Frieha Altaf, long time show director, speaks to Instep about the challenges of putting a show together in Covid times, keeping SOPs intact and safety protocols immeasurable.
There’s no point in repeating what we all already know; Covid 19 changed how we live our lives. However, after the initial shock of the pandemic and the first lock down wore off, humans in their unrelenting resilience learned to work around limitations that the disease had forced upon us, shifting everything online.
We’ve witnessed virtual offices, concerts, seminars and festivals, fashions shows went virtual and even award ceremonies managed to make it to our screens sans live audiences. Globally, the Emmys and the AMAs led the change; the two popular award shows went virtual, featuring pre-recorded performances, a socially distant ceremony and a desperately needed dose of glamour in this dull year.
Pakistan had its own virtual shows. Catwalk Cares presented the country’s first virtual fashion show in June, following up with second edition later in the year, aimed at injecting adrenaline (and finances) back into the suffering industry. This weekend Frieha makes her way back to our screens with another virtual offering: the famous Lux Style Awards.
We spoke to the director about the challenges and logistics of putting together a virtual award show and here’s what she had to say.
According to Frieha, the planning process started in September, when things were extremely unpredictable, making it difficult to plan a ceremony. The challenge was massive because of the pandemic, the subsequent lockdowns and the time crunch.
Regarding the show, Frieha revealed that the shooting was scheduled over 10 days, keeping strict SOPs and hygiene measures in mind. The shooting schedule had to be designed to shoot different people and segments separately. While the red carpet wasn’t the usual glamorous, star-studded affair, it was set up in a beautiful Karachi house so that they could get shots of the celebrities coming down the stairs, with circles demarcating spaces. Mushk Kaleem, top model and host for the ceremony stood 6 feet apart from the celebrities while interviewing them.
The second day of shoot was in a different location and the logistics of it all made the entire process more difficult. Frieha explained that when the show is in a single location, everyone is in one place and pulling together an award ceremony becomes easier, but when you’re dealing with multiple locations, different call times for different artists and a shooting schedule that spans days, the logistics can be overwhelming.
“When we’re shooting a regular award show we have everyone in together, the makeup team (from Nabila) just has to be available in one location on a particular day. Similarly lights, sound, cameras, it’s easier to control things but this time all our resources and logistics were spread thin,” the show director elaborated.
Frieha further explained how winners based in Lahore, like Khadija Rehman of Generation, were shot in their own city with a small team flying out from Karachi to oversee the production. Not all the presenters were present in Pakistan during the shoot; screen siren of yore Reema was in the U.S, Shaneira was in Australia and various other artists who couldn’t come to the studio, requested shooting themselves at home instead. Fawad Khan and Ali Xeeshan, for example, had their own videos shot. It was a task to get the footage and then a challenge to edit it to appear seamless.
“We broke down the show into four different categories: fashion, music, film, and T.V, each genre receiving 15 minutes of screen-time to ensure the audience remains engaged”. YouTube sensation Arslan Naseer of CBA was roped in for the film segment, rounding up the year’s releases in his usual witty style.
Mehwish Hayat and Ahmed Ali Butt, LSA hosts this year, maintained social distance while keeping the humour alive. In terms of performances, the brand broadened their content horizon. The LSA song with Mehwish Hayat was shot as a music video rather than the usual dance number.
The performance closest to Frieha’s heart, she says, is the hope song which was inspired by John Lennon and his iconic, ‘Imagine’. The song was peppered with appearances by some of the nominees, with Azan Sami at the musical helm and a video that was shot in a studio separately with each performers.
“The last performance, which was very important to me, was the hope song. I always wanted to do a hope song but not something that had been done before, so no ‘We Are the World.’ Then the inspiration of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ came to me, it also being his 40th death anniversary. We recruited Azaan to make the video, using some of the nominees like Hadiya Hashmi and Ali Tariq, with Hadiqa Kiani also making an appearance. The song also has a qawali element and I find the entire performance to be very powerful, very moving and hope the audience resonates with it.”
The song opened the show on a somber note, understandable at the end of a year that has caused so much suffering, but it also left one hoping for better times and more uplifting openings.
Another hitch that came up over the course of the shooting was Anwar Maqsood (recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award) and Mahira Khan, who won two awards, falling ill. Khan contracted Covid and luckily tested negative in the nick of time so the team could go over to her house, present the awards and shoot her reaction. Bilal Maqsood aided in bringing his father’s speech to the show by showing the iconic writer at home.
The behemoth task was to collect, compile and edit all the data and different videos, putting them all together in the format of a show that flows smoothly from one segment to the other. The LSAs streamed digitally (on YouTube) this Thursday and aired on GEO TV yesterday (Saturday). It was, needless to say, nothing like the pomp and show one is used to but the important thing is that the show went on, honouring talent from the fashion and entertainment industry.
“We dedicate this show to all the front-line workers who provided essential services during these dangerous times, persevered and showcased remarkable resilience. I salute you all,” Frieha concluded in her heartfelt sign-off message, noting that the true heroes and stars of 2020 have been the healthcare workers putting themselves at risk for us.