EastEnders bosses have offered fans their first glimpse of filming in the world of COVID-19, as the soap makes its long-awaited return to screens next month.
Executive producer Jon Sen revealed they’ve had to ‘cheat’ the social distancing rules during filming with the help of CGI, and have even drafted in the help of stars’ real-life partners as back-ups for intimate scenes.
EastEnders is set to return to screens on Monday, September 7 after it was forced off air when production was suspended during the crisis.
Dramatic: Executive producer Jon Sen revealed they’ve had to ‘cheat’ the social distancing rules during filming with the help of CGI to hide the use of social distancing
Speaking to MailOnline at the soap’s virtual launch, Jon explained that like many other soaps they’ve used clever camera methods to hide the two metre distance between cast members.
But he also revealed that they’ve used perspex screens between stars to continue filming passionate kiss scenes, and have even used some of the cast’s real-life partners as stand-ins.
He said: ‘When we came back we had to devise methods where we could cheat the distance, it’s very odd shooting like this, never before in TV history have we made drama in this way, certainly we were forced to work with this 2 metre rule.
EastEnders: Real-life partners as body doubles, CGI trickery and kissing through Perspex screens… bosses have revealed the secrets to filming during COVID-19 crisis as soap returns
‘I, alongside a few of our core directors, got together and we tested and tested and worked about what methods we could employ to achieve distances.
‘It was like learning skills from the very beginning, obviously you’ve seen the perspex screens we’ve used, which is really good as it gives an intimacy to a performance that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
‘We use plate shots which are very basic CGI shots which are two people in the final scene that look like they are sitting at the same table, but actually they’ve been filmed in complete isolation from another, when you’re actually filming you’ll be talking to space actually.
Wife swap? EastEnders bosses have offered fans their first glimpse of filming in the world of COVID-19, revealing that cast’s real-life partners could be drafted in for kiss scenes
Lookalikes? With both Kellie and Joanne sporting blonde locks, while Danny and Paul have brunette hair, this could potentially be an ideal swap for a spot of on-screen romance
‘We hit on the idea of supporting artists from the same household, we have artists who are students, or husband and wife who would be walking down Bridge Street and of course they can get closer than the two metres. Or they can be kissing in the street, it really adds to the sense of life.
‘We’ve also used real-life partners as well, when there are moments or intimacy or kissing, and we have to choose our moments carefully because takes much more time to film like this but for those really crucial moments when characters kiss we’ve invited real-life partners of actors onto the set to achieve those kind of moments.’
Jon was tight-lipped on which cast members have used their partners as stand-ins during filming, hinting fans will have to keep their eyes peeled.
New romance: Another potential real-life swap could see Martin Fowler and Ruby Allen actors James Bye and Louisa Lytton draft in their real life partners
Trading places: The new rules could potentially see James Bye’s wife and co-star Louisa swap places, while Louisa’s beau Ben could be drafted in to replace Martin
Though it’s not been confirmed which partners could be used, a likely contender for an on-screen partner swap is Walford favourites Mick and Linda Carter, played by Danny Dyer and Kellie Bright respectively.
While Danny is married to Joanne Mas in real-life, with the couple finally tying the knot in 2016, Kellie is happily wed to husband of six years Paul Stocker.
With both Kellie and Joanne sporting blonde locks, while Danny and Paul have brunette hair, this could potentially be an ideal swap for a spot of on-screen romance.
Couples: Meanwhile, another Albert Square couple that could see their real-life spouses appear are Stuart Highway and Rainie Branning
New role: Stuart actor Ricky Champ is married to Samantha Gilbert in real life, but would she don a brunette wig to act as Rainie? While Tanya Franks who portrays Rainie is loved up with James Barriscale
Another potential real-life swap could see actors James Bye and Louisa Lytton draft in their real life partners.
James, who plays Martin Fowler, has been married to wife Victoria for eight years, while Louisa (Ruby Allen) announced her engagement to beau Ben Bhanvra last year.
And with Martin and Ruby being a relatively new couple, there’s bound to be plenty of kissing scenes to be had.
But the couple will no doubt face backlash over their relationship when Martin’s wife and Ruby’s best friend Stacey Fowler (Lacey Turner) makes her return to Albert Square.
Meanwhile, another Albert Square couple that could see their real-life spouses appear are Stuart Highway and Rainie Branning.
Stuart actor Ricky Champ is married to Samantha Gilbert in real life, while Tanya Franks who portrays Rainie is loved up with James Barriscale.
Elsewhere, Jon added that trying to alter their filming and production to follow the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines proved to be the biggest challenge.
Plans: Speaking to MailOnline at the soap’s virtual launch, Jon explained that they’ve used perspex screens to ensure cast members can stand closer during tense scenes
‘We had to devise ways of working on-set as well so we could film, our greatest challenges was that we have family units, that’s the nature of EastEnders, and families who would be in the same household so not at two metre distances, but they are played by actors who are obeying social distancing.
‘So there was a huge challenge at the heart of it and we had to devise ways of filming where you look to these families and it didn’t look like we were social distancing but the actors were.
‘I think the remarkable achievements of the team is that we have made episodes and decided a filming style where you can’t tell we’re filming social distanced at all.’
Head of Continuing Drama Kate Oates said it was ‘the fear of the unknown’ that she anticipated the most when she headed back to work, and insisted fans will still see elements of the COVID-19 world when the soap returns to screens next month.
Transition: Elsewhere, Jon added that trying to alter their filming and production to follow the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines proved to be the biggest challenge
She explained: ‘I think the biggest thing was the fact that we were going into the unknown and the unknown is always weird, we didn’t know whether we were going back to work, and when we knew we were going back to work it was all those logistics Jon has just gone through.
‘I think the biggest challenges as well was that we felt so far ahead still, and as we were beginning to storyline, the guidelines were changing so quickly.
‘Jon and I and the rest of the team we had to make a judgement call on when we jump into the world and what the world looks like there.
Back to work: When EastEnders returns to screens next month episodes will be just 20 minutes long, which bosses credited to longer filming times with new measures in place
‘So for example now masks are seen in the streets more often than not, and there were certain things that if we wanted to come into this world, there would be mask use, some businesses open for a while and some have only just opened, and they were decisions we had to make and I think they all work but that was the big thing how and when we jump into this world.
‘But the real thing is once those decisions have been made and we start talking storyline it became so normal and business as usual because the ambition of the storylines what we wanted to achieve.
‘It felt the same but bigger actually, once those initial decisions were made, getting the scripts done getting the writers on board then it just felt like we were back in work and that was very cool.’
When EastEnders returns to screens next month fans can expect episodes to be just 20 minutes long, which both Jon and Kate agreed came down to the fact that filming has ‘taken longer’ with their new measures in place.
Hard: On the storyline front, Kate explained that EastEnders will pick up with some of Walford’s residents struggling with life during and after lockdown
Jon added that on-screens fans will see some of Walford’s most iconic sets to be slightly different to ensure they’re COVID-19 safe, with a slight reshuffle of seating in the Queen Vic and a one-way system in the café.
On the storyline front, Kate explained that EastEnders will pick up weeks after it disappeared from screens, with some of Walford’s residents struggling with life during and after lockdown.
Taking centre stage will be Sharon Watts and Ian Beale, who stunned fans in the soap’s last episode by buying the Queen Vic pub from Mick and Linda Carter.
She told MailOnline: ‘Ian Beale and Sharon have taken over the Vic and Sharon doesn’t know Ian’s role in Denny’s death and that’s an unexploded bomb, and the irony is that she’s defending him as he becomes increasingly popular with other people in the Square and members of his own family.
‘We’ve got a big story coming up for the Carters which put Mick’s anxiety we played into context and explains where that came from.
‘We’ve got amazing stories that reflect how tough life has been for certain people in lockdown, Chantelle hasn’t had it easy Kush hasn’t had it easy with Kat and Bobby hasn’t had it easy and that feeds into that story with the Beales.
‘We’ve got some good stuff for Ben and Callum, as Callum’s role as a police officer encroaches on life with the Mitchells as it was always going to.
‘And something I’m really excited about is some really refreshing partnerships you’re going to see some different character dynamics, paired up together, friendships and relationships that you hadn’t considered.’
It was also recently revealed that one character that won’t be on screen when EastEnders returns is little Cherry Slater.
Exit: It was also recently revealed that one character that won’t be on screen when EastEnders returns is little Cherry Slater (right)
Gone for now: EastEnders confirmed on their Instagram, on an update on what the characters had been up to of late, that Cherry had made a low-key exit from the soap
Though two members of her family are set to return – Kat and Stacey – the BBC soap revealed that the tot had been taken to stay with her mum Hayley Slater at the beginning of lockdown.
It’s suggested that her exit comes as soaps try to adhere to social distancing measures, and with children and babies needing chaperones on set, it may not have been feasible for now.
Baby Cherry had been staying with Kat after her dad Aflie Moon went on the run while mum Hayley struggled to cope.
But EastEnders confirmed on their Instagram, on an update on what the characters had been up to of late, that Cherry had made a low-key exit from the soap.
EastEnders returns on Monday, September 7 at 8pm on BBC One. It will also return to airing four episodes a week.
Bombshell: The show went off the air in June when they ran out of filmed episodes during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is set to return to screens on Monday, September 7