Sean Dulake, co-founder and president of Los Angeles and Seoul-based production company Third Culture Content shares his experience of filming season two of fantasy romcom Dramaworld at the height of the pandemic.
When we originally worked towards a second season of our cult hit and passion project Dramaworld, we knew there would be challenges – we had huge ambitions when it came to the most recognisable faces in Korean drama and music, over three years since season one, and around 100 shooting locations. The challenge we didn’t see coming was the same curveball which floored our entire industry – a worldwide disease outbreak on a scale which has never been seen in our lifetime.
Our first date of production of Dramaworld season two was March 3, 2020 – exactly when South Korea was experiencing its biggest surge in Coronavirus cases in Daegu, a city 400 miles south of Seoul. At that time, there were about 150 cases in Seoul, a city of almost 10 million people. As our series was shooting 100% in Seoul and its surrounding areas, far away from the surge, we decided to push forward.
I want to preface this writeup by saying that the main reason we were able to survive the pandemic and safely complete production was because we were shooting in a country that meticulously and effectively handled the outbreak: South Korea.
Dramaworld is a fantasy romantic comedy that follows a 20-year-old American girl who gets magically transported into her favorite Korean drama through her smartphone. Our first season premiered on Netflix and Viki in 2016, and as we are an independent production, it took our company Third Culture Content a while to put all the pieces together necessary to exceed our audience’s expectations for our second season.
After locking schedules with an all-star cast including Daniel Dae Kim (The Good Doctor, Lost), Ji-won Ha (Secret Garden, Manhunt), and Henry Lau (A Dog’s Journey, Double World), in addition to our amazing returning actors Liv Hewson, Justin Chon, Nu-ri Bae, and Sa-hee Kim, my producing partner and director, co-writer, and co-creator of Dramaworld, Chris Martin, and I were finally ready to shoot. Then Daniel came down with COVID-19 – one in a long line of unforeseen hurdles.
Thankfully, we were able to safely and effectively manage his travel following recovery, along with the rest of our shoot – which has resulted in a show which we hope will be worthy of the dedicated fanbase season one created.
Here are five key takeaways from the experience:
- Stay informed. Focusing on the ACTUAL problems at hand was absolutely key to ensure a safe production. It was of utter importance that we remained fully informed with all the facts and data in real time, and that we kept our cast and crew updated. We made decisions based on solid information, and tackled obstacles within our sphere of control while ensuring the elements outside of our control (government and public response in the areas we were shooting) were also up to the standard we were collectively comfortable with in order to proceed.
- You can never have enough hand sanitiser. It may sound obvious now, but back in March we were pioneering safety protocols ahead of official guidance and masks, gloves, and freely available hand sanitiser are basic requirements. Hand sanitiser stations are good, but tiny personal bottles are better. There’s something about everyone having their own hand sanitiser that gets them in the habit of applying it more.
- Shoot near a hospital. The good thing about Korea is that there are hospitals and clinics everywhere, and quality care is affordable. Throughout all the 100+ locations we shot in Seoul, we were always within 10 to 15 minutes of a hospital, and test kits were readily available which made everyone feel safe and provided a contingency plan to any signs of illness.
- Stay alert. If anyone felt a little strange, we would immediately get them tested and let them back on set only after a negative result. No one on our set ever tested positive for Coronavirus during shooting. There was a moment in the middle of production when people started feeling like the pandemic wasn’t going to affect us – and we had to also be on guard against a false sense of security. Just remember – you’re not done with production until you’re done.
- Don’t panic. We found that the perception of the virus caused more panic than the actual risk of danger, which was also mitigated by our work to keep everyone informed. Shooting during a pandemic comes with extra high levels of anxiety. Taking care of people’s mental health is also paramount – we learned that sometimes people would just need to talk, blow off steam, or have a bit of a longer break. Production might slow down a little bit, but it’s important to make sure that your cast and crew are mentally healthy – it’s important to listen. A lot of people are going through way more than just the stress around getting through the shot list for that day, and we tried to stay cognisant of that throughout the process.