Phew! It’s a good thing that the first week of 2021 was quiet with no major happenings, huh? We can only wish.
While a lot was happening in Washington, DC and across the country this week, we instead want to focus on a situation that hits far closer to home, and that’s the situation with COVID-19 in Los Angeles, the very epicenter of American television production.
The sad truth is that the number of COVID cases in California has reached critical levels. After a few statements from the L.A. Depth of Health, SAF-AFTRA and the Directors Guild (DGA), a few L.A. television productions have delayed production restart a week or more. That might not be enough done in a quick enough time. In fact, a story in The Hollywood Reporter feels that these minimal delays may not be reasonable and longer production stops might be required. Right now, some hospitals in L.A. County are becoming overburdened without the number of necessary ICU beds to prevent deaths from COVID. Earlier this week, L.A. County ambulance crews were given the recommendation to not bring patients to the E.R. if they aren’t able to resuscitate them in the field. There has even been a rationing of oxygen. This is on par with the way New York City was affected by COVID in the early months of the pandemic in March and April.
Added Update: On Wednesday, a California Travel Advisory was issued by the California Department of Public Health “recommending” that those from California don’t travel more than 120 miles from home and that “non-essential travelers from other states or countries are strongly discouraged from entering California.”
The advisory goes on to say, “Amid the current COVID-19 surge. It is imperative that California take steps necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19 and contain new sources of infection,”
Even with this horrible predicament caused by COVID, production has maintained an enormous amount of protocols to keep the virus from spreading on set. More than a few productions have shut down immediately in order to allow for contact tracing as those testing positive isolate.
Due to this emergency situation, many of the studios, networks and streamers have paused production, making it one of the biggest shutdowns since the pandemic hit in March. Although that earlier shutdown seemed to help in terms of “flattening the curve,” re-openings led to a peak in California cases at around 8,900 in July. Right before Christmas, California’s COVID cases reached a seven-day average high of over 40,000. Los Angeles makes up roughly a third of the COVID cases reported but closer to half the amount of the 28,077 COVID deaths that have been reported.
FilmLA President Paul Adley told THR, “The industry has been extraordinarily responsible throughout the time of the pandemic, as demonstrated by their recent actions during the rise in cases of COVID-19 and history of strict safety protocols,” stating that the January film permit data will show a declining amount of requests in December (although that is just as likely to be due to the holidays).
Even so, California Governor Gavin Newsom has, for better or worse, deemed production exempt from the state’s recent Stay at Home order, deeming the entertainment industry “essential,” although that could change if cases and deaths continue to accelerate.
On the lower-end of the effects COVID has had on California, the planned drive-in satellite screenings announced for Southern California as part of the upcoming Sundance Film Festival have been cancelled out of safety.
Paramount Pictures has two new Co-Presidents of Production in Daria Cercek, formerly of New Line Cinema, and former 20th Century Studios exec Michael Ireland. Both of them will report to Paramount Pictures Motion Picture Group President Emma Watts with Cercek beginning her position on Monday, January 11. Ireland has been with the company since late November.
There isn’t much to share about casting this week other than the fact that Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones has joined Season 2 of Fox’s Prodigal Son as a series regular opposite Michael Sheen. She’ll be playing “Dr. Vivian Capshaw, Claremont Psychiatric’s resident MD.”
We’ll have a lot more to share about the year’s films and television series that Below the Line readers may want to consider when filling out their awards ballots, either for Oscars or for your respective guilds or societies, but Variety, as some might expect, is ahead of the curve with their own award suggestions that might be considered. It’s a good list if you want to get a head start on what to watch during any downtime you might have this month.
Another thing we’ve covered quite a lot here at Below the Line is “Virtual Production.” In advance of next week’s virtual CES (Consumer Electronics Show), Sony Electronics is the latest tech company getting into the fray, announcing a pair of new Crystal LED modular direct view displays that can be used for virtual production.
You may have already viewed “virtual production” without realizing it, whether it’s on Disney+’s The Mandalorian, the new George Clooney Netflix film The Midnight Sky, or on a reality show like Fox’s The Masked Singer. Sony is offering the C-series with high contrast ratio and B-series that accentuates high brightness, the latter being designed in conjunction with Sony Pictures Entertainment to be geared more towards the needs of production, featuring an anti-reflection coating with a matte finish, ideal for virtual sets. Sony’s Digital Media Production Center in L.A. already has one such virtual production environment using this display technology set-up, which was featured at CES 2020.
Both series are equipped with Sony’s “X1 for Crystal LED” processor and incorporate the same Crystal LED technology used in its Bravia TVs. They feature the ability to display high dynamic range images, high frame rates up to 120 frames per second and stereoscopic 3D and are fanless for quieter operation.
Both LED displays will be available this summer with no pricing available as of yet. Either way, this is one of those rare times when we might see crossover between consumer-level products and those that can be used for professional production.
Speaking of CES and consumer-level tech, earlier this week we posted a story about how Cinematographer Graham Sheldon put together remote camera packages for the front-of-camera talent on the OWN mini-series Behind Every Man. I’m sure many of our readers will have mixed feelings about this, because anything that front-of-camera can do that doesn’t require beneficial crew means one less crew member working. Undaunted, award winning filmmaker and Clio winner Ira Rosensweig realized that COVID lockdown measures and protocols led to a need for innovation in filming those who don’t want to leave their homes. So was born Crew in a Box, which Rosensweig put together with Cinematographer Dallas Sterling and VFX Supervisor Jeremy Fernsler. The “world’s first professional-quality, plug-and-play, remote video production solution” will also be making its debut at CES next week.
Here is essentially what comes within the package being offered, although we don’t have a price for it as of yet:
Crew in a Box is delivered directly to on-camera talent’s doorstep in a fully disinfected military-grade case containing a 6k cinema camera, expandable 3-foot wide LED light capable of dimming and color temperature changes, direct address teleprompter/Interrotron, a second, detachable teleprompter/Interrotron monitor for off-axis eyelines, and two professional microphones. Each component works together in a fully integrated system that is completely remotely controlled.
On-camera talent simply opens the box and plugs it in, and Crew in a Box automatically connects over the Internet to a remote team of filmmakers who control every component. This is achieved through cellular bonding, without needing to connect to the user’s home Wi-Fi network, eliminating concerns of compromised security.
Clients and crew join a video conference where they view a beautiful, high-resolution feed from the camera and participate as if they were on set, while the director appears on Crew in a Box’s Interrotron to direct the talent, creating an incredibly seamless experience for all involved. High-resolution video, up to 6K, is recorded inside the box, but clients can also choose to livestream the shoot.
UPDATE: The company behind Crew in the Box reached out to Below the Line and pointed out a number of videos showing how the technology works.
A few projects have already been shot on this, although it will be a long time before these productions could attain the standards of a well-staffed in-person production.
Not a new trailer but debuting on Netflix today is the Martin Scorsese-directed mini-series Pretend It’s a City about critic and essayist Fran Lebowitz, which is quite an entertaining series, especially if you’ve ever lived in New York City.