How two Shortland Street stars pulled off an illicit Covid kiss during a level three lockdown.
“No – don’t go!” pleads Dr Chris Warner, leaping up from his chair. His married Shortland Street neighbour Vivienne Erwel turns back towards him, and, as Warner leans in, the pair exchange eager glances. Months of flirtation and romantic tension is finally let loose, and the pair passionately lock lips.
Or do they?
Last night, Shortland Street viewers finally got to see Chris and Viv share their first illicit on-screen kiss, the start of what seems set to become an ongoing affair. Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal.
“It’s a soap opera,” says Shortland Street producer Oliver Driver. “People are kissing all the time.”
But, under Tāmaki Makaurau’s current alert levels, having actors pash isn’t possible. There hasn’t been a full-blooded kiss on Shortland Street since … well, even Driver can’t remember. “Even when we move to [traffic light] red it’s probably not safe for people to … exchange saliva,” he says.
Instead, since filming restarted in September, the stars of TVNZ 2’s long-running local soap opera have become experts at exchanging “longing looks” from some distance away.
As actors stay socially distanced, camera angles are used to hint they’re being romantic. “You can suggest that they’re about to be passionate,” says Driver. “People can start to take their clothes off and stare passionately into each other’s eyes.”
But that wouldn’t work for the show’s latest romantic plot twist. Warner, a Shorties stalwart played by Michael Galvin, and newcomer Viv, played by Katherine Kennard, have had their eyes on each other for months. Their storyline dates back to June when she moved in next door, gatecrashed Warner’s house-warming party, got incredibly drunk and let him walk her home.
The next step in their growing relationship was something physical. “We really needed to show that kiss,” says Driver.
But how? Producers looked at how other TV shows were doing it. “We knew that overseas there were some shows using glass screens to be able to kind of create that illusion,” he says. “We thought, ‘Let’s give it a try.’”
Last night, viewers got to see Galvin and Kennard give it a go. Camera operators filmed the pair from all angles as they leaned in towards each other. Separated by a large piece of perspex, their lips landed on the glass.
It was a ridiculous situation – and everyone knew it. “This is stupid,” says Driver. “You’re kissing a plastic screen. That is weird. But you have to act like you’re not.”
As a behind-the scenes video shows, both Galvin and Kennard struggled to keep a straight face, cracking up every time they had to pash the perspex.
To fully sell the scene, some post-production work was necessary. Smudges and reflections were removed digitally from the glass, and clever editing was used to make it work. “We stitch all those bits together to create that illusion,” says Driver.
He compares it to the CGI used in a Marvel movie, when actors talk to tennis balls on sticks standing in for computer-generated characters. “Actors are very good at selling illusions,” he says, using Shortland Street’s hospital surgery scenes as an example. “We’re not doing any of the medical stuff for real.”
Now they’ve pulled off their first Covid kiss, the floodgates are open. A second has already been filmed, and Driver says it was even better than last night’s. Shorties fans should expect to see much more of it in the near future. “The writers … want to have the romance going,” says Driver.
“This adds to our arsenal of tricks so that we can shoot the show and keep things looking real for people.”