The first days and weeks of quarantine seem so far away now. But we’re reminded of how weird they felt in “Love in the Time of Corona,” a new Freeform and Hulu series that takes us into the love lives of four different households during the pandemic.
There’s the couple hoping for another baby, played by real-life married couple Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson, an elderly woman who can’t see her husband in the hospital due to Covid-19 precautions, a separated couple pretending they’re still together for the sake of their daughter, and a sexually-fluid duo who are roomates exploring their feelings for each other.
The series’ Executive Producer Joanna Johnson, a former actress turned producer, told CNN there were safety considerations behind every decision for the series, the first show about love in this time – all written, filmed and airing amid the pandemic.
One of the issues Johnson faced was casting the show before knowing which story lines would be applied to which couples. She had read about 50 articles and columns on love and dating to gather ideas for her couples.
“I kinda came up with some story ideas pretty quickly because of the different dynamics (of filming.) I didn’t want to do a show where everybody was single and living alone or just people Zooming, you know, I wanted to really have people be able to interact,” she said. “I had a bunch of story areas in mind that I wrote up, but then the challenge was to find actors quarantining together to fit the dynamics of those stories. So, we had to cast it first and write it after, which was completely the opposite of how you normally do it.”
Johnson said by reaching out to agents and managers, they managed to put together a cast built around people who were quarantining together in real life.
The next challenges were technical.
While a small crew, including Johnson, sat in separate pod tents outside the actors’ Los Angeles homes, the actors remained inside and set up cameras where Johnson instructed them to. The show’s director of photography also was able to operate a robotic remote camera when needed.
“Once we started shooting, that was my favorite part,” Johnson said. “We all were outside their homes in our own little pod tents. And we were doing everything wireless and we dropped the cameras off and they took it into their homes. We wiped everything down and then usually almost everybody had somebody that was living with them or in their circle that could help us inside, move the camera to the position that we had already decided on.”
The cast and crew would block out three days in each couple’s home, filming the story in that time.
“We did the whole thing in about, I think, 14, 15 days,” Johnson said, adding that she would give direction over a walkie-talkie into the house.
“It felt very intimate, oddly enough,” she said.v”It felt like it was a highly professional student film in the sense that there were seven of us, maybe, on the crew. We were wearing multiple hats and everybody was giving 110 percent and we were just getting it made. But with these incredibly skilled people, you know, when you look at it, I don’t think you can tell that we didn’t shoot in the normal way.”
Johnson said the idea for the series was sparked by a friend who told her about an odd Zoom date. From that conversation to filming, Johnson said, it was the fastest project she’d ever completed – greenlit in March and filmed in April.
Johnson stressed that “Love in the Time of Corona” not about the pandemic, it’s a show about relationships. And while the coronavirus is present throughout – face masks are worn in a grocery shopping scene, for example – the series offers a mostly hopeful look at love.
“The idea was to make a show about how people still want to reach for the light. They still want to be connected and they’re trying to assess their relationships, being home together for the first time, 24 hours a day,” Johnson said. “Seeing that and finding some joy in that and finding some humor in that and the search for love and connection in a time of quarantine is what the show is really about, and also about the effects of quarantine on some of these relationships.”
The four-part series “Love in the Time of Corona” is now available to stream on Freeform and Hulu.