How we produced MTV’s Ghosted on unrd from 3,891 miles away

At the start of the year, we secured a partnership with MTV (ViacomCBS) to bring to life their hit show Ghosted: Love Gone Missing on unrd.

We’d originally planned to film in the USA and Canada in April. Myself and 3 other team members would fly over to direct and capture all the footage we needed, before heading back to our London HQ to continue with post-production.

Unfortunately, Covid had other ideas. The pandemic forced many challenges upon the entertainment industry. Borders shut and stay-at-home orders were put in place leaving many productions on pause.

Usually, every unrd story is shot on the very thing it revolves around — a mobile phone. All of our content is shot to feel raw and authentic. But as we weren’t able to travel, we had only one option; send each actor an iPhone via mail and rethink our entire production process. Safety and logistics were key.

Not being able to travel meant that we needed a solution that would not only keep actors and crew safe, but also let us review footage instantaneously and also back up footage should anything go wrong while transporting the devices back to us.

As we started to explore possible solutions, it dawned on us that we shouldn’t look further than the iPhones we usually shoot on. The beauty of iCloud is that it syncs your data and files across all of your devices. Cue: brainwave.

Before sending each actor an iPhone, we set each of them up with their own individual iCloud account so that we could also log into from our company laptops in London.

We were able to direct actors over a live feed, then after every take they did on their iPhone, the file would be automatically uploaded to the specified iCloud account — meaning we could review the takes minutes later from over 3000 miles away. Our post-production team (who were all based in different parts of the UK) could also download the footage from a central place and begin editing it almost instantly.

Over 500 different assets were collected this way from over 23 different cast members. This included anything from simple selfies and voicenotes, to more emotionally-heavy voice calls and complex video calls which required accurate timing, shot in 8–20 minute takes at a time. For scenes where we needed actors in places we knew we couldn’t get them to, we used actor’s existing photographs and built them into the story.

Once the actor had finished using the phone, it was couriered to a representative on the ground in Canada, who would disinfect it, before sending it onto the next actor. At one point we had over 15 different iPhones circulating the globe.

At the end of every year, we always do a pre-mortem for the year ahead. Last year, a global pandemic was not on our radar. But we were able to adapt fast. Unrd is always looking to revolutionize the way we produce this new format of mobile storytelling. Now that the world has changed, traditional filming methods will need to follow suit. However, with this new infrastructure in place, if it came to it, I’m confident we can shoot anywhere in the world, without ever having to travel.

You can find out more about the partnership below.