Back to the Future of Filming

After returning to work on Emmerdale, performer Ash Palmisciano shares his experience being back on set with the new COVID-19 safety measures put in place to protect the cast and crew.

By Ash Palmisciano

Excited and grateful to be returning to work on Emmerdale, I couldn’t help but wonder what the new way of filming was going to be like. Would the acting still work? And more importantly, would we feel safe? Despite things being very different in our world the answer is a huge yes.

Returning to work was like my very first day on set all over again, I was excited, nervous and not sure which way to go. There have been huge changes to the building and we now have separate cohorts for each team, one-way systems and a daily temperature check before entering.

My New Typical Day of Filming

The production team has been extremely thorough to not only make us feel safe but to also make it possible for us to act at a distance. I can confidently say it can be done and here’s how:  

  • Instead of using public transport I now drive each day. Where this isn’t possible we use taxis that have screens, PPE and sanitised cars.
  • Each member of our cast and crew was issued with masks and sanitiser to use outside of work.
  • When arriving at the studios in the morning I’m now greeted with a health questionnaire and temperature check, only when passing this are we allowed inside. 
  • There is hand sanitiser at every touch point in the building and a one-way system we all follow.
  • Each actor now has their own dressing room instead of sharing, which is lovely as gives me some time to run lines and prepare for the day. Our costume is safely placed in our rooms the night before and it can’t be changed on the day or touched by anyone else. 
  • We now do our own hair and makeup, it’s a little more like theatre now in that sense.
  • When ready for set I take a bag with me with water, makeup and anything else I may need for the day ahead.
  • Entering the set is almost like a screen test audition, it’s a lot quieter and there's a minimal crew. Once the line run and blocking of the scene is done with the director, the crew then join us. We each have our own area and space to stick to.  
  • Because of the extra planning and thought that goes into the two-metre staging, things move a little slower and we are now filming fewer scenes in the day.  
  • There is sanitiser available on set at all times and if an actor needs to use a prop, they have their own prop table that they must collect it from. It is cleaned beforehand and only that actor will touch it. If another actor needs to touch the same prop, we cut before the exchange and the other actor is given a brand new prop from their table. Similarly, if movements might compromise the two-metre rule, we will cut and adjust.
  • The only thing that felt hugely different was not having checks from costume or makeup before the take. Checks are now done on camera and we do any touch-ups ourselves. Scenes are filmed as quickly and simply as possible to minimise time so it's important to be on our lines.
  • There are a few changes in what we can perform. For example, no eating a meal in a scene and no physical contact with another actor, so the great news is there is no awkward kissing! I’m always two metres apart from my fellow castmates and this is reviewed by our cohort manager and by all of us.
  • Acting-wise sometimes it feels a bit staged when performing something that’s meant to be intimate, or having to move because another actor steps forward, but clever camera work makes you look a lot closer in the edit. It doesn’t really affect acting on camera, as closeups still capture that small space.

After a few weeks back at work I can confidently say Emmerdale have done a great job at making us feel safe. I feel very grateful to be one of the lucky ones filming right now as I know that isn’t the case for many actors but I’m confident other productions will follow in this way.

Although it feels different on set and a little less social at times, like anything, it becomes completely normal after a while and you still get that exact same buzz when you nail your lines and complete on a lovely scene.     

Published 21 July 2020.

Hero image by Dmitry Shishkin.

Ash Palmisciano is an actor currently playing Matty Barton, Emmerdale’s first transgender character.

Previous credits include ‘Boy meets Girl’ (BBC 2), ‘Summer in London’ (Royal Stratford East).

Ash is passionate about positive representation and recently delivered a TEDx talk on YouTube ‘Why your truth is your superpower’.  

Photograph by Chris Mann.