How the film industry is planning its post-pandemic return
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic are felt in every type of industry, but the way it shut down film and television production was particularly abrupt.
Countless productions, from big budget to indie fare, have gone on hold around the globe. Some remote work continues behind the scenes, and some countries are considering allowing shoots to resume. In the meantime, those in film production are thinking hard about what comes next.
To save time while in isolation, production companies have focused on tasks like polishing scripts and connecting with writers, actors, and directors whose schedules were too busy before the pandemic hit. In some cases, video casting and contracts for future locations are being taken care of as well, says Michael Jackman, vice chair of the New York Production Alliance and executive vice president at FilmNation Entertainment (Arrival, The Big Sick).
“We’re starting to hear industrywide, that people are hoping for mid-July, late July, August, September to get back into pre-production or production,” Jackman tells Fortune. “It will obviously be subject to the realities of the world.”
“Readily available testing that is fast and accurate” would probably be most helpful to get productions back to work, Jackman says. Some, including the BBC and Tyler Perry, have thrown around the possibility of quarantining cast and crew together for productions—an idea that Jackman acknowledges might be more complicated, though not entirely out of the question.
“It will involve more sacrifice on the part of the cast and crew not seeing their families for a longer period of time, but we will treat it like we are on a film shooting in a remote location and isolate for the prep and shoot,” he says.
But testing and quarantining wouldn’t be the only practices in place as production resumes. There will likely be a number of small-scale changes on set that could even stick around permanently.
“Studios are obviously having these conversations—everything from what will people be wearing, what will makeup and hair artists… be wearing while they’re working on actors?” Jackman says, adding that those doing construction on set will likely be given their own tool sets to avoid sharing equipment.
Catering and craft service spreads will also see a change. Instead of lining up to make oneself a plate at a buffet, those on set will probably receive individually prepared meals, likely handed out by caterers in protective gear, Jackman says.
And forget being able to grab a handful of M&Ms from a craft services table. “That’s not going to happen that way anymore,” he says. “It’s going to be a much more—call it a curated process for all the little things that just sort of might be antithetical to protecting people from potential virus exposure. We’re looking at everything.”
There’s a good chance that even the practice of hiring extras will change.
“When we need 200 people, are we going to have 200 people in the crowd, or are we going to do 20 people in that crowd and start looking at CGI?” he says. “A lot of it is really evolving.”
Other possibilities under consideration include limiting the number of essential crew on a set while others monitor activity remotely; partially using virtual reality headsets for tech scouting locations; and using a cleaning crew to sanitize sets before, during, and after a shoot. And producers are also looking into which practices would serve different locations best—as Jackman points out, what works in New York City may not work in L.A.
Jackman hopes that some things, such as congregating in groups, can eventually go back to how they were pre-pandemic. Testing would also likely stop once the virus becomes less of a threat or a vaccine is developed, but other practices could remain in place in the long run.
“Hopefully the ability to gather in groups goes back to normal, and I think [the industry] would follow that,” he says. “But I definitely think a lot of these practices are going to stay because then you don’t have to enact them when you have a situation like this again.”
Jackman and his company are eager to get things moving as soon as they’re able. One project—The Map of Tiny Perfect Things—just barely completed filming before pandemic-induced shutdowns, after they worked overtime to finish ahead of schedule. Another, Misanthrope, was in pre-production in Montreal when it was shut down, but the company is staying in touch with the crew.
Though there are concerns that resources—from locations to specific crew members—will be in high demand as various delayed productions try to restart their work, Jackman says his company is small enough to be able to pivot and move quickly.
Plus, he points out, it would be a “good problem” for the industry, which has seen many of its freelance production workers suddenly unemployed, to have.
For now, everyone just has to wait, while planning carefully for the future.
“I think that this situation forces everyone to figure out how to be adaptive, how to be nimble, how to be smart, how to be creative, how to support each other, how to help each other through the complexities of this,” Jackman says. “And I think that’s important.”
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—Billions creators on releasing season five of the New York drama in uncertain times
—AMC is at war with Universal Pictures. Is it a fair fight?
—Mike Schur talks Parks and Recreation coronavirus episode
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