and provide new opportunities for artists to create and release content directly to audiences and maintain control, perhaps changing the landscape of commissioning and production. But that change could be at a huge cost to jobs in the industry. Without the need for large studios and sets, the creative and technical craft built up around screen productions would be damaged beyond recognition.

As lockdown restrictions ease and some traditional productions start up again with socially distanced filming techniques, it is unclear what that will look like on screen. Audience expectations might also shape what we see on screen in future. Seeing people hug or shake hands on screen might jar with our real-life experiences, as we naturally expect characters to social distance. Can we ever go back to seeing our old normal reflected on screen? Or should we embrace those fictional worlds as a place of solace and a pre-pandemic utopia that no longer exists.

It feels as though we are standing on the edge of a creative revolution. We can either take a leap into the unknown and embrace the creative changes made possible by the pandemic, or step back into familiar territory, one that’s been potentially changed beyond recognition for audiences, and put the barriers up again.

Anna Cale is an arts and culture writer.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in