Real-life partners of the EastEnders cast were drafted in to appear on screen to allow “moments of intimacy to be cheated”, a boss on the show has revealed.
Clear Perspex screens placed between actors while filming and basic computer-generated imagery (CGI) shots are also among the measures that have been used to enable the BBC One soap to return to screens on September 7.
Executive producer Jon Sen said sets had to be adjusted, with one-way systems and temperature checks employed.
Seating in the Queen Victoria pub was also tweaked to allow for a two-metre distance between actors when filming resumed at the end of June.
Sen said: “Our greatest challenge is that we have several family units, that’s the nature of EastEnders and soap, and families who would be in the same household, so not at two-metre distances, but obviously they are played by actors who are obeying social distancing, so there’s a huge challenge at the heart of it.”
Perspex screens between actors on set allowed them to “bring people really close together and that’s really good because it gives an intimacy to performance that wouldn’t be possible otherwise”, he said.
Sen added: “We (also) use plate shots, which are very kind of basic CGI shots really, where you have two people … which in the final scene you’ll see them looking like they are sitting at the same table, but actually they have been filmed in complete isolation from one another.
“So, when you are filming, the actor will be talking to space essentially and that will happen with the other actor, and then you’ll put them together and it will look like they are at the same table, so we’re doing that a lot.
“We hit on the idea of supporting artists from the same household to reflect the world outside … or a husband and wife who would be walking down Bridge Street and of course they can get closer together than the two metres or they can be kissing in the street … It really adds to the sense of life and, you know, we’ve actually also used real-life partners as well.
“We’ve had moments of intimacy with kind of kissing and we’ve had to choose our moments carefully, because you know it takes much more time to film like this, but actually for those really crucial moments where two characters kiss we’ve actually invited the real-life partners of the actors on to the set to be able to cheat those kind of moments.”
EastEnders was last on air on June 16 before filming was halted as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. New episodes will be 20 minutes or slightly longer, rather than 30, when it returns four nights a week.
BBC Studios head of continuing drama Kate Oates said: “We wanted the ambition of the storytelling and the quality of the storytelling to be as high as possible, so to achieve that and to achieve everything Jon has talked about and to make it look brilliant it takes longer so we really did have a judgment call to make.
“We could make half-hour episodes that just don’t look as good, that aren’t as rich, that don’t have all these special touches to them, or we could talk to the channel and say we believe we can deliver a better show at this time, in this timeframe, and they were so supportive.”
Oates also teased forthcoming storylines, saying that, following Ian Beale and Sharon Mitchell’s takeover of The Vic, there is the “unexploded bomb” of Ian’s role in Denny Rickman’s death which Sharon is in the dark about.
A big storyline for the Carters is also ahead, which Oates said will expand more on Mick’s anxiety as well as storylines reflecting how tough life has been for some characters during lockdown.
Oates also said there are some “refreshing partnerships” in store which will show off “different character dynamics”.
– EastEnders returns to BBC One on September 7 at 8pm.