Like almost everyone in the entertainment industry, Matthew Leutwyler and Anton Laines wondered how they could keep telling stories while under quarantine. What they’ve come up with is Disconnected, a new eight-episode online series about the quarantine, shot while the participants quarantined in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, New York, Iowa, the U.K., India, and Rwanda — without breaking any rules around social distancing.
They did it with a lot of coordination, editing, and ingenuity. They used the best cameras available — which in one case was an iPhone 6 — and enlisted families of actors who were quarantining together. Disconnected isn’t so much “timely” as immediate. The first episode briefly shows a news conference with President Trump from only a few days ago.
While many moviemakers are devoting their time to writing and editing — activities they can do on their own — Leutwyler and Laines took on a global story, with a Stephen Soderbergh kind of ambition and scope, to tell the story of life under quarantine before any of us know how it ends. New episodes will air weekly on YouTube, and the first is below.
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The series is built around several friends — connected through their work with a charity in the Congo — who are tested in dramatic ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. A Hollywood producer gets in touch with his survivalist side; an ex-con tries to re-sell stolen PPEs; a Chinese actress’ diva tendencies become harder to accommodate.
Leutwyler and Laines consider the project an experiment in filmmaking, under what many consider impossible restrictions. The series is so well-shot that you might not even notice it was shot under tight quarantine — unless, of course, you spend the entire series wondering how they did it, which of course you will.
Leutwyler and Laines, who first worked together on Leutwyler’s 2004 comedy/horror/musical Dead and Breakfast, led the project from Los Angeles. Here’s how the team got some of the footage:
- The sequence shot in Mumbai features Tara Alisha Berry as a young woman who returns from UCLA to India to be with her family during quarantine — but has a secret. “The stuff in India with Tara and her Mother, who is also an actress, is directed over Zoom calls using the only camera they had available, an iPhone 6,” Leutwyler told MovieMaker. “We have been trying to get them an iPhone 10 but the lockdown there is so strict we can’t get it to them — and it’s only three miles away. Hopefully next week we can fix that.”
- The scenes shot in Rwanda used a “Sony A7SII, with the only lens we could find in the country, a Sigma 30mm,” Leutwyler said. Performers Clarisse Umutoniwase and Manace Nsabimana (pictured) are employees at a restaurant who are quarantined together.
- A sequence in Palm Springs includes two married actors, Jenn Liu and Brandon Scott, who play strangers. They shoot each other’s scenes.
- Leutwyler shot two other actors, Mark Kelly and Vincent Ventresca, in Los Angeles, himself. He wore a mask and gloves and included no other crew.
L.A. – Mark Kelly, Vincent Ventresca, Erik Palladino
PALM SPRINGS – Jenn Liu, Brandon Scott
N.Y. – Gene Gallerano, Christina Bennett Lind
IOWA – Audrey Uwimana
BRIGHTON, U.K. – April Pearson
MUMBAI, INDIA – Tara Alisha Berry, Nandini Sen , Shoaib Kabeer
KIGALI, RWANDA – Innocent Munyeshuri, Clarisse Umutoniwase
You can watch the first episode of Disconnected here: