Apple on Friday will release a special quarantine episode of “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet,” which the cast and crew shot using iPhones. Ahead of the premiere of the episode, show creator and star Rob McElhenney did an interview with The Hollywood Reporter where he shared some details on how the filming was done.
According to McElhenney, he came up with the idea for the quarantine episode three weeks ago when bored while stuck at home. He pitched the idea to his bosses at Apple, who were “immediately on board.” Apple’s Cupertino team sent 40 new iPhones and 20 sets of earbuds later that same week, and McElhenney teamed up with David Hornsby (who also stars in the show) and Megan Ganz (the show’s co-creator) to write the episode.
It took just three weeks to write the script, shoot the new episode, edit it, and get it ready to air. Despite the short filming time, the producers at Apple liked the episode so much that it’s being submitted it for Emmy consideration. “It happened very, very fast,” said McElhenney.
It was important for the episode to “feel like it was a shared experience” without recycling content. “We knew right away that we can’t just get away with doing Zoom jokes for 30 minutes,” said McElhenney. It was also important to get the episode out while it was still something that was going on in the moment, and McElhenney was surprised Apple agreed to the concept.
Honestly, I thought they were probably going to say no because it’s just technically difficult. There are a few shows that subsequently have come out. Parks and Rec had not [aired] when we conceived of this, but I found out that Mike [Schur] was doing it, and I called him and asked him a bunch of questions. I thought, “If we’re going to do it, I’d like it to look and feel as if this was a creative choice, not a choice that was created by limitation.” That’s what Apple responded to. Once I walked them through it, we shot a little test and said, “This is what it could look like and sound like and feel like.” They pulled the trigger, and we got to work.
All of the actors in the show were forced to get into the “minutia” of details they’re not normally concerned with. There were no people on hand for filming, no makeup artists, no hairstylists, no one to adjust the sound, and so on. Everyone had to consider lenses, applications, sound quality, frame rate, and other aspects of filming that actors normally don’t do.
During filming, the crew used Zoom to communicate, with five to 45 people on the call depending on the scene or situation. Each actor had three iPhones, and one iPhone was used at a time. After a scene wrapped, the phone was sterilized, packaged, put in a secure area, picked up by a courier, brought to the editorial team, sterilized again, and then footage was uploaded for the editors who were working from home. When asked why three iPhones were used, this is what McElhenney had to say:
To get [footage] through to editorial as fast as possible, because we wanted to get this episode done and out while we were still in quarantine. The way we’d do each scene is they’d take their laptop/desktop cameras that you would see normally for a teleconferencing thing and they’d put the iPhone directly in front of that camera, so I essentially had video village from my house. I could see what every actor’s camera is picking up and you could also see the readings for the audio. Mike, the cinematographer, could double check all the settings and make sure that everything was running at the right revolution, frame rate, etc. Then we would run the scene, and the actors would be talking to one another the same way we’re talking right now [by phone], through our AirPods.
The quarantine episode of “Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet” features pandemic-related plotlines such as Poppy struggling with forced solitude and C.W. struggling with teleconferencing technology, while Ian Grimm, in his lavish house, has a hard time understanding everyone else’s struggles.
There’s also a storyline about a charitable donation, which is being replicated in real life, with the show raising $600,000 to date for the global NGO Mercy Corps COVID-19 relief program. The episode will air this Friday.