Over the weekend, NBC News published an enlightening piece on how shows are starting to get back into production with a few tales from two of the productions that have stepped forward as pioneers in the effort.
Filmmaker Deon Taylor (The Intruder) wrote a script for a movie called Don’t Fear, which takes place during the COVID pandemic, but he then had to find a way to film it. About a group of friends who shelter in the mountains to survive the current pandemic, Taylor’s art imitated life in more ways than one, as he and his cast and crew of 70 people had to hole up in the mountains near Lake Tahoe to shoot the film. This quarantine bubble idea mirrors what Tyler Perry has been doing with his “Camp Quarantine,” the major difference being that Taylor is filming on location.” Daily temperature checks and COVID testing have become the new normal in production, and that was the case with Don’t Fear, as well.
The prolific Taylor, who directs most of his movies under his own Hidden Empire Film Group banner with partner, producer Roxanne Avent, told NBC News, “Look, the reality is we’re all risking our lives to make this film right now. Every night we sit in the car and we go home and we go, ‘Man, did I do it right? I hope no one’s infected, I hope I’m not infected. I hope I didn’t do something silly and take the mask off in the wrong area.’ That’s serious, man.”
Taylor’s psychological thriller Fatale was scheduled to be released by Lionsgate over the summer, but was pushed back to October. The filmmakers has two other films in the can, the horror film Akuma and the horror-comedy The House Next Door — a sequel to the filmmaker’s early hit, Meet the Blacks. Taylor also has half a dozen projects in some stage of development and pre-production to tackle once he finishes filming Don’t Fear.
The NBC story also has a few quotes from the crew of Universal’s Jurassic World: Dominion, directed by Colin Trevorrow, that restarted production at Pinewood Studios in London with strict precautions to prevent the spread of COVID. Besides quarantining those coming from the U.S. for two weeks, everyone on set is wearing masks, including the actors, who wear special face shields to avoid smearing make-up. The crew, usually made up of 250 technicians, has been cut in half, according to the story.
Trevorrow returned to the long-running Jurassic World franchise, having not directed the 2018 release, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He was supposed to direct the movie that became last year’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, but similarly, J.J. Abrams returned to direct the third part of that trilogy. Due to its nature, there is obviously a lot more secrecy on this set, which is why the crew could only talk about the conditions anonymously.
This production system of protocols involves frequent temperature checks and color-coded wrist bands to separate the crew necessary for filming from those in construction, rigging and other crafts. All the lighting and camera set-ups are completed before the actors arrive on set.
What this all means is that people in the film and television business are getting back to work, taking the proper precautions. While there will be strict limitations particularly when it comes to the normal social aspects of being on set, it will hopefully still allow the creatives to be creative. Unfortunately, the need for social distancing might mean that roles and duties are prioritized, meaning less people on set and therefore, less jobs. The bigger productions will still need hundreds of crew.
The NBC News story also confirms that while California Governor Gavin Newsom put the state into lockdown on July 13, this did not include those in the film and television industry — estimated at 700,000 jobs and $16 billion in wages — who are considered “essential workers” and hopefully immune from a further shutdown.
This is still a little bit scary, because it assumes every California production will maintain the safe-distancing and mask-wearing that helps avoid the spread of COVID. Indeed, a task force called Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee has penned a 22-page document on what protocols will be required for productions to resume safely. It’s definitely worth a read if you have a few minutes.
Either way, all this is temporary and a necessity for shows to keep rolling until there’s a vaccine or a better sign that anything resembling herd immunity to the COVID virus is possible, neither which looks likely until 2021.
Email me at [email protected] if you want to add to this conversation, and I’ll be back Thursday with the next “Back to Work” installment, where I’ll look at what happens when someone on a show DOES test positive for COVID.