How CBS legal drama ‘All Rise’ made its virtual coronavirus episode

May 4, 2020, 2:00 PM UTC

Like much of the world, the team behind the new CBS television series All Rise found their everyday workflow disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic virtually overnight. One day they were in the middle of filming what was supposed to be a two-part finale to its first season; the next day they were home.

So working online to complete editing the 20th episode “didn’t quite feel like the exact way to end the season,” said executive producer Len Goldstein in a virtual interview with the press Tuesday. The session included series lead Simone Missick (Judge Lola Carmichael) as well as executive producers Greg Spottiswood, Michael Robin, and Dee Harris-Lawrence.

“Because our show deals with the justice system and all sorts of issues that our characters face with the justice system,” Goldstein added, “this lent itself, in a way, to, ‘Could we tell a story about a contemporary issue?’ And what’s more contemporary than this [pandemic]?”

That’s how this Monday’s coronavirus-centric All Rise episode was born. From writing to filming, everything needed to assemble the episode happened virtually, its producers said.

“Interestingly enough, it shot faster than a normal episode does,” Robin said. Sixty-four pages of script were filmed in six 10-hour days, versus a more typical 60 pages shot over seven-and-a-half 12-hour days.

Apple’s FaceTime and Zoom’s virtual meeting software helped during filming, the producers said. A private Cisco Webex room allowed actors to dial in when it was time to film a particular scene. Ethernet cables and Wi-Fi boosters, carefully sanitized, were distributed to supplement the personal equipment in use by the cast and crew. The actors effectively became their own crew.

All Rise
Simone Missick as Lola Carmichael on CBS’s “All Rise.” The freshman legal drama is airing a virtually produced episode on Monday, May 4, which addresses the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on its characters and the justice system.
Monty Brinton—CBS via Getty Images

“Every day was, ‘Okay, let me set up these lights and move this furniture and set up the props, and get myself in costume, and do my hair and makeup, and where’s craft [services]? Oh, it’s my kitchen,’” Missick said. The team took steps to ensure that everyone could see and hear each other and run through the scene before actually filming.

“All of the technology, all of the, ‘This is weird. I’m shooting in my living room’—all of that just kind of faded away,” she said. “You’re really connecting with the actor or the actors on the screen, much like you would on set.”

Missick said the actors had to set things up themselves to the point that “it felt like a really expensive guerrilla indie film.” But the crew helped them decide where to film in their homes, if the lighting needed to be adjusted, and other visual considerations.

Even the professionals who do hair and makeup—which some actors opted to skip—helped out by letting the cast know if they had self-styled correctly. Some products were mailed or delivered to actors’ homes. In some cases, individual makeup bags were retrieved from the makeup trailer and sent along—after sanitizing, Robin noted.

The wardrobe team also sent items along to help the actors get in character. “When it came to wardrobe, Simone does not dress like Lola—so our costume designer had to quickly find some things to get over to me,” said Missick. “There was that moment of [initial anxiety]: How long was it in transit? Which fabrics are okay? Should I stick it in the dryer? Do I need to spray it with Lysol?”

Besides, “there was the very real concern that I think we all have with getting boxes and unpackaging things,” the actor added. “That was something that had to be taken into consideration.”

Even then, about 95% of what can be viewed on screen was found in each actor’s home, Robin said.

All Rise Social Distancing
Pictured (left to right, from top): Simone Missick as Lola Carmichael, Edwin Hodge as Joey Beto, Jessica Camacho as Emily Lopez, Wilson Bethel as Mark Callan, Ruthie Ann Miles as Sherri Kansky, and Lindsay Mendez as Sara Castillo in the virtually produced episode of “All Rise.”
Screen Grab via CBS

Writers made some adjustments to the drama’s story line and character arcs to reflect the new filming environment. The crisis is “deepening some relationships” and “stressing others,” Spottiswood said. “We needed to acknowledge that in the writing. What is the truth of our characters in this circumstance?”

But the characters “stayed within the storylines of what we’d already set,” Harris-Lawrence added.

Could the pandemic factor into future storylines? If All Rise is picked up for a second season, it could, Spottiswood said. “I have no doubt that the justice system is going to continue to wrestle with the implications of COVID-19 and adjust how they do what they do,” he said, “and that’s going to be part of our story.”

That also happens to be the real-life story for businesses across the country—including making television, he added. All Rise isn’t alone in being affected by or trying to tackle the coronavirus pandemic. A special one-off Parks and Recreation episode reuniting the cast took a similar approach. One Day at a Time is using its stalled production to make an animated episode. And Netflix is teaming up with Orange Is the New Black creator Jenji Kohan on a quarantine anthology series.

“We’re going to have to find new ways of working, at least for a while, as a consequence of this,” Spottiswood said. “I have great faith that we’re going to find the protocols to keep people safe and [that] we’re going to create stories…out of these obstacles.”

All Rise will air its special coronavirus-themed episode Monday, May 4, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

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