Yearly Departed is a 1-hour comedy special hosted by Phoebe Robinson starring Rachel Brosnahan, Tiffany Haddish, Patti Harrison, Natasha Leggero, Sarah Silverman, Natasha Rothwell, and Ziwe. The special serves as a funeral for the year 2020 where a host of leading female comedians deliver eulogies about what we’ve lost in 2020, including casual sex, TV Cops, wearing pants and they also say goodbye to ‘Making America Great Again’ and other artifacts of the worst year in recent times. After a year of societal upheaval, plague, bushfires, and home-baked sourdough bread, Yearly Departed gives 2020 the send-off it deserves. Actress Rachel Brosnahan also executive produced the Amazon Studios end of year special.
Filmed in the shadow of COVID-19, the program required remote filming and extensive green screen, so the program could film safely amid the global coronavirus pandemic. The show’s director was Linda Mendoza and the VFX facility was Barnstom Visual Effects, who got involved in early September. The production shot at The Lot in Hollywood in October. There was a strong cast of women in front of the camera and a similarly strong crew of women behind the camera, both on-set and in post. “Every woman I know in this business has experienced coming onto a set where they didn’t feel safe and taken care of,” the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star, Brosnahan, told THR about the care and safety put in place by the female-led team and production house Done + Dusted amid COVID. “Every single person feeling safe and well taken care of was a major priority for us, and that’s because we all know what it’s like to not feel that way.” During pre-production, there were multiple COVID tests performed and then further tests every day of the 3-day shoot.
In the year of covid, Yearly Departed seems like the perfect show to highlight how VFX can still enable production. In the program, the actresses and comedians appear socially distanced, but it is not until the end credits that it is revealed that the show was filmed over 3 days with VFX, thanks to an enormous amount of detailed planning.
During the live-action production, there were 3 different sets on 2 stages that all filmed at the same time in order to keep the cast separate. The cast rehearsed over Zoom while the director was rehearsing with the stand-ins, the day before the filming started.
The funeral home set was built in two halves, the A-side had the podium area along with a few chairs and the B side was the full audience side of the room, with an additional set that was labeled the ‘pods’. These pods were four green screens set up with fabric walls in between them. Each pod was set up so that an actor could watch a monitor that could either stream a live feed from stage A or playback. “We would arrange the monitor to line up with their correct eyeline, set up the camera in a locked-off position, then step away and watch through monitors from a safe distance away,” explained Tammy Sutton Sr. Producer and VFX Supervisor at Barnstorm.
There were seven cameras and at times all of them were running. In order to align the cameras in the green screen pods to match the correct angles of the audience, the team set up a reference frame on the practical set using stand-ins, once the director approved the framing the team would take measurements of the camera position and match it on the green screen. When the hero actor arrived in their pod the team would overlay the reference frame and make any adjustments as required. The pod’s footage was shot in 4k so that the frame could be adjusted or scaled up in post if needed.
The biggest challenge according to Sutton was layering in all of the elements in the wide shots and balancing out the focus to look like real photography. “We chose to film each pass with the focus on the live actor, which gave more freedom in post to decide where and when to change the focus but also meant that we had to artificially create out of focus elements as well as a few rack focuses.”
“We are excited to finally share Yearly Departed with the world! This female lead project (not only in cast but also in crew), will hopefully bring major laughs to you,” commented VFX producer Danielle Malambri.