Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask

Last week we started filming again – a small shoot with the always delightful and insightful Mark Mulligan from Thriving.

Much as I’d enjoyed baking sourdough, cleaning the oven and never-quite-getting-round-to-learning-a-new-language during lockdown, it was good to get back to work, even if it was far from ‘business as usual’ with facemasks and social distancing (etc) being the order of the day.

A key part of my role as producer is to make sure that everyone feels relaxed and comfortable. Of course, this is still a worrying time and returning to work is a cause of anxiety for many, so it’s more important than ever to be sensitive to people’s wellbeing. But now, we face new challenges that make it harder to tell if people are OK …

We rely so much on non-verbal communication and a great deal of this is now off the table. Handshakes, hugs, and high-fives are all big no-nos. And with our faces covered, crucially, we can no longer see each other’s smiles. A smile has great power. It can encourage the person in front of the camera, telling them that they’re doing a great job. It can express kindness and empathy or show that you appreciate what someone is saying. It can reassure people that you are happy and have everything under control, which in turn puts them at ease.

Ironically, it’s much easier to spot negative feelings and emotions through a mask. The top half of our face tends to do the hard work here. Sadness, fear, frustration, anger, anxiety, etc are more often expressed by our eyes, eyebrows and foreheads as well as through hand and arm gestures.

So how do we compensate?

• We can get better at smiling with our eyes. (Try practising in the mirror!) And maybe we’ll learn to expand the emotional repertoire of our eyebrows and foreheads? (Will Botox become a thing of the past?!)

• We still have our voices. Our choice of words, tone and inflexion are now more important than ever to express our thoughts and feelings.

• Perhaps we’ll start to invent new safe gestures to replace smiling, hugging and handshakes. (Remember how we all elbow-bumped for about a week before lockdown?)

Creative solutions and workarounds (without compromising on quality) are also the order of the day from a practical perspective. For example, we recently required two actors to play a husband and wife in a drama. The script required them to appear close together on screen – a challenge we put to our friends at Tom Adams Casting who came up with a ‘real-life’ actor couple which meant social distancing was no longer an issue.

If one good thing has come out of the whole lockdown experience, it’s taught us the importance of kindness and supporting one another. As we touched base on Zoom, peering into each other’s living rooms in our pyjamas, we stopped being colleagues, clients or associates and real friendships were formed.

Now that we’re getting used to working in the ‘new normal’, it’s wonderful to see this spirit carry on. Let’s make a promise to keep looking out for the person behind the mask.

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