Producers find various ways of generating content amid pandemic
While TV Santa Barbara’s studio remains closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the local station’s producers have spent the past two months finding temporary ways of adapting to conditions created by the health crisis.
For some producers, the pandemic has forced the contents of their shows to alter just slightly, while others have had to more drastically change programs they had planned for the spring.
TVSB director of media programming Hiba Hamdan, the person responsible for putting programming on the station’s channels 17 and 71, said the number of new episodes made for TVSB shows has decreased since the COVID-19 outbreak started, with a majority of airtime dedicated to reruns of older programs. However, production has picked up since the initial days of shutdowns, during which producers who spoke to the News-Press recalled a full freeze in production.
During that period of inactivity, they started looking for ways to adapt their shows to what would for a while be the new normal.
For writer, director, and producer Ben Ferguson, TVSB’s studio closure is a dramatic change.
A creator of comedic narrative shows such as “Pine Valley Medical” and “Precinct,” Mr. Ferguson’s productions require marshalling the efforts of many people to form a cast and crew, not at all conducive to observing required social distancing.
On top of this, much of the shooting he did for his shows was at the TVSB studio, so its closure created a “very bad situation” in which he couldn’t to his planned projects.
As he searched for an alternative method of creating content, Mr. Ferguson decided to keep making humorous videos in his living room. This gave birth to his new series “COVID-19 Comedy,” during which he talks about topics like which snacks people should consider while lying about at home during lockdown.
Though not comparable in production value to the shows he produced at the TVSB studio, Mr. Ferguson said doing his less produced videos has been helpful to his mental health and keeps him in the rhythm of producing content.
Since he quit his former job as a finance manager in January to make content full time, it is crucial for him to keep up his production skills as he carves out a new career for himself.
“Being able to do small videos and putting them on TV has really continued this passion of mine,” he said.
However, he as of late has found a way to add short narrative content to “COVID-19 Comedy” by using exterior locations that are available to him. A daily paddleboarder, the other day when he was on the water and saw a stretch of beach that he thought could be a good video location. From that initial inspiration came the comedy short “Shipwrecked.”
In the sketch, Mr. Ferguson plays a shipwrecked man who is waiting on the beach desperate for food, and especially water. A girl from a GrubHub-esque delivery service comes by with a sandwich and water but just as she’s about to hand him a water bottle, pulls it a way and tells him that she can’t serve him because he’s not wearing a mask. Mr. Ferguson’s character pleads, and the delivery girl calls Gov. Gavin Newsom asking if she can make an exception for the shipwrecked man and serve him. The governor tells her no.
Mr. Ferguson’s idea for “Shipwrecked” is that his character is like a small business, the delivery girl is like the state of California, and Gov. Newsom is something akin to God. The writer and producer said that while the COVID-19 crisis is a serious situation, he also believes taking the time to have a laugh at it is important for getting through this serious time.
“I think comedy is so important right now and there’s nothing like that out there, it’s mostly COVID-19 panic,” he said.
The TVSB studio’s closure has impacted not only the producers of shows with large casts of players, but one-person shows as well.
Before COVID-19, each month Qigong and Tai Chi instructor Jessica Kolbe made one episode of her eponymous Qigong instruction show “Qigong with Jessica Kolbe” in the studio, with her husband Ray Kolbe handing the technical aspects like lighting and sound. Since the studio closed, the couple has been recording the show via Zoom in their home garden.
Since the studio provided a more sophisticated technical setup with three cameras that capture his wife’s Qigong lesson from different angles, Mr. Kolbe said filming on Zoom doesn’t produce a show of nearly the same quality. That said, because his wife’s show is instructional, technical polish is not the end-all-be-all.
“The quality is not the same, and yet, because it’s a class, I don’t really think that’s a big negative,” Mr. Kolbe said.
Despite an unavoidable drop in quality, the Kolbes have managed to increase the quantity of episodes from one to three a month. The Qigong instructor told the News-Press that she’s very pleased adapting to the current situation has enabled her and her husband to make more lessons on the ancient Chinese lessons she teaches.
“We’re supplying more content to TVSB and we’re thrilled,” she said.
For some TVSB creators like “Living Local” producer and host Gail Kvistad, being deprived of the station’s studio isn’t a big deal at all. Created by Ms. Kvistad along with Paul Mathieu at Cox in 2010 and moved to TVSB in 2019, “Living Local” features its host interviewing the owners of notable local businesses in Santa Barbara.
Because Ms. Kvistad gathered the business owners’ stories by shooting her interviews with them on location at the businesses, her show never depended on the TVSB studio. With the exception of some shots taken by her stepson Nick Kvistad and theme music provided by his friend Jack Keough, “Living Local” is entirely produced by Ms. Kvistad, so being unable to arrange a sizable crew was never a problem in making episodes. Rather, the difficulties that arose from COVID-19 were mainly because of businesses shutting down.
Prior to COVID-19, “Living Local” primarily focused on Santa Barbara businesses that people could go to in person for some sort of unique experience. Because many of them ceased operations when the stay-at-home order was issued, Ms. Kvistad’s show experienced a slowdown while everyone was hunkered down. However, since then “Living Local” has shifted its attention to local businesses that are focused on health and wellness and home and garden. Businesses she has featured since the health crisis started include the likes of locally based hand sanitizer company Sprixx.
As reopening is gradually getting underway, Ms. Kvistad remarked that more businesses like those she interviewed before COVID-19 have started expressing interest in being featured on her show.
“Businesses are interested in being represented again and telling their stories. People want to get the word out that their business is open,” she said.
Producers may be managing, but Ms. Hamdan is greatly looking forward to the day that TVSB can reopen its studio. Providing studio space to producers is TVSB’s biggest source of revenue, but beyond that she misses in-person interaction getting captured on camera. While conducting interviews with people remotely may suffice for as long as the pandemic lasts, two people talking together in the same physical space for audiences to see simply “brings more to the table.”