Love in the time of Coronavirus…MR speaks to Adam Mason about his lockdown-romance movie Songbird...

Songbird, directed by Adam Mason and produced by Michael Bay, was the first film to go into production at the start of the pandemic. It imagines a world in the not too distant future, where covid-19 has continued to thrive and spawn new variants, landing in the year 2024 where lockdown restrictions are tighter than ever.
Movie Ramblings caught up with Adam Mason to discuss how he and his co-writer Simon Boyes were inspired to make a film amidst the chaos and uncertainty of a global pandemic, the subsequent restrictions that may have been placed on production and how that saw them re-write the rule book to adapt the film-making process to suit the ‘new normal’ imposed by the virus.

Q. Where did the idea for Songbird come from and how did the project get greenlit amidst the pandemic?

It was pretty much from the first day of lockdown. My writing partner, a fellow Brit, Simon called me the morning that we learned that pretty much everything was being shut down and other projects ground to a complete halt. I was feeling increasingly concerned because I’ve got my wife and three kids here, and also my parents are 6,000 miles away so my anxiety was through the roof thinking about the logistics of everything. But, like I say, Simon called me and basically said we should et together via social media and make a movie. We were going to write a script together and get everyone to shoot their scenes on iphones or Zoom – something like that. We’ve made movies before with next to zero budget and just doing it for the love of making movies. That same day, we wrote out a document called ‘Songbird’. The original idea was more of a ‘Cloverfield’-esque disaster movie, with an actual monster. However, Adam Goodman came on board – he used to run Paramount and he has a fascinating outlook on the industry, and the project just snowballed into what it is today. The script morphed into less of a monster movie and more of a ‘postcard from the future’. Michael Bay came on board at that point too and this tiny idea between Simon and I became something entirely different.

Q. What was it like working with Michael Bay?

Honestly, it was all a bit surreal as I didn’t expect this project to go this way but amazing obviously. I was so honoured to work with Michael, and the rest of the cast and crew too. The calibre of talent was just amazing. I think everyone was just so happy to be working on something and intrigued to see how it was going to be done, like, how we could execute it with all the limitations of the covid-rules in place.
We were the first movie to go into production so we worked with the unions to ensure that safety was priority, we rewrote the rule book and kind of created this new way of working. We were very much working with the unions to create those protocols. That was daunting and fascinating, and ultimately worked out really well.

Q. Did the safety restrictions put any limitations on the process of making the film?

I think if anything, the limitations ended up being a positive thing. We knew we would probably have limited time with actors because of lockdown and quarantine etc, but, it actually ended up being one of the best creative experiences I’ve ever had. Initially, I had no idea how we would pull this off, it really seemed like an impossible task right from the get go. But I come from a real guerilla filmmaking background. I’m fiercely independent and have done most jobs myself, in terms of being like a one man band when it comes to filmmaking. However, with Songbird, we had Michael Bay, we had director of Photography Jacques Jouffret who is a genius, Lorne Balfe who is just a brilliant composer who has worked on some amazing projects, like the Mission Impossible movies – I’m not sure we would have got all of these people together on the same project at any other time, but the timing of everything and everyone’s intrigue to see if we could make it work just gave us this amazing opportunity and it was just a wonderful creative experience.

Q. Even though Songbird is billed as a pandemic movie, it is actually at its core a love story, it’s hopeful, even if at times a little anxiety inducing! Can you tell me a bit about the characters of Songbird?

We always knew that Nico [KJ Apa] was going to be the protagonist. He was in love with this girl, Sara, and it was a kind of Romeo and Juliet storyline. We thought of all the different story threads as different classics: there was Romeo and Juliet, Beauty and the Beast, and there was a Rapunzel storyline. We were working from those fairytale and classic tropes that you see time and again. We also knew that because the script was custom made with the restrictions of the lockdown and the pandemic in mind, everything was built from the ground up in terms of safety of the cast and crew. Also, thinking about class divides and drawing from classic literature, like Tale of Two Cities, we wanted to make sure there was diversity in the stories we were telling. Showcasing how the pandemic may affect different people, depending on background and circumstances. We wanted a blue collar hero – and Nico is that. In real life, those people were keeping us going with deliveries and out there doing it before there was any hint of a vaccine – we wanted to show different sides of the coin and have those lives intertwine within the narrative. Ultimately at its core it is about overcoming loneliness.

Q. Yes, that comes through for sure. I personally love Dozer’s line, ‘I was on lockdown way before it was fashionable’ which is in reference to his isolation due to a disability. This line really spoke to me as I have experienced isolation and lockdown due to illness, and I’m sure many other people will relate too – was it important for you to include commentary about living with a disability during he pandemic?

Yes, when Simon and I were writing we wanted to find the characters who would have the most interesting stories. We wanted to look at people who would be most affected by the pandemic and Dozer’s story felt important. He’s a war veteran, he’s in a wheelchair – again, it is about different forms of loneliness and finding these five different stories that all somehow interconnect.

Q. Were you tempted to go full-out sci-fi dystopian with Songbird or did you want to keep it recogniseable for the audience? Many of the scenes feel possible, like the pandemic could have gone that way…

I was trying to make a very hopeful, romantic story – that happened to be set on the canvas of a pandemic. So we didn’t want to go too ‘sci-fi’ or dystopian, it needed to feel like a postcard from the future. Sometimes we were toying with an idea, wondering if it was a bit far-fetched, only for it to happen in real life a day later or so. We were looking at the idea of imposing a curfew [in the film], and we kind of debated weather that felt overly dystopian, then that evening, LA was put on a lockdown with a curfew, helicopters overhead announcing the curfew – it was more dystopian than anything I could have come up with! The whole thing has been totally surreal.

Q. The idea of a pandemic movie – [one that specifically emulates the same real life virus sweeping the globe] – being released whilst we are living through it was at times polarizing to audiences – did you expect the reaction?

I can totally understand where people are coming from, although it is hard to not feel a bit attacked. When you first hear the idea – a pandemic movie, or a movie specifically about Covid, the first reaction is, ‘that’s a bad idea’. I understand that there is so much emotion and feeling tied up in the pandemic, because I’ve been through it too, I think everyone has a sense of ownership over the pandemic and what we have collectively been through. I hope that once people watch it, they’ll see that it is ultimately hopeful and romantic. It was cathartic I think. This was a rare opportunity to make something where everyone in the world moreless is experiencing the same thing at the same time. I wasn’t in any way trying to make a political movie, it was more about these enforced barriers we were all facing, the isolation away from loved ones and how that would play out in different scenarios.

Songbird is now available on Video on Demand platforms

About The Author

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing - although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.