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HomeColumnsEnd of Week Production NotesEnd of Week Production Notes 7/23/21: Sean Penn Demands Vaccines, Newsom Signs...

End of Week Production Notes 7/23/21: Sean Penn Demands Vaccines, Newsom Signs New CA Tax Credit, and More News


We made it through another week. Well, most of us have anyway.

Gangs of London
Gangs of London (Sky)

We start this week’s Production Notes the same way we’ve been starting far too many news columns recently, with reports of another production being shut down due to COVID-19. This time, it’s the Sky/AMC series Gangs of London, which became the fourth or fifth UK production to have to shut down when someone on the crew tested positive for COVID, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The gangland drama was in the middle of filming its second season when it had to be shutdown for 10 days for proper isolation and contact tracing. A spokesman from Sky said: “Throughout this time, the safety of our colleagues and customers remains our number one priority. Gangs of London S2 production has temporarily been suspended with cast and crew now self-isolating. We will return to production as soon as it is safe to do so.”

But that wasn’t the only production that got hit by COVID this week, as the HBO series, Westworld, was also hit by the pandemic while filming its fourth season due to a positive COVID test from a production member, although that will only pause for two days next week to do the needed contact tracing and isolation. Those two shows join American Horror StoryHouse of the DragonBridgerton and Matilda as the growing list of pandemic-stricken productions, most of those in the UK.

Maybe it’s not surprising that the debate over vaccinations is reaching a boiling point, and actor Sean Penn became the first high-profile actor to walk off a show, as he refused to return to the set of his Watergate limited series, Gaslit, with Julia Roberts, until everyone on the production was vaccinated. The Starz series producer, NBCUniversal, did already require vaccines for everyone in Zone A and even provided an on-site vaccination clinic, but Penn has offered to facilitate his own “mandatory-for-all” vaccination effort, free of charge, through his nonprofit organization Community Organized Relief Effort.

Governor Newsom (center) signs new Senate Bill 144 tax credit

Meanwhile, in California, the rate of COVID spread is surging due to the more susceptible Delta variant, but that didn’t stop Governor Gavin Newsom from expanding the California film/tax credit with an additional $330 million over the next two years, including $150 million specifically for promoting new soundstage development and workforce diversity. The soundstage incentive provides credits for productions that film in newly renovated or constructed facilities and meet diversity targets that reflect California’s population.

Senate Bill 144 also increases funding for the state’s existing production tax credit with an additional $180 million for TV projects. The funds will be allocated over the next two fiscal years, with $75 million each year targeting recurring series and $15 million targeting relocating series. It passed the State Senate 37-0 and the State Assembly 62-0, demonstrating the bipartisan support to keep California competitive and boosting diversity.

Newsom appeared with California Film Commission Executive Director Colleen Bell at Hollywood’s Sunset Gower Studios at a ceremony to proclaim the good news for California production. Bell said in a statement, “Our existing tax credit program has a long track record of success, and this forward-looking action by Governor Newsom and the legislature will help us compete even more effectively. It’s great to see our lawmakers work together to keep production jobs here at home and ensure that Californians from all backgrounds have access to career opportunities in our state’s signature industry.”

More information can be found on Governor Newsom’s website. The California Film Commission is currently working on regulations and protocols to implement this tax credit expansion, and you can check for updates at the CFC website’s Tax Credit Section.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also announced that he was dedicating a nice chunk of change to the arts. Unfortunately (depending on your perspective), the $100 million for the New York City Musical and Theatrical Production Tax Credit is being used to help with the recovery of New York’s theater scene, rather than going to film or television production. Broadway is set to start reopening in September and the following months, and this credit is hoping to jump-start the portion of New York’s entertainment industry that will help bring tourist activity back to New York City. Because there’s nothing better during a pandemic for a city that’s already tamped down COVID-19 *twice* to invite in tourists from places that haven’t done so well. What could possibly go wrong?

Cuomo said, “New York is not ‘New York’ without theatre, but for more than a year and a half visitors and residents were unable to enjoy the unparalleled experience of a live stage performance. Theatrical productions support thousands of jobs and showcase performances and artists that reflect our state’s great talent and diversity. With the state’s coronavirus restrictions lifted, these tax credits will help to restart this quintessentially New York industry more quickly.”

(Where is the money for the New York City movie theaters Cuomo shut down for a full year while reopening them in every area around the five boroughs?)

The Tragedy of MacBeth (A24/Film at Lincoln Center)

Yesterday, the New York Film Festival, which will hold its 59th edition at Film at Lincoln Center, announced that Joel Coen‘s The Tragedy of MacBeth would open the festival this year on September 24. The movie stars Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Frances McDorman, who won her third Oscar earlier this year, and it’s scheduled to be released later this year by A24.

Leslie Grace
Leslie Grace in In the Heights (Warner Bros.)

But some things remain the same, including some high-profile casting as this week saw In the Heights’ breakout star Leslie Grace being picked to star as Barbara Gordon in the Batgirl feature film for HBO Max. The long-in-development DC Comics project, which once had Joss Whedon attached, will be directed by Bad Boys for Life filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, based on a screenplay by Christina Hodson (Birds of Prey, The Flash), with Kristin Burr producing.

BAFTA-winning British actor Michaela Cole was recently nominated for her first Emmy — actually three Emmys! — for her HBO show, I May Destroy You, and she’s the latest actor to join Marvel Studios‘  Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, which has begun filming in Atlanta, reported by Variety. There are no details on whom Coel might play, but that’s pretty normal for Marvel.

The wonderful Michelle Monaghan (True DetectiveGone Baby Gone) just booked a dual role as the lead in Netflix’s psychological thriller limited series, Echoes. She will play identical twins Leni and Gina in the series from Executive Producers and Co-Showrunners Brian Yorkey (13 Reasons Why) and Quinton Peeples (Runaways).

The intriguing logline calls Echoes “a mystery thriller about two identical twins, Leni and Gina, who share a dangerous secret: Since they were children, they have secretly swapped lives, culminating in a double life as adults. They share two homes, two husbands and a child, but everything in their perfectly choreographed world is thrown into disarray when one of the sisters goes missing. Though identical, each sister is unique. Leni is the sister that is content to stay home, marry her childhood sweetheart, raise her daughter and help run the beautiful horse farm where everyone lives together rooted in their long shared history. Meanwhile, Gina is the rebellious sister who turned her back on all that and escaped to Los Angeles where she rose to quick fame writing about a darker undertow that informed her Southern childhood.”

Three Women
Three Women (Simon & Shuster)

Not to be outdone, the almost equally wonderful Shailene Woodley (Big Little Lies) was cast to star in Showtime‘s drama series Three Women, although she will only be playing one woman, and not any of the three in the title, this news according to Deadline.

The hour-long series is based on Lisa Thaddeo‘s best-selling non-fiction book went to Showtime in a major bidding war two summers ago with plans to begin filming this fall. Taddeo will adapt her own book and exec. produce, along with showrunner Laura Eason, Kathy Ciric and Emmy Rossum, while Louise Friedberg (Y: The Last Man) will direct the first two episodes and exec. produce.

Three Women is described as “an intimate, haunting portrayal of American female desire, three women are on a crash course to radically overturn their lives.” It tells the story through the voice of Woodley’s Gia (essentially an avatar for Taddeo), a “writer grieving the loss of her family, who persuades three spectacular “ordinary” women to tell her their stories.”  There’s Indiana homemaker Lina, who is “a decade into a passionless marriage when she embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming and transforms her life”; Sloane, a glamorous Northeastern entrepreneur, who has a committed open marriage with Richard, until two sexy new strangers threaten their aspirational love story; and Maggie, a student in North Dakota, weathers an intense storm after accusing her married English teacher of an inappropriate relationship.

Also from Deadline, more cast has joined Hereditary director Ari Aster‘s next movie, Disappointment Blvd., produced and financed by A24, including Parker Posey, stage great Stephen McKinley Henderson, and  Zoe Lister-Jones, whose latest film, How It Ends, hit select theaters this week. Written and directed by Aster, the movie is Joaquin Phoenix‘s follow-up to winning the Oscar for Todd Phillips‘ Joker, and it also stars Nathan Lane, Pattie Lupone, Amy Ryan, and Kylie Rogers.  All that’s known about Aster’s follow-up to 2018’s Midsommar is that it’s “an intimate, decades-spanning portrait of one of the most successful entrepreneurs of all time.” It’s produced by Aster and Lars Knudsen under their Square Peg banner with co-financing by Access Industries, whose Len Blavatnik and Danny Cohen are exec. producers, as are IPR.VC‘s Elisa Alvares and Timo Argillander.

Actors Anna Paquin, Cliff Curtis and  Josh Lawson have joined the cast of the Netflix family drama, True Spirit, which will begin filming in Queensland, Australia this year with backing from the local government through the Screen Queensland Production Attraction Strategy. Teagan Croft has already been cast as 16-year-old Australian Jessica Watson, who became the youngest person to sail non-stop, alone and unassisted, around the world. Paquin will play her mother, Julie Watson, while Lason will play her father, Roger. Curtis is playing Jessica’s coach, Ben Bryant. Sarah Spillane (Around the Block, This Life) is directing off her own adaptation of Jessica Watson’s bestselling memoir True Spirit with revisions from Rebecca Banner.

Lastly, at least as far as casting, Merritt Wever (Nurse JackieSignshas joined the indie feature, Midday Black Midnight Blue, the feature debut from Samantha Soule (The Queen’s Gambit) and Daniel Talbott (The Conners). Dale Soules and Shane McRae have also joined that includes Chris StackWIll Pullen, and McCaleb Burnett.

Stack stars in the film as Ian, a man isolated in his empty house on the Puget Sound who is mourning the loss of the woman he loved, Liv (Soule), who died two decades earlier. Wever will play Liv’s sister Beth, who learns how far Ian has slipped after Liv’s death.

Some more new project news…

Being Heumann
Being Heumann (Beacon Press)

Siân Heder’s wonderful Sundance-winning CODA will finally be seen by the public at large on Apple TV+ next month, but the studio has already tapped her to write and direct an adaptation of Judy Heumann‘s memoir Being Heumann with Tony-winning actress Ali Stroker (from Oklahoma!), the first Broadway actress to use a wheelchair for mobility, looking at playing the main role. Heder is producing the film with David Permut and his Permut Presentations, along with Heumann’s managers John W. Beach and Kevin Cleary of Gravity Squared Entertainment. Heumann and her book’s co-author Kristen Joiner will be executive producers, while Alex Astrachan is co-producer. Heumann’s activism was the cornerstone for the Oscar-nominated documentary Crip Camp, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama. The movie will explore Heumann’s efforts to plan the sit-in protest in San Francisco to draw attention to rights for the disabled.

Actor turned filmmaker Joel David Moore (Avatar) will direct and produce the psychological thriller, Some Other Woman, which will star Amanda CrewTom Felton, and Ashley Green Khoury — the latter two from the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises respectively. Brooke Lyons and former NBA star Rick Fox also will appear in the film written by Josh Long and Angela Gulner & Yuri Baranovsky. Moore will produce with Productivity Media’s William G. Santor & Doug Murray, Balcony 9 ProductionsMax Osswald, and Jason Jallet. Exec. producers include Andrew Chang-Sang and John Hills from Productivity along with Balcony 9 Pres. Rishi Bajaj.

In the movie, Crew plays Eve Carver, a “woman whisked away to a tropical island by her husband’s work for what was only supposed to be a few months. As the months turn to years, Eve is forced to give up her own dreams as the island fever grows stronger and stronger. Reality begins to unravel around her as she encounters a strange woman (Greene) who begins taking over her life, piece by piece.”

Maybe you remember the cartoon series Battle of the Planets (or Gatchaman if you live in Japan), but people have been trying to make a live-action version of the sci-fi superhero adventure for many decades. F9 screenwriter Daniel Casey is the latest to give it a go, as he’s writing a Battle of the Planets feature for Joe and Anthony Russo (Avengers Endgame) and their production company, AGBO, as the cornerstone for a possible franchise. Casey is working with original creator Tatsunoko, to expand the original premise which became one of the most successful anime series in the United States during the ’70s.

And in more comic-based news, cousins Brian and Mark Gunn (Brightburn) are adapting the AfterShock Comics series, The Kaiju Score, for Sony Pictures and Escape Artists. The comic series by writer James Patrick and artist Rem Broo follows four characters attempting a dangerous heist during a giant monster (kaiju) attack with the writer describing the comic as “a Quentin Tarantino film taking place in some corner of a Godzilla movie.” Escape Artists’ Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, and Steve Tisch will produce along with Tony Shaw, who brought the property to Sony, as well as AfterShock Media’s Lee Kramer and Jon Kramer.

At this point, it probably doesn’t need to be said, but all of the above projects can be tracked by subscribing to our Production Listings.

We saw some new trailers this week, including two that spanned the widest gamuts of budgets possible. Denis Villeneuve‘s Dune adaptation received its third or maybe fourth trailer from Warner Bros. Pictures this past week. It gives us a better look at the planet Arrakis, more on the role played by Zendaya, and the overall story based on the book by the late Frank Herbert. Make no mistake that Dune will be a major player in the below-the-line categories come awards time, and it will be released in regular and IMAX theaters and via HBO Max on October 22.

And then we got the first trailer for Natalie Morales‘ low-budget directorial debut, Language Lessons, co-starring Mark Duplass, which found many fans when it premiered at the SXSW Film Festival back in March. It’s a very warm and funny movie that uses the technology we’ve all become far too familiar with to tell a story of friendship and romance. Shout! Studios will release the movie on September 10.

Have a good weekend, everyone! As far as new movies opening in theaters, we’ve reviewed both Paramount Pictures‘ Snake Eyes and M. Night Shyamalan‘s latest thriller, Old.

Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas
Edward Douglas has written about movies for print and the internet for over 20 years, specializing in box office analysis, reviews, and interviews. Currently, he writes features for Below the Line and Above the Line, acting as Associate Editor for the former and Interim Editor for the latter.
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