On Mother’s Day (May 10), season two of 9 Months with Courteney Cox drops on Facebook Watch. The docuseries tells pregnancy stories, following the ups and downs in dealing with infertility, life-threatening illnesses and disabilities across a diverse range of families. The stakes are even higher this season, especially as couples navigate the final months of their pregnancies during the coronavirus pandemic. The entire show is self-shot—making it as close to a COVID-19-proof show as it gets. AMPLE Entertainment, co-founded by Ari Mark and Phil Lott, had the nuances of remote production figured out long before the global health crisis hit. Mark shares with TV Real Weekly some of the key takeaways in how to approach self-shot series.
TV REAL: How did the idea for 9 Months with Courteney Cox come about?
MARK: We really go out of our way to tackle content that has substance and that matters. The journey of pregnancy is one of those areas. Stakes are literally life and death. When we thought about the nine-month timeline of pregnancy, it almost felt self-formatted and ideal for a series that has a social experiment bent to it. When we realized no matter who you are or where you come from or what you believe, you’re still looking at that wild nine-month ride, we knew we had something.
TV REAL: Why did you choose to go with it being self-shot (even before COVID-19 safety measures)?
MARK: The self-shot nature was a big piece of the show from day one. It made perfect sense to us that if we wanted to capture the raw and unproduced pregnancy experience, we better not have some producer standing there telling the cast what to do. If we wanted realness and intimacy, we knew we’d have to work with the cast to film it themselves.
TV REAL: What did you learn about the self-shooting process from this series that can be used as a “bible” of sorts for future projects?
MARK: We literally have a document called “self-shooting bible!” Some of the key takeaways are: make sure you have a great post department because the ingesting of all that footage is massive. Remember, self-shooting means combing through a lot of bad footage. Also, you need producers and editors who can think outside the norm because we’re usually not trained to produce a cast this way. A lot of the mentality has to be: how do we work with what the cast gives us and steer them when needed?
TV REAL: Have you been able to keep production moving forward on other projects during the shutdown by using innovative methods?
MARK: Yes. Because we’re independent and fairly lean, we can move very fast and be very flexible with how we approach production obstacles. This is just another one of those times (but harder).
TV REAL: How are you staying creative during these challenging times?
MARK: Staying creative isn’t the issue. We spend every day hitting our heads against a wall to be “creative.” Keeping networks feeling comfortable and safe is tougher.
TV REAL: What are the unique advantages of reality TV in the current landscape of production halts and safety guidelines?
MARK: In the nonfiction space, we’re used to winging it, and we’re used to disaster. So, our fall from grace is a bit softer than some.
TV REAL: What do you think the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown will be on the greater factual-programming industry?
MARK: The impact will force us to carefully vet every single step of our production approach. But, I think once that template is in place (which it will be very soon), we’ll adapt and move forward. We have to.
TV REAL: What are you hearing from clients about their current needs? How is AMPLE planning to pivot to accommodate this?
MARK: Mostly we hear “business as usual.” Obviously, this can’t be the case but we’re playing along. Creatively, we’re even less interested in low-hanging-fruit content and are doubling down on projects that networks and platforms won’t be able to say no to.