These “this is how the sausage is made” stories never get many comments, but I found this Variety story fascinating and horrifying. It’s not just about the process of making movies in a global economy on the brink of a worldwide depression, it’s about how to proceed with business-as-usual filmmaking during a deadly pandemic. The point of Variety’s cover story is that there is no business as usual, and there won’t be for a while. Plus, industries like Hollywood are receiving zero guidance from the federal government, so they’re basically talking to various state and local leaders about how to proceed. Variety starts with Tyler Perry and how he was the first big-name person to announce a restart on production:
Someone had to take the leap. After months of coronavirus-imposed shutdowns, Tyler Perry announced May 12 that he will begin production at his Atlanta-based Tyler Perry Studios on the second season of his BET show “Sistas” on July 8, and “The Oval” three weeks later. As he ramps up production, Perry will be among the very first in the business to put into action a profusion of untested ideas that have preoccupied the entertainment industry on how to get back to work in the age of COVID-19.
“I’m excited about it,” Perry tells Variety. “I’m excited about being able to make sure that people can take care of themselves and support their families, but also excited about setting a template here that I think could work everywhere.”
He’ll test the cast and his “drastically” scaled back Atlanta-based crew when they arrive at the studio and before they begin production, and four more times during the two-and-a-half-week shoots for each show. Everyone on the set will wear protective masks, and group scenes will be held until after the fourth day on set, when everyone has been tested again. Meals will be served in different “catering pods” on the largest soundstage to maximize social distancing. Perry will fly out-of-town cast members in on his private plane, and, since the studio is a decommissioned U.S. Army compound, everyone working on the production will live on campus.
Not everyone is on board with the idea of going back into production before there is medicinal treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19. One director of a studio movie that was in pre-production when everything shut down thinks such plans are irresponsible. The filmmaker, who spoke to Variety under the condition of anonymity, resents that he was sent to scout locations in March when it was clear to him that the world was in a pandemic, and he thinks any plan to restart is ludicrous. “A movie can’t work with masks and social distancing — everyone is all over each other all the time,” he says. “To not face that, either you’re in denial or you’re ignorant, or you’re pretending to not know so the company isn’t liable.”
That is an insane and expensive level of “protection” for a film/TV set, and I can’t see how other productions could guarantee anything like that. I appreciate that Perry is trying to get people back to work and I’m sure there will be a lot of eyes on him and this experiment. Variety also spoke to Zoe Kravitz, who was in London working on The Batman when production closed down. She’s now in lockdown in England, still waiting to see if they’ll get back to production any time soon:
Actor Zoë Kravitz, who had to suspend work playing Catwoman opposite Robert Pattinson in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” says that part of her is “hoping to wake up every day to an email or a phone call saying, ‘We’re ready to go.’” But when that could be remains unclear.
“I’m in touch with everybody, and everyone’s ready to go when it’s safe,” she says. “But no, we have no idea.” The issue is simply that considering the massive crews, complex stunt work and elaborate sets, costumes and makeup, large-scale productions might be too big to reasonably accommodate COVID-19 precautions without a vaccine. After all, just suiting up to play one of Batman’s most iconic rogues is not a one-person job, Kravitz says: “You have people just touching your face, touching your body all day long. I need help getting into the catsuit. I can’t do it on my own. I was probably touched more than any job, just because of the clothes and the combat and all of that.”
Variety makes an interesting point that the bigger productions (like The Batman and various Marvel films) will probably be some of the last to restart production because they’re so big, so intensive, and as Zoe says, there are working in such close quarters. There’s a theory being floated that independent filmmaking may benefit from the pandemic, because they’re smaller, faster and cheaper productions which can be done with a small crew and a handful of actors in a matter of weeks. Which would be something, wouldn’t it? If this is what it took for a new wave of indie filmmakers and a move away from those bloated studio productions? The pandemic might be a massive film/cultural reset.
Photos courtesy of WENN.
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