As the industry looks to re-engage in more robust production, the next step is putting detailed protocols into practice. Fundamental questions remain about the nature and form those content collaborations will take. Leo Burnett USA VP/Executive Producer Rock Darlington and Medic Lori Thompson sat down with Bark Bark Partner/Head of Production Tabitha Mason-Elliott, Partner/Head of Creative Daniel Sattelmeyer, and Senior Executive Producer David Brand—fresh off two shoots at the end of May—to find out what they’ve learned from returning to production on a bigger scale.

Anything is Possible

The good news—and the TL;DR —both projects were executed successfully from a creative and safety standpoint, showing very positive signs for the larger industry in terms of getting the confidence to return to set. Expectations can be adjusted from “doable” to “exceedable.”

The days of large crews and groups of people together on set, ambitious production schedules, and long lists of deliverables may be postponed, but it’s still possible to make great content that delivers on a brand’s objectives—the process just looks a little different. And it starts with more teamwork at a project’s inception.

“From a process standpoint, the production steps didn’t feel that different. If anything, it felt more collaborative, because you’ve already been on a number of Zoom calls and seen people’s faces well before the shoot begins, which wasn’t typically the case,” said Leo Burnett’s Darlington.

“Going in, we were anxious, cautious, skeptical—all of those emotions,” said Bark Bark’s Sattelmeyer, who directed both projects. “How would it feel to be around people again; how would our safety procedures work in real life; how would directing play out with more clients joining virtually? But we were also excited to shake off the rust and get that muscle memory firing again. Within 15 minutes of being on set, it felt pretty much like a regular shoot.”

RELATED: Guest Column: It’s Not When We Can Shoot Again, It’s How

An unintended outcome of the pandemic shut-down is something production companies have long been advocating: a greater alignment of agencies, brands, networks, and production teams. Talking more about what is possible before a concept is sold to brands translates into productions that will be safe, on budget, and creatively robust. Quick pivots and truncated timelines were the norm before COVID-19, and it’s still true now, so having everyone on the same page is even more crucial.

Agencies are focusing on what they can do for clients that goes beyond user-generated content (UGC) or revamped footage, said Darlington. That’s where production partnerships and conducting candid upfront conversations are key. It’s not just about safety, but about associated costs—and all of that needs to be discussed in advance of the pitch, bid and pre-production. What is possible? How do we align imagination with pragmatism?

Phase 1: Small and Measured

As UGC and self-shooting kits quickly became a stop-gap solution for production while official safety measures were put into place, the first stage of ramping up production was talent filming themselves in their own homes, micro-crews practicing social distancing, directors working remotely, and doc-style storytelling with a small footprint. All of those measures remain effective, especially now.

At the height of the quarantine, Bark Bark safely partnered with BMarko Structures to help share their story with the world, following how they were converting shipping containers into mobile hospitals to help save lives during the global pandemic.

“Our on-site production consisted of a very small two person team who applied distance and full-body protective gear to capture the people and effort behind this important cause safely and responsibly,” said Bark Bark’s Brand. “Additional interviews were directed remotely with participants recording at home.”

The next phase involved getting back to sound stages where set builds could be controlled over multiple days to allow construction, art, and lighting departments to work while limiting the number of people onsite at once. But more days doesn’t necessarily mean significantly more money.

“Our shoot was originally budgeted for New York. In moving it to Atlanta, we could stretch those dollars and reallocate our resources. We were able to preserve most of the pre-COVID budget, with minimal additions for PPE supplies and remote video village,” said Bark Bark’s Mason-Elliott.

Phase 2: Getting Back in the Trenches

Having the proper protocols in place to maintain a safe work environment goes hand in hand with making sure the crews and talent who are putting themselves at risk feel heard and part of the planning process.

“Bark Bark’s safety guidelines were developed with heavy collaboration from key crew members to make sure protocols are specific to the job at hand,” said Mason-Elliott. They are also cross-referenced with leading sources, including the Center for Disease Control and the AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers), of which she is the Southeast President.

With a lot of blue painter’s tape at the ready, each department was given their own quadrant within which to work, and one-way traffic/distancing measures were marked off on the floor. Only essential keys were allowed on the shoot day, with assistants coming in on the prep and wraps days on either side. Wardrobe was purchased, steamed, disinfected, and laid out the day before, and glam was absent on set, save for initial touch ups at the beginning of the day using face shields and separate disposable tools for each talent.

Crafty was heavily limited, and lunch orders were taken the day before and offered as individually wrapped, grab-n-go meals with socially-distanced seating arrangements.

“Lunch was an interesting experience—it felt a bit like those scenes where you see the old married couple sitting on opposite ends of a long dining table trying to talk,” Brand said.

Mason-Elliott and Brand agree that information has to be provided early and often and people need to be empowered to speak up so that concerns can be addressed before and during filming. See something, say something only works if people feel welcome to speak up.

Clients and production also should do a test run of remote video village systems ahead of time so that everyone’s expectations are set and technical issues don’t get in the way of communication on shoot days.

“We had a really slow internet connection on the stage during our test day, but we were able to adjust and get a dedicated feed separate from the shared WiFi network, and from there it was crystal clear. The pace and discussion of the shoot day was just like normal,” said Brand.

Practicing Safe Sets

Hiring a set medic—standard practice for stunt intensive shoots—is now recommended for every production. Not all medics are similarly qualified, however. One only needs basic CPR and first-aid training to be a member of the union. Thompson is a former fire-captain and a trained emergency medical technician who has studied infectious disease, and she’s worked with Bark Bark a number of times, including during their latest projects. She encourages production companies to check credentials and current licensing before making a hire.

Thompson affirmed that the most significant personal protection is mask-wearing, hand-washing, and not touching one’s face because COVID-19 infects the body via lining mucosa. The protocol is fairly simple; however, she’d rather have people be a little nervous if that translates into taking the situation more seriously. After ensuring every crew member filled out a health questionnaire before arriving on set, she recorded temperatures twice throughout the day using a contactless thermometer and handed out pre-packaged, disinfected personal protective equipment to each person for the day.

She noted that gloves are not recommended, as people have the tendency to become lax about hand-washing and face-touching. Additionally, with some roles—focus pulling, for example—gloves get in the way of being able to properly execute functions.

Also, people need mask breaks. Allow breaks to leave set in order to remove masks far away from other people; otherwise, you run the risk of becoming overrun with fatigue or heat. Plus everyone needs a chance to wipe that upper-lip sweat.

Having a medic is not enough, however. Safety procedures must be constantly reinforced throughout the day. Brand added safety monitor to his role of senior executive producer. During production, he was hyper-vigilant about enforcing the rules, noting that people tend to touch their faces, pull off masks, and gravitate towards one another the more time they’re together.

“It’s important,” he said, “to assign someone with authority to this position. Even the best production assistant can be ignored by virtue of hierarchy. The AD is best designed to take this on.”

Production’s New Normal

Traditional production is crowded, intimate, and communal. Now, proximity, masks, and remote feeds have altered the experience. The goal is to adapt to physical changes while still allowing for the collaborative layering of ideas and feedback that results in compelling content. It’s not always easy.

“Having patience and accepting limitations has been doubly necessary. Creatives are super hands-on and needy. We want to get in there and touch things and mess with stuff until it’s perfect. I’m an art director’s worst nightmare. But that’s also how you talk to talent and understand client feedback,” said Sattelmeyer.

“With the new protocols and a client offsite, there’s the chance you’ll still feel isolated without getting the validation and approval you’re used to. I remember at one point we were all trying to demonstrate over Zoom the proper way to slice a sandwich using hand motions—that’s when we realized the limits of our communication,” said Sattelmeyer. “Time to just laugh it off and show them in-camera.”

Some of the immediate camaraderie of a shoot will be lost. It’s harder to read the room when the room consists of masked faces in small squares on a screen, but on the other hand, said Darlington, junior producers who would never have the chance to go on set can now have access to the process and the learning opportunity that comes with it. It doesn’t take long, he says, for the normal feeling to set in pretty quickly.

“It felt like I was at a regular video village, only with screaming children in the background,” said Darlington.

Phase 3: The Road Ahead

In many ways, the return to production is a microcosm of our larger reemergence into the world, taking slow, measured steps and gradually moving towards larger and more complex scenarios as each phase proves successful.

“We are taking safety seriously but we also need to move forward,” said Mason-Elliott. “Each shoot teaches us something new, so we are in a constant state of learning and adapting. We are starting to take on bigger projects and prepping for in-home and outdoor location shoots that have their own challenges. Keeping safety at the forefront of discussions allows us to get back to doing what we love. Honestly, the only way to be comfortable doing production now is to start.”

“We’ve all been stuck inside for months, so getting back out there and making things felt kind of like the first day of school,” said Sattelmeyer. “Excited, nervous, and scared at first but by second period you’re right back in the swing of things. Besides my ears being sore from wearing a mask all day, I left feeling that we can do this. As an industry, it’s going to be okay. Everyone should feel hopeful about this. Just get a more comfortable mask situation.”

Daniel Sattelmeyer is the head of creative/partner; Tabitha Mason-Elliott is the head of production/partner, and David Brand is the senior executive producer at Bark Bark, a leading studio helping marketers develop and deliver award-winning brand content since 2005.

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By: Tabitha Mason-Elliott – Partner at BARK BARK

I woke up this morning feeling overwhelmingly tired of talking about race in America. I don’t want to reiterate how much rage and fear can co-exist as a part of the black experience. I don’t need to recount the brutality and violence black people face in America with an empty message of ‘standing with you.’ I am you and I want more than words. Words are not a balm for centuries of wounds. Despite my fatigue, I have a responsibility. As a black woman in America who also leads a production company, I understand that I have to address these things with my two partners, our staff, and our clients.

First – I wanted to be clear with my partners. We would not be posting meaningless social messages to virtue signal to other progressive white people that we were not a part of the problem. Black people have had enough of that, and we don’t believe you. We have to do more. We need a real commitment to action. I also wanted to be clear, this is not my or our black employees’ work to do. This work will need to start at the top with an example set by us as the leaders in this arena and placed upon our staff in the way it needs to be placed upon our country.

Second – I needed to talk with our black employees, directly, about what we face and lend support to stave off what can often be a sense of utter despair at a system that seems unchanging. I wanted each of them to know there is a safe place to talk about their fears and that I understand the need to take time for emotional wellness. This is a lot to process and work through and they should know, I will have their backs if today or another, they needed a break.

Third – I wanted to address our entire staff with a step one. All three partners of this company understand that there is REAL WORK to do. We are committing to that and want every single person at BARK BARK to join us in our plan. The work that lies ahead of us will be deeply uncomfortable and challenging because the problem is deeply complex and pervasive. Going forward, it’s not enough to rely on your black friend or partner to comfort yourself that you are not a part of the problem. The goal here is to deeply understand, and I warn you, it will not feel good. That’s okay. Discomfort is a prerequisite for growth.

With those things out of the way, here’s how we’re committing to taking action in the coming days, months, and years ahead:

  • We’ll be providing reading materials to our staff to educate and foster company-wide discussions on the history and current landscape surrounding racism in America.
  • We’ll be donating money to the Equal Justice Initiative to help fight racial injustice and mass incarceration.
  • We’ll be doubling down on advocacy and equality within our own organization and demanding it for our wider industry.
  • We’ll be offering our services to help relevant organizations spread their mission and create change.


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We find ourselves in an interesting position as a business with a large office in Atlanta. On April 24, Georgia began reopening the state’s economy, and, yes, we’re also unclear as to why bowling was one of the first “essential services” allowed back, but The Dude abides.

While the legal restrictions on staying home have begun to be lifted, the real threat has not. Until more benchmarks are met, including a downward trajectory of COVID-19 cases over 14 days, we will continue to work remotely and press forward like the majority of the world (and our state) from the confines of our homes. Yet from this quasi-quarantine, we’ve been given the opportunity – and responsibility – to lead the charge in answering how to return safely to live-action production and provide real-world learning as it becomes possible.

We don’t take this role lightly – we’ve always been sticklers for safety on set – however this time, perhaps, the actual fate of the world is at stake. And we certainly aren’t advocating for widespread production right now. The “when” will be hotly debated, but whether next week or months from now, we will all need clear directives in place on how to structure our sets for the safety and health of our communities until an effective vaccine is readily available.

We’ve been inspired by the way our industry has joined together, and our findings are the result of numerous conversations and collaborations between our team and many fellow production companies, clients, crews, the AICP, and medical experts. We also acknowledge the great articles from Deadline and Variety, which deal primarily with long-form movie and series production. The path for the marketing and advertising industry is closely related but with its own set of requirements.

Here’s how we envision the industry moving forward:

There will be a written plan. And a backup plan.
This new production safety guide is not one size fits all and will be custom for each project. All parties should be consulted – clients, vendors, and department heads of crews – to ensure the solutions are robust and well-informed. You’ll hear what corporate mandates need to be complied with, who really needs to travel, and why art directors won’t deal in cash. Wardrobe budgets will change to accommodate disappearing return policies, and glam squads will need to purchase tools specific to each actor and have face shields to protect themselves.

There will be personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing.
Don’t worry about whether crews will wear masks and gloves—they will. If you’re running a production – out-of-house or in-house – you should be exploring supply chains to provide these items for the near future. They are meant to keep us safe, and they’re meant to establish the communal responsibility we have to keep each other safe. Expect a pre-call an hour or two earlier than your normal call to check-in, sign forms, get your temperature taken, wash your hands, and receive your PPE for the day. Key decision makers and contributors should have a replacement already decided to fill in if needed.

Time and money will be allocated differently.
Crew sizes, crafty, catering, and “nice-to-haves” will reduce, but more days may be needed to stagger smaller groups of crew to pre-dress, pre-light, and sanitize. Large crews together in one place will not be a part of the early return to production, and each setup will be slower and more methodical to ensure safety. However, this may also mean the actual time for filming on a shoot day increases with more prep being completed beforehand. Make sure your partners use their expertise to find smart solutions in the budget and schedule versus just flatly charging more.

There will be a remote video village.
We’ve already gone through rigorous testing and are implementing livestreams on every set. You should participate in a demo, give a demo to your clients, and make sure everyone feels comfortable with the process as corporate travel remains banned or lowered. Adam Goodwin, creative director, partnership marketing and creative for Disney Channels Worldwide said, “Discretionary travel – travel that could be done through a live feed – all of it will be on the table to reduce if it’s not completely necessary.”

On the other hand, more clients will have the opportunity to “attend” a shoot as long as the chains of communication are clear and the feedback is funneled through one voice, and junior team members can be given the chance to gain experience they wouldn’t have had otherwise.

There will be a heavy emphasis on safety, and social distancing will continue.
This means minimizing contact, no matter how tempting it is to hug another human being. We’ve all unofficially agreed to not be offended.

It also means the minimizing of sharing of high-touch items, including gear. Sorry, apple boxes.

Use of a dolly on set means far fewer crew handling the camera than an easy rig or Movi to coordinate for the DP. Every department and person will need their own set of tools and isolated zones within which to operate. Since we won’t be shooting in people’s homes for many months, stages, vacant homes, and outdoor spaces will become the primary locations, offering ample space to spread out.

In addition, everything on set will be individually wrapped—grab and go. PPE. Meals. Beverages. Walkies. Equipment. This also means individual dietary restrictions will be easier to gratify.

All prepro books will be digital. We’ve been trying for years to make this happen. Now necessity can lead the movement to reduce waste.

On-camera talent will, unfortunately, have a new level of accepted risk. Most roles will require talent to work partially without the recommended PPE and, in some instances, social distancing will not be able to be maintained. Every attempt should be made to lock casting no later than two weeks before the shoot so the health of talent can be confirmed. Creatives should consider new blocking, camera angles and lensing to create proximity only as needed.

There also will be a new safety supervisor position on set. His or her job will be to make sure these policies are followed appropriately by everyone throughout the shoot.

Getting Back To It
We’ve already dipped our pinkies into production, with a single director/DP safely capturing content we’ll turn into videos to help a Georgia-based construction company that shifted its commercial operations into essential services, repurposing shipping containers into mobile ICUs to give hospitals around the country more life-saving capacity. We’re currently planning a larger shoot towards the end of May with a major cable network that will be much more indicative of our path forward and how we safely coordinate a small set build on a stage with casted talent and multiple crew departments working in unison.

We recognize that many brands, networks, and content creators have shifted to only what they can self-produce, embracing home setups, user-generated-content-style filming, clip spots, animation, and motion graphics. Pivoting is crucial.

Messaging is especially sensitive right now and doesn’t have the shelf life it once did. Being tone deaf is avoidable but it takes an open dialogue and a willingness to change. Meg Sudlik, vice president of creative production at Viacom Velocity explained that they have been focused on quickly pivoting the content of their spots and offering their services to clients to keep them in-market with relevant ad creative ranging from COVID-related messaging to PSAs. Clients have been open to quick changes.

We also know that every situation is different. Some networks will be more conservative than others about returning due to a variety of factors like geography, corporate mandates, and the type of live-action production in which they most often engage. For those creating content with children and minors, putting them at any risk is not an option.

“We have to be able to ensure a prescriptive level of safety with children and their parents before we even think about being on set,” said Rasheda Donner, senior manager, creative for Disney Channels Worldwide.

Sony’s branded content team, led by Jason Rumminger and Ashley Pierce added, “We are not only considering state-by-state, but country-by-country restrictions and policies depending on where our movies are shooting before we can get back to work.”

First and foremost, however, they are concerned about when people can and will feel safe to go back to movie theaters.

We can’t rush into this, but we hope that in responsibly implementing these new safety measures and documenting what we have learned, we can provide much needed insight from the field to support our entire industry in returning. We still live by a simple truth though: we want our industry – and every industry – to be healthy, but first, we need our people to be.

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While we acted quickly and decisively to move our operations fully remote several weeks ago (or was it years?) in an effort to curtail the spread and provide the same level of quality, we’ve taken that time to gather ourselves, process this pandemic, how it’s affecting us as an industry and as a collective human race, and act thoughtfully towards a new plan. The funny thing is, it looks a lot like our old plan:

We’re still here for our clients. We’re still here for our employees. We’re still here for our community. We’re still here to make great content together. It’s just gonna feel different for a little while. The entire BARK BARK team is 100% functional with the same tools and capabilities as always.

We know your world was upended, too; we know you’re still figuring out how to balance home-schooling with work-doing and having a video call in a place with good light AND sound insulation; we know you don’t know when this will end, because neither do we.

What we do know is that we’re stronger together. And we’re here to help you tackle anything you can throw at us, or invent an entirely new way to get it done. We’ve got the writers, producers, editors, mixers, designers, animators, and creative brains to keep on doing what we do best from home. We’ve already got the means in place for remote streaming from set when the time comes, and we’re working double to donate our time and resources through pro-bono efforts in our own communities.

Let’s all take this time to reset our priorities, identify what really matters, care for one another, and get back to making something great together. When you’re ready, so are we.

Wishing you safety and sanity,

– Daniel, Ann, Tabitha, and the BB Team

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We’re honored to have our work recognized as some of the year’s best at the 2020 Addy Awards. Congrats to all our client partners!




BBDO + Street Grace


  • Integrated Branded Content Campaign

20th Century Fox + “The Kid Who Would Be King”

  • Elements of Advertising: Sound, Music With Lyrics
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Congrats to the BARK BARK team and our partners at BBDO Atlanta & Street Grace on winning one Gold and two Bronze Clio Awards!

  • GOLD – Public Service, Out of Home
  • BRONZE – Public Service, Integrated Campaign
  • BRONZE –  Public Service, Direct

Branded Mini-Doc

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We’re beyond proud to be a part of the multiple Cannes Lions award-winning “Stop Traffick” campaign alongside BBDO Atlanta and Street Grace. Thank you to everyone who gave their time and effort to such a worthy cause. Proof of our collective power to create change!

  • Silver Lion – Outdoor: Transit
  • Bronze Lion – Outdoor: Live Advertising and Events
  • Bronze Lion – Brand Experience & Activation: Guerilla Marketing & Stunts
  • Bronze Lion – Direct: Use of Ambient Media: Large Scale
  • Shortlisted – Outdoor: Ambient Outdoor
  • Shortlisted – Brand Experience & Activation: Not-for-profit
  • Shortlisted – Health & Wellness: Brand Experience & Activation
  • Shortlisted – Health & Wellness: Ambient Outdoor

Branded Mini-Doc

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We’re proud to have 4 of our branded content projects nominated at the 2019 PromaxBDA Awards.

Red Robin + Upworthy

  • I’M NOT CRYING, YOU ARE! – North America

Mini Doc

Geico + Discovery Networks


Animal Planet

Destination America


Discovery Life



Science Channel


TNT “Queens on Claws”


"Queens on Claws Recap"


"The Break Up"

"Say What"

"Mother Tongue"


BET “Black Girls Rock!”


On Air





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“Only” starring Freida Pinto and Leslie Odom Jr. premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC this week!

After a comet releases a mysterious virus that begins to kill all of the women in the world, a young couple’s relationship is severely tested. They hide out (from both the illness and the savages who hunt the remaining women) in their over-sterilized apartment. Ultimately the duo escapes their self-imposed quarantine to head to the wilderness for one final experience together.

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