Thursday’s Parks and Rec reunion was shot on iPhone, directed via Zoom

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Parks and Rec 1
Expect everyone to look a little older than they do here.
Photo: NBC/Parks and Recreation

The half-hour reunion special of Parks and Recreation, airing this Thursday, was entirely shot on iPhone due to the challenges of production during the current coronavirus pandemic.

The logistics of getting the episode together were “very difficult,” co-creator Mike Schur told trade publication Variety. Not only did the special have to be written in under three days, but it then had to be directed via Zoom, with the cast filming themselves using a “little rig with a tripod,” an iPhone, light, and microphone.

Shooting took four days. Schur said that he recruited The Good Place graphics and effects team to, “make it not look like everyone was just sitting alone in their houses staring at a computer.”

The special features the show’s stars Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rob Lowe, Jim O’Heir, and Retta. There will also be appearances from a number of unannounced guest stars. All money raised will go toward Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

The special will air this Thursday on NBC.

The challenges of shooting Parks and Rec

“I honestly didn’t think that Parks and Rec was ever going to reunite for any reason, just because I felt like that show had a point to make, and I felt like we’d made it, and we ended the show and it just didn’t seem like there was a compelling reason,” Schur said. “But this is a compelling reason. This is as compelling a reason as there is.”

However, although Schur said the process was fun, he’s unconvinced that this is the way the future of TV will work. Variety‘s article reads:

“Is there anything about this that points the way forward for TV production? And the answer is a resounding no,” said Schur. “For me, this is not the way TV is be supposed to be made. It required an incredible amount of basically goodwill volunteer work, or guild minimum, union minimum volunteer work from from sound designers and editors and supervisors and all sorts of people really just doing it, because it’s a fundraiser, because it was fun to get the cast back together. But, you know, TV is a team sport. From the very beginning to the very end, it’s about groups of people functioning in holistic ways with each other, and collaborating and being in the same room at the same time. And, you know, I don’t think there’s any way that this is a sustainable method for making television.”

Not the first TV show shot on iPhone

While this is definitely a unique way to shoot a sitcom, it’s not the first time Apple devices have been used during filming. In 2015 (incidentally, the year Parks and Rec finished its original run), Modern Family became the first major TV show to ever air an episode shot almost entirely using Apple products. This ranged from the then-current iPhone 6 and iPad Air 2 to MacBook FaceTime cameras.

More recently, a number of late night TV shows have used the iPhone for filming. In March, Conan O’Brien announced that he would full his new shows with an iPhone. Guests Skype in to the show for interviews. “This will not be pretty, but feel free to laugh at our attempt,” O’Brien noted at the time.