Like many of us battling the pandemic, Kizzy Corbett turned to guided meditation to help manage her anxiety. But Corbett has more concerns than most: The 35-year-old immunologist has spent the past year leading a team at the National Institutes of Health's Vaccine Research Center to work with Moderna to develop a vaccine.
"When you give 30,000 people a vaccine or a placebo and let them out into the world, you're really asking the world to give you the answer," he says in an interview from his sofa as incense drifts past him. . "There's really nothing you can do right now."
The scene is one of many moving human moments that occur in it.race for the vaccine, a new co-production between CNN Films and the BBC, titled to be broadcast as BBC Two Horizon SpecialVACCINE: The Inside Story.
The project came about in early 2020 when Archie Baron of UK-based Wingspan Productions began working with Janet Tobias, whose film was made in 2017.invisible enemystudied the threat of emerging infectious diseases and global pandemics. Forrace for the vaccinethe filmmakers joined scientists from four continents to meet the challenge of developing an effective vaccine against a variety of personal and professional obstacles.
"I was in contact with people in China and the concern grew rapidly in January," recalls Tobias. "I also knew some of the science teams that went to work when the second sequel was released on January 10. At the time, it was an interesting science problem that they really needed to work on, but no one understood the scope."
"It was already clear that the roadmap was there and that scientists, a relatively small group, were the way to go," says Baron. "So Janet and I thought the best way to do it was to build teams in the US and UK and also reach out to people all over the world. We already had an idea that this would be the global story of a number relatively small number of vaccine scientists who would make the difference between success and failure.”
Baron and Tobias quickly created a pitch and pitched it to CNN's Amy Entelis and Tom Coveney, the BBC's director of research.Horizonte.
Baron admits his keynote address to the BBC in March 2020 was "very safe": his working titleCOVID: how the battle was won. But a year later, her vision is coming true, the vaccine is being rolled out around the world, and her movie is scheduled to air on both sides of the Atlantic in April.
For Entelis, who had continued to work with Tobiasinvisible enemy, it was an easy decision to board. "A lot of times we don't get the opportunity to see real-time stories for a CNN movie just because of how our distribution is set up," he explains. “Usually our movies follow the event for a couple of years. But in this case, the story was so compelling, the approach was so compelling, and they offered to change that very quickly. For that reason, we felt it was the right contemporary story to tell us."
Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, was also involved from the start, stepping in as a producer. He narrates the American film, the only stylistic difference between the two versions. "I was able to use a lot of the interviews I did to help with that," says Gupta. “I know all the vaccine manufacturers, many of them personally. The head of Operation Warp Speed was someone he had known for a long time. [My job is] to help get access to some of these people and point people in the right direction for the documentary.”
The team is completed by HHMItangled banking studies, and her boss Sean Carroll, one of the film's executive producers. In addition to financing the film, Tangled Bank Studios will also handle educational distribution.
To direct the film, the executive producers formed an unusual partnership: co-directors who had never met before. Catherine Gale is an award-winning British filmmaker and former virologist. Tobias had been one of the judges at a science film festival; the jury of her honored Gale for an aptly titled BBC Four filmthe joy of winning. Caleb Hellerman is a medical journalist and filmmaker who produced a documentary FRONTLINE in the early days of the pandemic,coronavirus pandemic, which centered the story in Seattle.
Gale laughs when asked what would have happened if they hadn't hit it off as principals in an arranged marriage. "It would have been very difficult, but it wasn't," she says. "We're a very small team and we talk all the time, and Janet and Archie are incredibly involved."
Production follows vaccine development teams at Oxford; London; Washington DC.; Boston; University of Queensland, Australia; and some unknown places. Hellerman directed filming in the US and Gale took care of the rest of the world, splitting the workload more or less evenly in terms of cast and stories. In addition to Corbett, the teams were followed by Kathrin Jansen, head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer; and Katie Ewer, a senior immunologist developing the vaccine at the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca.
In most cases, each director managed the on-site equipment remotely, as well as conducting regular update sessions with the scientists using zoom and additional cameras.
Gale created a technical specification so that the film's aesthetic would be consistent across multiple shots. "We were aware that with so many different pieces of material coming from so many different places, it could look like a jumble," she says. "So we were pretty specific about the cameras we wanted to use, how we wanted to shoot, the [handheld] style, the lenses, etc." Each shoot came with a specific shooting script for the crews to work on.
Seeing how Gale works was enlightening for Hellerman. "It was very interesting to me. It's a different type of movie than what I'm used to, but I feel like we complement each other very well," he says. “Not only is she a brilliant scientist (everyone on this film crew is an expert in science and medicine with a certain level of comfort), but above all, she writes brilliant scripts and pays close attention to detail. I hope I have been able to understand and learn from this critical approach.”
Of course, the horrific pandemic has brought its own set of challenges to filming, as crews must navigate a mosaic of records and access the entire world. Baron says, however, that the team, helped by building early relationships, managed to get into the lives of contributors. "We enjoy all the access we could want and are sensitive to health conditions and local COVID protocols."
A big challenge in any production, Entelis says, is editing the film remotely. “People have to find new ways to communicate. And in my experience it takes a little longer because it takes longer to communicate, changes take longer, sending and returning takes longer. Fortunately, technology gives us a way to do it.”
Despite all the moving parts, this production was surprisingly smooth, and according to Tobias, continued collaboration is key. "You can assume that it would have been very difficult because we are apart. But I think as a group we have a common goal, we understand that divide and conquer works and we have very different talents."
According to Baron, something unusual for a co-production is that Tangled Bank Studios' clients and production partners often met via Zoom. He finds that when producing a film for three clients with different audiences and programming needs, it helps if they can learn from each other. "We share a lot with them, they all share with each other, so it feels like a mission and a movie, and that's the right way to do it."
According to Gale, the remote conditions sometimes led her and Caleb to have more connections with their associates. She used to approach the Australian employees at the end of the day. "He could just show up, we'd chat, and it was a really cool way to keep that connection and at the same time keep the storytelling consistent. I wonder if I should shoot abroad in the future."
The relationships with the collaborators gave rise to a series of emotional stories that form the backbone of the narrative. At one point, Ewer, the Oxford scientist, tearfully recalls how her mother died suddenly just before Ewer's paper on the efficacy of the vaccine was published in The Lancet medical journal. In another scene, an Australian scientist describes how he has just found out that his project has lost funding.
The narrative that accompanies the race to develop a vaccine unfolds alongside the news archive on the spread of the pandemic around the world. “These are all people who, in different ways, were well prepared, in ways that have been waiting for this moment, but at the same time they are not used to calling the attention of the whole world to solve the problem. problem," says Hellerman. "So I think there are a lot of ups and downs and heartaches along the way."
When we went to press, the film was in the final stages of editing and, according to Entelis, "could reach our audience when they are still very eager for this information."
"We are incredibly privileged witnesses," says Baron. "It should be a really important first draft for future history."
Tobias says the film will give the world a chance to see true heroes succeed in a global effort. “This is an example, and it will change science, of how the world's collective intelligence has solved this problem in many ways and has accelerated the way we do science; we will never be the same again.”
Gupta agrees. "I think, in a way, it's going to be scary for people to see this -- I mean, how much worse could it have been if we hadn't had the scientists who have been working around the clock for the last year to help." develop these vaccines. But I also believe that if you do, you will be incredibly proud of those around you.
race for the vaccinepremiered May 15 on CNN, andVACCINE: The Inside Storyit will premiere on BBC Two at a date to be determined.
Carol Nahrateaches documentary film and digital media at Syracuse University, London. She is a consultant to Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK and hosts the DocHouse Conversations podcast.