When the COVID-19 crisis began in March, Valencia-based copywriter Jeff Hagkull found himself with a lot of time on his hands.
His business had nearly disappeared overnight, as most companies decided to severely curtail their marketing spending, and he was worried about finances.
But it also gave him an idea for a story.
He wrote Episode One of “The Sullivans in Pandemic City” that morning, and then shot it the only way he could in a world without live actors: using Playmobil toys, doll furniture, decorative duct tape, and construction paper.
The show follows the five members of the Sullivan family as they (perhaps unwisely) travel to see their Gam-Gam Sullivan in the early days of the pandemic.
The family overcomes their hesitation to visit because she has something they desperately need: toilet paper.
Hagkull envisioned the series running six episodes and functioning as a TV writing resume, but along the way, it also became a running record of the times we were all living through.
“The first few drafts of Episode One didn’t concern toilet paper at all,” he said, “but by the time I was ready to shoot it, people had started hoarding toilet paper, store shelves were empty, and it was all over the news. So it only made sense to make that the reason for their visit.”
The second episode hinged on social distancing, and what the six feet rule would do to everyday life. And from there the show began documenting all the ways our lives have changed during the past four months.
In addition to the toilet paper shortage and social distancing, the show featured lost jobs, distance learning, mask making, stay-at-home orders, public trail closings, telemedicine, a Zoom meeting, and a drive-by birthday party.
“Looking back on the series, it’s astonishing how much our lives have changed in just four months,” Hagkull said. “These six episodes were written in the moment, so viewed together they’ve started to feel like a record of these very difficult times. Hopefully a funny record.”
Although Hagkull says writing is his first love and primary focus, “The Sullivans” forced him to learn everything about the production process.
Each episode runs about seven minutes long, and, apart from a number of guest starring roles written for an actor friend, he does everything: writes, directs, shoots, animates, edits, and—using voice modification software—even voices the main cast.
“Doing all these jobs has given me a new respect and appreciation for every part of the television, film and animation industry,” he said. “After realizing how much was involved in making even this little show, you really appreciate the talent and hard work that goes into a studio production.”
Episode 1 – “Gam-Gam”
Even though the Sullivans know they probably shouldn’t visit Gam-Gam, she has something they really need.
Episode 2 – “Social Distancing”
Gam-Gam has had it up to HERE with social distancing, so it’s up to the Sullivans to convince her to take it seriously.
Episode 3 – “No Free Lunch”
Carl is having trouble finding paying work, but the Novel Coronavirus has given him a great idea: finish his novel! Unfortunately for Olivia, she has to help.
Episode 4 – “Distance Learning”
The virus is getting personal as Gam-Gam gets some bad news via Zoom.
Episode 5 – “What Comes Next”
The whole world wants to know what comes next, and the Sullivans are no different. The six of them have a lot of ideas about what they’d LIKE to do. Whether they’ll get to do them or not is the real question.
Episode 6 – “Home Sweet Home”
The Sullivans are ready to go home, and they’ve decided Gam-Gam should come with them. After all, the world just keeps getting crazier, and they’re the only family she has. Or are they?
All six episodes of “The Sullivans in Pandemic City” can be streamed now on YouTube.
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