It was early July when the cast of “Shtisel,” the award-winning YES Studio TV show about an ultra-Orthodox family in Jerusalem, finally began filming the series’ long-awaited third season.
Michael Aloni (Akiva), Dovale Glickman (Shulem), Shira Haas (Ruchami) and Zohar Strauss (Lippe), were all on location, black hats and sheitels in place, but for the actors, at least, nary a mask in sight when in front of the camera.
The crew had gone back to work in May, working on locations and getting ready for filming. “We were in the state of mind that the coronavirus was behind us,” said director Alon Zingman. “What we all felt was that it was gone; little did we know.”
By June, a resurgence of COVID-19 had begun in Israel, but filming began, because the show does go on.
For “Shtisel,” that meant having fewer people on set and carefully following the government’s regulations for masks and social distancing. It’s been complicated, said Zingman.
Much of “Shtisel” is filmed on location in old Jerusalem apartments, some of which are still occupied by elderly residents who, despite careful preparation, were often afraid to let the cast and crew in because of the coronavirus, said Zingman.
“They’re scared to let strangers into their homes right now,” he said.
It’s also been difficult for the cast, said Zingman. Everything takes longer, with daily signed health declarations and making sure that the older actors from the cast feel healthy and secure.
For now, Zingman is “praying that nothing will happen to us,” he said. “If God forbid, a production assistant gets sick, we’ll all be in quarantine, we’re all in danger.”
That’s exactly what happened on the Yes Kids set of “The Policeman’s Daughter,” said director Roi Florentin, who is directing the show based on the bestselling thriller, “Endgame,” by Liad Shoham.
Within weeks of filming, one of the show’s main actors went into quarantine for two weeks after being briefly exposed to her sister who got infected. Another actor had been working on a different set and came into contact with someone who got sick, forcing Florentin to change the filming schedule yet again.
Actor Lior Ashkenazi, who plays a detective investigating a murder witnessed by the young daughter of a cop, also directed some of the episodes, his first for a TV show. He showed up for his episodes, said Florentin, and hasn’t gotten caught in any quarantines.
“If someone is sick or doesn’t feel good, I tell them not to come,” said Florentin. “The most important thing is that people should stay healthy so we can finish filming this in September.”
“Shtisel” director Zingman hadn’t wanted to film during the hot days of the Israeli summer, when the cast would swelter in their heavy suits and dresses. Now he’s hoping to be done by September.
The “Shtisel” crew had been working on finding locations for the shoot when the coronavirus emerged, but had to halt everything for two months when the economy shut down.
The set locations often present the biggest challenge for TV crews during the coronavirus, said Florentin.
When Florentin began filming “The Policeman’s Daughter” in June, one of his locations was in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city outside Tel Aviv that was an epicenter of the coronavirus in the spring, and that was put under lockdown by the IDF’s Home Front Command.
Weeks later, while filming a scene that included an actor dressed as an ultra-Orthodox man, a bystander began shouting at the crew from his balcony.
“He was yelling at the actor, ‘You’re a bad example, you want everyone to think we’re like this?'” said Florentin. “He really yelled at them.”
The crew all wear masks all the time, said Florentin, and they try hard to keep the two-meter distance rule. But in some jobs it’s difficult to keep one’s distance, such as the production assistant who sits next to Florentin and informs him about details on the set.
Florentin said he tries to have as few people on the set as possible and the makeup and costume crew sit in a different area throughout most of the day.
“Keeping your distance feels strange,” said Florentin. “It’s instinctual to get close and I have to remember not to put my hand on someone’s arm or shoulder when I’m making a point. Honestly, it’s just a strange time.”
In June, Ananey Studios, a ViacomCBS company, filmed two of its newest stars, pastry chefs Keren and Itzik Kadosh, owners of the iconic Jerusalem bakery Kadosh, wandering through the streets of Jerusalem, introducing viewers to the best bakeries in the city in “Baking Jerusalem.”
“When the cameras went on, the masks came off,” said Keren Kadosh, in an Instagram post she wrote about the show, whose six episodes will introduce viewers to unique Jerusalem bakeries.
Luckily, restaurants and cafes are open again, for now.
Ananey is currently producing eight shows, including kid and teens shows, said CEO Orly Atlas Katz, including suspense drama “Sky,” DIY series “Craft Party” (which was purchased by BBC), preschool show “Rescue Team,” teen sitcom “Alone at Home” and several others.
Work has continued, said Atlas Katz, but it’s a trying period.
The studio has a coronavirus inspector on set, who makes sure everyone uses masks. There are hand-washing stations and separate production-only restrooms at every location, and the cast is separated from the crew at all times in order to keep smaller numbers of people together.
Meals are served individually rather than buffet style, and only up to four people can sit at a table together, with seating based on permanent capsules, she said.
Filming intimate scenes hasn’t been a problem, said Atlas Katz, as the shows being filmed are all for kids and teens, and tend not to include bedroom scenes.
The mesmerizing Shira Haas transforming into our beloved Ruchami Weiss #shtisel 3. #inproduction @yestv @diklabarkai @abot_hameiri
Ditto for “The Policeman’s Daughter” and “Shtisel,” both of which revolve around ultra-Orthodox characters, who don’t engage in public displays of affection.
For now, it’s at least one detail those directors don’t have to worry about juggling during the coronavirus.
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