Hollywood’s Pandemic Diaries: How execs and creatives are working, and coping, at home

April 1, 2020, 4:00 PM UTC

There are few industries that rival Hollywood’s in rigor or relentlessness.

So how do those who work inside one of the world’s most lucrative and cutthroat businesses continue to thrive from home during a global pandemic? To find out, Fortune polled eight top creatives and executives via email about how they are coping, staying productive, and not losing hope (or too much sleep) after transitioning their hectic livelihoods to the home front.

These responses have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Whom did we talk to?

Helen Estabrook
Producer (TV: HBO’s Mrs. Fletcher, Hulu’s Casual; film: Tully, Whiplash)
Residence “A house in Los Angeles with my partner, [actor] Tommy Dewey.”

Liz Garbus
Filmmaker (Netflix’s Lost Girls, What Happened Miss Simone?), Story Syndicate
Residence “The wonderful borough of Brooklyn, with my two kids and husband, fellow Story Syndicate filmmaker Dan Cogan.”

Amy Israel
Executive Vice President, Scripted Programming, Showtime Networks (Billions, Black Monday)
Residence: “In a house in Silver Lake in Los Angeles with my husband, [producer/director] R.D. Robb, our two children, and our dog, Moxie.”

Lewis Kay
Publicist (Tiffany Haddish, Jack Black, Awkwafina), cofounder/CEO Kovert Creative
Residence “In Los Angeles in a house with my wife and two sons, 13 and 5.”

Frankie Shaw
Actor/writer/director/producer (Showtime’s SMILF, HBO’s Wifey by Judy Blume)
Residence “In a house in Los Angeles with my husband, writer Zach Strauss, 11-year-old son, Isaac, and dog, Ernie.”

Tim Simons
Actor (HBO’s Veep, Hulu’s Looking for Alaska) and writer
Residence “In Silver Lake in a house with my wife and two kids.”

J. Smith-Cameron
Actor (HBO’s Succession, SundanceTV’s Rectify)
Residence “New York City in a Manhattan apartment with my husband, [playwright/filmmaker] Kenneth Lonergan, our teenage daughter, Nellie, one dog, and one cat.”

Joanne Wiles
Literary and talent agent, ICM Partners (Mark Duplass, Paula Patton, Marc Maron)
Residence “In Los Angeles, in a house with my kids and a menagerie of animals.”

The most challenging part of being at home:

Smith-Cameron: “Cabin fever and feeling worried. As of now, we are still well. When I think of vulnerable people, I feel lucky. But none of us is safe. That’s haunting.”

Estabrook: “We aren’t sure when production [in Hollywood] resumes; it’s been hard to find motivation to start something from scratch. New ideas feel incredibly heavy at the moment.”

Garbus: “We’re lucky that our kids started online school immediately—we’ve been working while they’re occupied. The hardest things are the unknowns, my outrage at the federal mismanagement, and, wow, a lot of dishes.”

Kay: “Balancing working remotely with caring for kids. I also have a puppy, Annie, who likes to bark. Calls are trickier.”

Shaw: “Constantly thinking about my friend Sonya, who’s an ER doctor in New York. Global stress, suffering, fear, and loss. And my brother, who’s a chef in Hawaii with two young kids. Not sure how long he can survive. So, all of this.”

Simons: “It’s been incredibly hard to, all of a sudden, run a homeschool.”

Wiles: “Listening to CNN 24/7. And being a short-order cook for my kids.”

My new daily schedule:

Estabrook: “Still working on one—it’s been all over the place as meetings shifted to calls and videoconferences. The main goal has been limiting time on social media.”

Garbus: “Up at 7:30 a.m., breakfast. At 8:30 the kids go to ‘school,’ and I run/walk with our new puppy. I start work around 9:30; break for lunch with kids midday. Late afternoon/early evening, we do online workout videos, play games and with the dog; then dinner and relax before bed.”

Israel: “Waking up naturally at 5:00 a.m.—anxiety alarm clock! Read news, make coffee, meditate, and take the dog for a three-mile walk. Then a full work and school day. Nightly family dinners have been incredible — a throwback to my 1970s childhood in Brooklyn.”

Kay: “Getting up later than normal at eight, check Twitter, work, break with the boys, help with homework, Twitter, work, Twitter, lunch, work, PE, Twitter, and clean up before dinner.”

Frankie Shaw works alongside her son at home in Los Angeles.
Courtesy Frankie Shaw

Shaw: “Up at five-ish, get my son up at 8:15, then eat/write/stress/eat/read the news. My husband has organized a daily Zoom meditation, which is nice. And sleep by 11 p.m.”

Simons: “I haven’t been staying up late; patience is a precious commodity. Being tired only robs you of it.”

Favorite meals or new cooking experiences:

Smith-Cameron: “There’s an Asian market near us, so every meal’s had a pan-Asian influence. Nellie and I are fans of The Great British Bake Off, so I also bought stuff to make the Victoria Sandwich Cake.”

Estabrook: “Nearly every recipe [New York Times food columnist] Alison Roman’s published.”

Garbus: “We made challah bread as a family!”

Israel: “A lot of fish and vegetables, and meals from one of our favorite restaurants, All Time in Los Feliz, to help support businesses during this difficult time.”

Shaw: “I basically wait around until the next time I can eat more boxed Annie’s mac-and-cheese.”

Simons: “I think we do a good job of teaching our kids the value of money, but it’s been helpful for them to see that food waste is also bad. Too often we’d pour out the last of a cup of milk, or a half-eaten dinner they didn’t like.”

Wiles: “Frozen foodswhen you can get them! They’re like gold now.”

What I can (and can’t) do from home:

Smith-Cameron: “Production stopped on the indie I was filming, and Succession is suspended. No one knows when either will revive, but producers seem committed, so we’ll see.”

Estabrook: “Development—putting projects together, readying them for production—can still be done. What can’t are the social aspects of producing, like lunch meetings and figuring out ways to collaborate.”

Brooklyn resident and filmmaker Liz Garbus working at home with her new puppy.
Courtesy Liz Garbus

Garbus: “I’ve been busy reading scripts and, since we’ve shifted to remote editing, reviewing cuts, and giving notes for upcoming series and films. If this all extends past the summer, it will be a real issue.”

Israel: “Watching cuts of Billions, reading scripts, meetings, and calls. Soon we’ll be taking virtual pitches to keep our pipeline robust.”

Kay: “Most of my job is calling, emailing, and texting; if Wi-Fi works, I can function. But I miss seeing my team; we get a lot done just being together.”

Shaw: “We’ve had some pitches get postponed, so writing is a welcome distraction right now.”

Simons: “Acting requires flying and being in large groups, so that isn’t happening. I’m lucky to also be a writer and am turning in drafts, while also running a fucking homeschool.”

Wiles: “I’m trying to keep clients’ movies together and break young talent, because now there’s time to do so.”

My go-to technology:

Estabrook: “Zoom. So much Zoom.”

Israel: “Zoom, also FaceTime, and I’ve found it heartening to have ‘virtual cocktails’ with friends.”

L.A. publicist Lewis Kay captured his son Andrew doing “preschool Zoom” while the former attempted to get his work done at home, too.
Courtesy of Lewis Kay

Kay: “Sorry, Zoom, but we are a BlueJeans company. It’s been vital. Xbox, too, for keeping the boys entertained in between schoolwork.”

Wiles: “Zoom and TikTok.”

Something I’d been meaning to do for ages that I’m finally tackling:

Smith-Cameron: “Tidying my desk and closets—though you can’t really tell—and studying Italian in the half-assed way I always have.”

Estabrook: “Very slowly cleaning out my inbox.”

Israel: “Organizing my photo library in order to make photo books and home movies. Also, I’m planning to channel my best Marie Kondo and organize every corner of my house.”

Kay: “The first weekend, I cleaned out my garage. I don’t foresee another project like that.”

Wiles: “Still hoping to clean closets, organize, and repaint. I haven’t been too motivated on that front— yet. I’ve needed to acclimate to the new normal.”

“Succession” star J. Smith-Cameron (right) with her husband, Kenneth Lonergan (“Manchester by the Sea”), at the opening of “The Height of the Storm” in 2019.
Bruce Glikas—WireImage?Getty Images

Favorite or most creative way to exercise:

Smith-Cameron: “This has been a trial. I try to walk outside, but it’s hard to maintain a six-foot distance from people. C’mon, New Yorkers!”

Estabrook: “A ridiculous number of indoor online workouts on YouTube.”

Garbus: “Our dog helps with fresh air and jogging. I’ve also subscribed to Obé [online]. You can do crunch classes, vinyasa flows, or restorative stretches.”

Israel: “I took a four-mile, six-feet-apart hike up past the Hollywood sign with my dog and two friends.”

Kay: “My oldest son has a daily PE requirement of 30 to 40 minutes. One day I had him bring full Sparkletts water bottles up and down the steps. I was like Mickey in Rocky, telling him what to do.”

Shaw: “The most I get is going from my bed to the TV room.”

Go-to screen-based entertainment:

Smith-Cameron:The Leftovers—a curious choice for a dystopian time. Also, movies I missed during awards season.”

Estabrook: “The Criterion Channel and Tiger King on Netflix, which is delightfully bonkers.”

Israel: “Even though I work on the show…Black Monday. Ridiculously funny and relevant.”

Kay: “I loved Mythic Quest on Apple TV+.”

Shaw: Schitt’s Creek.

Simons: “Finally watching [Disney+’s ] The Mandalorian with the kids and old golf tournaments because there aren’t any sports on.”

Books or reading material:

Smith-Cameron: “A few books, that aren’t out yet, that I’m honored to have been asked to read by their authors.”

Estabrook:Weather by Jenny Offill— as wonderful as I’d hoped.”

Shaw:When Things Fall Apart [by Pema Chödrön], and [Srecko Horvat’s] The Radicality of Love.”

Wiles: “Fashion magazines, the Sunday Times, and Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill.

Tim Simons
Tim Simons at an HBO For Your Consideration event for “Veep” at the Landmark Theaters on Aug. 20, 2019 in Los Angeles.
Jeff Kravitz‚FilmMagic, for HBO via Getty Images

A silver lining to all of this?

Smith-Cameron: “The gentleness of getting through the day and watching out for fellow humans.”

Garbus: “This time of togetherness will have a lasting impact on the kind of citizens my kids will become. Interdependence and social responsibility have never been clearer.”

Israel: “Beyond substantial positive effects on the environment, I’m grateful to have gotten off the fast train of modern life and be completely present for my family.”

Kay: “I don’t miss airports. And I like the air quality in L.A. and seeing my kids much more.”

Shaw: “Kindness. Connection. Bringing neighbors food. Dolphins in Italy. Mother Nature getting much needed R&R.”

Simons: “A societal shift toward acknowledging who really keeps our country going: teachers, grocery-store employees, doctors, and nurses.”

Wiles: “The world has been spinning too fast and off its axis for a while; a complete reset was inevitable. I’m hoping we learn how to show more kindness and respect.”

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