Camera dolly with crew
The crew sets up a dolly move for our PSA. (Photo: TWVS)

Let’s talk about making a non-profit PSA during a pandemic.Yes, it has been awhile since I’ve updated this part of my social media. Honestly, I’ve been busy enough supporting other folks social media that I’ve not given much due to my own. I know it’s a bad. I prefer to kick out quality content or put out no content at all. That’s my brand, if you will.

Anyway, I am long overdue in giving a project update for a series of videos that were wrapped-up several months ago. The Vape PSA Project started several years ago now, when I noticed a RFP out there in the grant-o-sphere for projects to help reduce youth vape use. Now, this was in the “before times” so it seemed like a fun and useful project to throw TWVS behind. As I developed ideas for it, I realized it would be a perfect thing to collaborate with CONvergence Events on. CONvergence, a local fan run science-fiction convention, is very youth oriented and it also attracts a fairly diverse group of young people. Almost as important, it was looking to attract an even more diverse group of young people.

PSA Video Pre-Production

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MUA Alieta Cottrell puts finishing touches on S. Lee. Z. (Matt Kessen), Jr. for our PSA video. (Photo: TWVS)

While I would say 80% of my work with TWVS is one man band or ENG size crews, I have steered large projects involving a full production crew from start to finish. However, for this one, I wanted to create something that was more of a community effort. So I reached out to Fearless Comedy for some of the writing work, because they have a commitment to diversity and are well-known in the CONvergence community.

Then COVID-19 hit, throwing our entire timeline out of whack.

I continued to work our team from Fearless as we refined concepts and focus for the scripted PSAs. Over the course of COVID year one we created three scripts which were on target and could be produced with TWVS/CVG-TV resources. As the first wave improved and manageable COVID set protocols emerged, the team moved into virtual casting for and looked ahead for production.

At the same time, we connected with puppet master extraordinaire Gordon Smuder, who contributed the amazing “Viral Beholder” for our “Tallyho!” fantasy adventure PSA.

Viral Beholder, safe at home. (Photo: TWVS)

As with many productions in this time, we took video submissions for our auditions and the CVG-TV team assisted with tracking and working with the audition material. Over the course of a few weeks we narrowed down our choices and moved forward with the logistics of scheduling three productions as the world still grappled with the pandemic.

On the screenwriting side, we drafted options that included COVID messaging and options that didn’t. We had to pivot slightly in case COVID was over before we wrapped everything up. That would be the wrong kind of silly.

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Crew (Maxwell Kilsdonk, Andrew Wolff-Rose, Tim Hanson) set up the shots for the video PSAs on Day 1. (Photo: TWVS)

PSA Video Production

The CVG-TV team worked with the actors, crew, and our possible studio spaces to find the most efficient window for production. Because there so many moving pieces, and because we had considerable rental needs for additional gear, we decided to shoot all the PSAs over one weekend. A few very long days are better than many shorter days. We built and struck our sets during the shooting period.

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CVG-TV crew (Tim Hanson, LauraJean Krueger) put the finishing touches on our green screen set for the video PSA. (Photo: TWVS)

We decided to film two of the PSAs on the first day, as they used roughly the same set, and then switch the sets overnight for the more elaborate day two production. We used very staggered call times to keep the minimal amount of crew in the studio, per COVID protocol, and our crew wore a variety of N-95, KN-95 and cloth masks to keep the space safe. These were the days before rapid tests, so we had to rely on the thermometer method to screen people during production. Happily, none of our crew or cast were COVID positive.

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Actors rehearse on the day two set for our video PSA. (Photo: TWVS)

PSA Video Production Hiccups

I’ve worked on a lot of film and video productions of all stripes. I have to say that his one went very, very well. During the shoot we had no significant schedule hiccups. We had a great crew and cast across the board, and the equipment worked like it was supposed to. A very robust hazer (smoke machine) did shut us down for 45 minutes longer than we planned. Working with this hazer was a learning experience, but happily didn’t doom the entire critical shooting day.

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Connor McLean clips a wireless mic to S. Lee Z., Jr. (Matt Kessen) (Photo: TWVS)

We wrapped about an hour later than scheduled, which wasn’t too bad for a ten-hour production day. I had the gear back to the studio in the late evening, and all of the rental gear back the morning of the next day. I could certainly feel it though! COVID had let some of my production muscles get a little bit soft. (People may not realize how much exercise is involved with media production of all kinds.)

PSA Video Post-Production

Due to both COVID-19 and the timeline of the CONvergence convention, the entire project was running nearly a year past was originally proposed. We wanted to get post done in time for the 2021 CONvergence, whatever form that may have take.

I began editing immediately. Once I had a rough cut, I sent key shots off to our VFX artist to help with the compositing. While he did his work, I sent a rough cut off to the grant Project Manager for their feedback. I made a few required changes, updated the edit and incorporated the final VFX clips that had been sent over.

As everyone knows, the first wave of COVID wasn’t the last word in the pandemic. As a result the final edits of the videos are very much COVID aware. They will be relevant for the foreseeable future. Unless there is a definitive cure, there will always be an increased risk for vape users.

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Low-budget green screen production for our video PSA. (Photo: TWVS)

Once I had “picture lock” with the VFX and color correction completed, I made a few passes for sound mix, sound effects, and music. I let it sit for a week or so, and then made a few confirmation passes. I rendered out versions for CONvergence about two weeks before the actual event. This gave me time to manage the considerable streaming efforts we were doing (and I was helming) for CVG-TV 2021. But, that is another story!

The Final Product Video PSAs

The video PSA ran on CONvergence social media before, during and after the convention. Nearly everyone of the 30+ streaming events featured the PSAs during the pre-roll and both our Facebook and YouTube deployments saw traffic during and after the convention.

I re-mastered the videos after the convention and this version was sent out to City of Minneapolis for their awareness campaigns in local schools. The videos will be deployed again during CONvergence 2022 and will reach even more audiences then as we now have better strategies to deal with COVID-19.

Here are the three finished video PSAs:

Say something!

TWVS: MN Video Production + Content Creation