This story about Rob McElhenney first appeared in the “Race Begins” issue of TheWrap’s Emmy magazine. It is one in a series of conversations about the effect of coronavirus on the television industry, and was conducted in early May.
The first season of the video-game workplace comedy “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” had been shot and aired on Apple TV+ when the pandemic hit, but it prompted an unexpected bonus episode: “Mythic Quest: Quarantine,” which was shot entirely via iPhones and Zoom teleconferences. Creator and star Rob McElhenney is planning the next season of that show and a Season 15 of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which is currently tied with “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” as the longest-running live-action sitcom in U.S. television history.
How much more complicated was it to pull off the quarantine episode than to do a normal episode?
Let me be clear with you: This was hell. It was absolute, abject hell. I will never do it again. I am glad we did it, but it was incredibly, exponentially more difficult than a normal production. There were some members of the crew that, because of the nature of their job, didn’t have to work quite as hard as they would if we were on the stage, and then there were other members of the crew who were working 10 or 20 times as hard, just trying to organize and get people to communicate, to get equipment to people’s houses in a safe and legal manner.
What was the process like?
Everybody would call into a Zoom and then we would be able to speak to one another. And as the director, I was able to not only talk to all the actors, but to talk to hair and makeup, to talk to the ADs, to talk to everybody. So, it was just like we were on this massive teleconferencing call, but we didn’t use the cameras in the teleconferencing software to shoot the show. We used iPhones.
That’s one of the many benefits of working with Apple, the biggest company in the history of humanity. I called them and said, “Hey, we’re thinking about doing this. We need about 40 phones, because we need to be in a constant state of shooting and then delivering and uploading the information so that we can keep editorial moving. We need 40 phones and 25 sets of AirPods, and we need them as quickly as possible.” This was a Monday, and I said, “Do you think we could get them by the weekend?” And they put a person on the phone who said, “I found them. They’re in L.A. and they’ll be to you tonight.”
So we then had them delivered to our editorial department. After sterilization, our editorial team, in conjunction with our camera department, uploaded all the necessary software to shoot the show with the lenses that we wanted, and then the proper mic settings and the mic itself. And then we added a stand and shipped those to each actor. And then we had to go through the process of walking each individual actor through how to set up and use the cameras. Mike Belucci, who’s our cinematographer, walked each and every actor through all of the settings, the mechanics of how the camera worked, the way the software worked, the way the phones worked.
Our audio department did the same thing with regards to the sound. Our hair and makeup people did consultations via Zoom. Our entire art department worked tirelessly with the actors to make sure that if you looked in the background of someone’s house, not only were there no clearance issues, but that it seemed to be in character as opposed to just someone’s apartment.
Do you think that television takes on a different role in times of isolation like these?
I hope so. I know that when we set out to do it, I wanted to make sure that we were doing something that was funny, that would bring some levity and joy to people’s lives, even if only for 30 minutes, and yet also create a sense of community and togetherness that ultimately would feel uplifting in the end. To me, that’s what I feel like our role as a community can be. I don’t want to put too much weight on entertainment in terms of how it can help people through the next six months or a year or a few years that we’re about to endure. But I will say that to the extent that we can bring at least a little bit of happiness to people’s lives, I think it’s incumbent upon us to do it.
What stage are you at now with the next seasons of “Mythic Quest” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?”
You know, Steve, I just went through the most difficult production in my life, and you’re asking me what’s next? I just want to sleep now.
To read more of the “Race Begins” issue, click here.