"It was pretty insane, all of the time" - filming during Covid

Director Antonia Campbell-Hughes talks about shooting her debut feature in Ireland during the pandemic

By Ben Dalton 22 Jan 2021

"It was pretty insane, all of the time" - filming during Covid
Antonia Campbell Hughes. Credit: Justin van Vliet

UK actor-filmmaker Antonia Campbell-Hughes could hardly have picked a trickier time to make her feature directorial debut.

It Is In Us All shot in rural Ireland for four and half weeks in October and November 2020 amid ever-tightening Covid-19 restrictions, last-minute cast changes and ongoing, raging storms.

“Every evening after shooting there were conference calls with Screen Ireland about whether we could continue,” Campbell-Hughes recalls of the conversations with the film’s backer. “It was pretty insane, all of the time.”

It Is In Us All is about a Londoner, played by Cosmo Jarvis, who returns to his ancestral homeland of Donegal in the west of Ireland and is drawn in by a teenage boy who almost kills him in a car crash.

Northern Ireland-born Campbell-Hughes is a Screen UK and Ireland Star of Tomorrow as an actor from 2011. Her on-screen credits include playing real-life Austrian captive Natascha Kampusch in 3096 Days, and the title role in Adrian Shergold’s Cordelia, which she also wrote. She has directed various short films including the sci-fi Acre Fall Between, for the anthology series The Uncertain Kingdom in 2020. 

It Is In Us All is produced by Conor Barry of Savage Productions and Emma Foley and Tamryn Reinecke of Pale Rebel Productions, both Dublin-based. The company is also developing Lucia, a feature Campbell-Hughes has written which Alexandra McGuinness is set to direct.

Getting into production

Backed by Screen Ireland’s POV scheme which fully finances features budgeted up to £400,000, It Is In Us All had a July shoot date planned before full lockdowns in the UK (where Campbell-Hughes lives) and Ireland (where she planned to shoot) pushed the shoot to August and then October. The move necessitated a re-write of what had been a summer script to a winter one.

It also meant the production had to recast its lead, Jim Sturgess. Sturgess was four weeks into shooting Paramount and Apple TV+’s Home Before Dark in Vancouver when a lockdown came into force in Canada. Apple paid to hold him in situ for when the series restarted in November and he had to pull out of the indie feature.

Campbell-Hughes then met with Lady Macbeth and Calm With Horses actor Jarvis in London in July, and he signed on after two months of Zoom calls between the two. Newcomer Rhys Mannion signed up to play the teenager.

“He’s not what I set out looking for,” says Campbell-Hughes of Mannion. “He’s very unusual - very direct.”

Sparse landscape

To enable the film to shoot in rural Ireland, the cast and crew formed a ‘bubble’ that encompassed all prep and two weeks of quarantine before filming began. For some, the bubble lasted nine weeks.

“That’s what’s involved, for quite a low fee. You have to really want to do it.” says Campbell-Hughes.

Cosmo Jarvis, Antonia Campbell-Hughes on set of 'It Is In Us All'



Cast and crew were separated by department into ‘pods’, each living in their own cottage, to reduce contact. Everyone was tested twice a week by two Covid nurses, with increased testing for new members of the ‘bubble’.

The sparse landscape lent itself to isolation. “It’s like Iceland or Alaska,” says the director of rural Donegal. “There were no shops, we didn’t interact with anyone outside of our pods.”

The crew took over a community centre – the only non-residential building in a remote area of Donegal – and filled it with production offices and a proposed set build. Trucks with the materials for the set were on route to the centre when news came through in October that Ireland was moving from level three to level four of Covid restrictions. “We were almost told to pull over to the side of the road because we might not continue,” says Campbell-Hughes.

However, the production received the go-ahead to continue and shot for two days - before hearing Ireland was moving to level five of Covid restrictions for at least six weeks.

“I thought ‘Well that’s it. We’re done’,” Campbell-Hughes recalls.

Paid-for locations including a police station, churches and the airport suddenly “all shut their doors to us”. “We hardly had access to any indoor place at all,” says the director.

But Screen Ireland and the Irish government allowed Irish productions to continue through level five. “They deemed it as essential work,” says Campbell-Hughes with relief.

Creative innovation

The delay throughout the year had allowed Campbell-Hughes to ensure the scripts were “Covid-compliant” for insurance purposes. Necessity became the mother of invention across the board: production designer John Leslie fashioned an airport out of the local welfare office, while a big nightclub scene was reimagined as “an infinite bare space of no people, built with light, space and sound”.

However, a water scene was altered due to prohibitive health and safety costs of people going into the sea “in Ireland, in November, at night.”

Indeed, the Irish weather was both friend and foe. “There were storms and a tsunami of driving rain every single day,” she recalls. “It’s better to have that than just grey-sky Ireland. It makes it look stunning, but it’s exhausting!”

Campbell-Hughes also added some remote filming, shooting scenes over Zoom with Denmark-based Claes Bang as the father of Jarvis’ protagonist. Having acted opposite Bang in Dolly Wells’ lockdown-shot pilot Little Room, she knew he was up to the technical aspects. “He is a very efficient actor, able to do his own coiffing!”

The cast also includes Mark O’Halloran, Lalor Roddy and a supporting part for the director herself.

The film finished pickups in January 2021 and is in post-production. Now out of the other side, Campbell-Hughes is embracing the turbulent shoot. “I believe that a challenging experience can only be conducive to better work.

”Rather than every department doing a service for me, I want my film to do a service for their creative ability, to showcase their talents and their work.”

This article orginally appeared on sister site ScreenDaily.

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