Making a sitcom with a large ensemble cast is no small undertaking during a pandemic, as the team behind BBC One’s BAFTA nominated Ghosts discovered earlier this year.
Those familiar with previous series will know that the premise of the show – a grand manor house inhabited by a living couple and nine fussy ghosts – regularly requires its cast to share close proximity as they cram into the historic rooms of West Horsley Place, where Ghosts is filmed.
However, when filming on the third series got underway towards the start of 2021, wide-ranging restrictions on social contact were still being enforced by the UK government, meaning some clever workarounds were needed to keep the spirit of the show intact.
Indeed, co-creator and star Laurence Rickard told RadioTimes.com and other press that the third series wouldn’t have been “worth doing” unless it could stack up against the preceding episodes, in spite of the real-world challenges facing production.
He said: “I think that we were really clear early on that if we got something that worked, but only if you go, ‘Well, it looks like that because they were shooting it under COVID,’ then it sort of wasn’t worth doing.
“It was only worth doing if you would look at series three next to series two and not be aware that it was any different, because it’s an ensemble show and if you start to spot people being placed politely away from each other, it will start to feel like a different show.”
Fortunately, the finished edit is indeed the same Ghosts that audiences have fallen in love with, reuniting the entire gang for another round of chaotic and farcical stories set at the fictional Button House.
But, while it may not look like it in the broadcast version, there were in fact an “awful lot” of safety measures in place to minimise the risk of spreading COVID-19 on set, with the use of cohorts being one instrumental tool.
Rickard continued: “We were arranged into cohorts that would change each week, so that there were people who we could be in closer contact with.
“So there would be little bubbles of two or three people, and obviously, we were getting tested two or three times a week as well, and that week you would do the majority of your scenes with just those people or in proximity with just those people. And then the next week, it would change so across the series, you don’t spot it.”
Several of the cast members spoke of friendly cohort rivalries forming as the close-knit group splintered off numerous times across the shoot, with Jim Howick (AKA deceased scout leader Pat) comparing it to moving tables at a wedding reception.
Even with the use of cohorts, scenes involving the entire cast would not have been possible without some clever tricks applied in the editing room, as green screens were used to create the illusion to digitally place the Button House residents in the same room.
Co-star Mathew Baynton explained: “On a show that does have actual special effects, with ghosts walking through walls and all sorts like that, the most time consuming special effects were for shots that ordinarily just wouldn’t happen – which is just to put a bunch of people next to each other in a wide shot, which we couldn’t physically do under these guidelines.”
While there were some outdoor scenes that could be filmed “almost” as they were in ordinary times, Rickard agreed that traditionally simple set-ups became a logistical headache under the restrictions in place at the time.
“What would normally be really simple scenes – like all of us sitting around the dinner table having a meal – became really tricky, because you couldn’t get eight of us sitting together,” he said. “So suddenly, those really simple scenes became a lot of green screens and four hours to shoot, just to be able to put us physically next to each other.”
Martha Howe-Douglas noted that the production team also utilised the location to subtly put safety measures in place, for example, by placing a protective plastic screen behind one of the ground floor pillars and placing cast members either side.
“Obviously you won’t be able to see, but it was there. The restrictions were definitely evident but I don’t think they’re evident on the screen,” she added.
This isn’t the first time that the pandemic has put the Ghosts crew under serious pressure, as Ghosts also had to race to finish its second series mere days before the first UK lockdown was announced.
Ghosts series three premieres on BBC One at 8.30pm on Monday 9th August. Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.