How Hollywood Plans to Re-Start Movie, TV Production Following Coronavirus Pandemic

Lighting technician working on a shoot - stock photo
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Say goodbye to crowded sets, cramped trailers, and the craft services table. Say hello to restricted access, masks, and boxed meals.

The major Hollywood studios are staying quiet about their plans to re-start movie and TV production in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. But behind the scenes, Hollywood is actively working on ways to bring back a vital industry that employs tens of thousands of “below-the-line” crew members.

“Social distancing will certainly be a requirement on all productions,” one insider at a major studio told Breitbart News. “We are working on plans to organize shooting crews into groups with access to certain parts of the set and significantly reduce those required around the cast and cameras.”

The studio is also in talks with vendors to procure personal protection equipment, including both masks and gloves.

Another industry source told Breitbart that studios are planning for more content to shoot on soundstage than on-location. This would give studios more control over who has access to sets, which tend to be chaotic in even the best of times.

Studios have also convened an industry-wide committee in conjunction with the Hollywood trade unions to address coronavirus concerns. For now, the committee is meeting weekly to put out a white paper intended to provide research on how the industry can get back to work, according to one source with knowledge of the situation.

The entertainment industry is a significant source of blue-collar jobs around the country, from the truck drivers who haul equipment to the caterers who keep everyone fed. A typical TV series can employ a few hundred crew members per season, while blockbuster movies easily employ many more.

Chadwick Boseman and Nate Moore in Black Panther filming (Disney/Marvel Studios, 2018)

Most of those jobs vanished after Hollywood shut down production across the board as the Chinese coronavirus swept the globe. Except for a handful of reality and talk shows, no major studio has resumed production in the U.S. and there is no official timeline for when that will happen. The Walt Disney Co. said this week during its earnings call that it has “no projections” for when its Marvel movies will resume filming. (Marvel movies shoot mostly in Georgia and Great Britain).

Privately, however, the studios are already talking with state governments about what movie and TV sets will look like, post-coronavirus.

Georgia’s film commission has been working to bolster COVID-19 testing capabilities as a way to protect crew members. “We are in constant talks with studios and production companies as they determine the best methods to ensure the safety of all cast and crew in the state,”  Georgia Department of Economic Development spokeswoman Marie Hodge Gordon told Breitbart News.

The state had five feature films and 29 series in production, with many more in pre-production, when shooting came to a halt in March due to the coronavirus outbreak. For the most recent fiscal year, the state saw 391 film and television shoots, with $9.2 billion in total wages.

Danai Gurira in The Walking Dead (Jackson Lee Davis/AMC, 2010) 

Winona Ryder, Caleb McLaughlin, Sadie Sink, and Gaten Matarazzo in Stranger Things (Jackson Davis/Netflix, 2016)

Georgia has been a popular state for Hollywood production due to the its financial incentives that include a 20 percent tax credit for certain shoots. The state could be the first to see production resume, following Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) decision to begin re-opening the state’s economy in April.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry recently announced that his Atlanta studio will reopen on a limited basis and will provide temporary housing on the studio’s campus for production crew members and staff. But the director-producer didn’t provide a time frame.

The Democratic Presidential Debate was held at Tyler Perry Studios November 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia, and the 2019 Miss Universe Pageant at Tyler Perry Studios on December 08, 2019.

Chairman of The Tyler Perry Company Tyler Perry speaks at the 7th Annual Produced By Conference at Paramount Studios on May 31, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

The goal is “to make sure that the talented staff and crews can be housed safely while getting people back to work during this unprecedented financial and health related crisis,” a spokesperson said, according to reports.

Hollywood trade unions are also expected to play a major role in reshaping the industry. Almost every aspect of movie and TV production is unionized, from the director’s chair to the make-up artists who make the stars look good for the camera. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) — which represents numerous below-the-line crafts — has seen almost all of its 150,000 members sidelined by the coronavirus.

The guilds recently pressed Congress for tax relief for their members, hoping that lawmakers would pass a bi-partisan House bill that would update an existing tax deduction in order to allow entertainment industry workers to keep more of their money.

Guild leaders emphasized safety but provided few specifics during a virtual press conference held by the AFL-CIO on Wednesday.

IATSE president Matthew Loeb said he is working with other leaders on “a uniform policy guided by medical and scientific data.”

SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director David White suggested that activity may not return to normal until there is a vaccine.

“So you’ve got to be able to test and the vaccine is viewed as the time when it can come back,” he said. The actors’ guild is Hollywood’s largest union, representing about 160,000 performers and media professionals.

His statement echoes California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) recent indication that the state won’t return to normal until a vaccine is in place. President Donald Trump has stated that he is confident a vaccine will be ready by the end of the year.

But some studios may not be willing to wait that long as their pipeline of new content risks running dry.

“At the earliest, we would be looking to resume [movie] production by the end of June where possible,” said a studio source. “But it is likely that some countries may not allow production to resume until August or September of this year.”

It remains unclear when scripted TV shoots could start again. TV series generally require less personnel than major motion pictures.

Netflix has already resumed production on a small number of overseas shows in countries including Iceland and South Korea. A top Netflix executive is encouraging studios to start the ignition on some productions so that they can learn how to operate in a restricted environment.

Netflix’s chief creative officer Ted Sarandos said that he has already learned a lot from the experience so far. “For one thing, circumstances vary significantly country by country, and even city by city,” he wrote in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times. “There is no one size fits all.”

What’s more, at the time of publication, Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster, the $200 million budget Tenet, is scheduled to go first on July 17. Disney’s Mulan is set for July 27, followed by Warner Bros.’s Wonder Woman 1984 on August 14.

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in Tenet (Syncopy/Warner Bros. Pictures, 2020)

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman 1984 (Atlas Entertainment/ DC Entertainment, 2020)

But still, going forward, some precautions will be universal. Sarandos said that craft services tables will have to be replaced with boxed meals, and  hand sanitizers will need to become ubiquitous on working sets.

Meanwhile, the rest of Hollywood waits in a state of limbo.

“We do not yet have any start dates,” said another studio insider. “We are still awaiting the word to get back to full scale production.”

Follow David Ng on Twitter @HeyItsDavidNg. Have a tip? Contact me at dng@breitbart.com

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