For the last month, Insider has been speaking to major figures inside Hollywood to get an idea of how production will look as it restarts in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.Judd Apatow, Kevin Bacon, cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel (“Da 5 Bloods”), and producer Elle Johnson (“Self Made,” “Bosch”) give their thoughts.Insider also spoke to the president and CEO of Pinewood Atlanta Studios, Frank Patterson, about the steps he’s taken to make his facility what he’s calling the “safest movie lot in the world.”Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
As the US struggles to come to some form of normalcy following the coronavirus pandemic, with several states seeing spikes in cases after reopening last month, Hollywood is slowly beginning to restart production on movies and TV shows.But in an industry where close social interaction is part of the daily work setting — whether it’s cramped shooting locations or intimate scenes between actors — how will it continue in these very uncertain times?The truth is very few have answers. But there are a lot of theories on how it can be accomplished and many of them will be tested in the weeks to come as production on big movies begins to start back up.Over the last month, Insider spoke to prominent figures in the industry to get their perspective on how they plan to get back to work and the concerns they have.
Wearing masks and keeping your distance: Understanding the new normal while on setOn June 1, a 22-page health and safety guidelines proposal was released by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force. The white paper outlined the steps that should be taken on movies, TV, and streaming productions going forward during the coronavirus pandemic, with a major focus on sterilization of sets, daily testing for cast and crew, everyone wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and one or more “COVID-19 Compliance Officers” on set to assure everyone’s safety.The white paper was put together through discussions with health experts, guidelines issued by the CDC, and input from all the major studios, networks, unions, and guilds.Many of the Hollywood players Insider spoke to were still absorbing the white paper when we talked to them.”I want to start having talks with other actors, crew members, directors, and writers and start figuring out all this,” Kevin Bacon told Insider about his thoughts on making movies going forward.
Some have strong feelings about certain aspects of it.”People talk a lot about testing every day, but that only works if the testing is accurate,” writer-director-producer Judd Apatow told Insider when promoting his latest movie, “The King of Staten Island.” “You can’t assume people are immune until there is research that after they have the disease they are immune. I’m definitely concerned.”Apatow noted that if you look at the behind-the-scenes photos from “The King of Staten Island,” like for most movies, everyone is cramped together.Going forward, he said, “people certainly wouldn’t be allowed to do that.”
“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” The sequel to the movie, “Jurassic World: Dominion,” restarts production on July 6.
The white paper encourages working on set to be split into “zones” going forward. Productions large and small are enacting a policy where only certain crew members are allowed on set at certain times. In the case of “Jurassic World: Dominion,” which will be one of the first major studio movies to restart production on July 6, the crew will be social distancing six feet apart onset and a “green zone” will be set up for cast and crew to help stop untested crew from coming in, according to Deadline.
However, Elle Johnson, the showrunner on the Netflix limited series “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” and executive producer/writer on the Amazon show “Bosch,” pointed out that despite the focus on keeping only essential crew on set, there’s still the fact that a movie director or head of a show will have to navigate beyond the set to do their job.”To me, you have to proceed like you’re in a contaminated environment the entire time you’re in production,” she told Insider.So, if Johnson had to go on the set of “Bosch” tomorrow, would she go?”I would not want to go, but I would go,” she said. “I would definitely have a mask on and a face shield. I would be really nervous.”
Virtual set used on “The Mandalorian.”
How virtual sets will change production going forwardSome in the industry believe that to keep cast and crew safer, the use of virtual sets will become more common. It’s a practice that has been celebrated for its level of quality and modest price tag since Jon Favreau used it while making “The Mandalorian.”
Now it’s suddenly the latest buzz word around Hollywood.It’s an innovation to the typical green screens that allow visual effects to be added in post-production. Instead of a green backdrop, virtual sets use giant LED screens as the background of a scene. The screens have such a sharp picture that little work needs to be done in post-production. A virtual set also benefits the actors who have visual references instead of using their imaginations.But Newton Thomas Sigel, the cinematographer behind Spike Lee’s acclaimed “Da 5 Bloods,” said though virtual production may be the latest fad, it certainly isn’t new.”This was happening before the pandemic ever struck,” Sigel told Insider. “I think studios are more and more looking at ways to use virtual sets partly to reduce cost.”
You can see why studios love virtual sets. Why fly to an exotic location where millions have to be spent to get everyone there when it can all be realistically done in a studio?Frank Patterson, the president and CEO of Pinewood Atlanta Studios, which makes many of the Marvel movies, said that they have had a virtual set on the lot for over a year. However, it’s never got much use as filmmakers felt the process was too complicated. He predicts that will change going forward.Take, for example, a production that is set to shoot a scene where a car is driving on location. The road is reserved, but if there’s bad weather or the stunt driver has the coronavirus, the production schedule is ruined and the day will have to be made up. With a virtual studio, only the car is needed and technology can do the rest.”In two hours we can have the background set up and the scene can be done on schedule,” Patterson told Insider. “It’s a turn-key solution that I think will become a common tool for filmmakers going forward.”
Sigel believes we will also see less work for extras in the future as crowd shots can be added by CGI wizards in post-production to eliminate concerns of a coronavirus outbreak onset. But he doesn’t see on-location shooting becoming extinct.”Whether it’s a ‘Mission: Impossible’ or a James Bond movie, people go to see those franchises partly because they do really go to locations and celebrate them,” he said. “So going forward, there will have to be acceptance to a certain degree of risk.”But with states in the US spiking in coronavirus cases, that risk may be insurmountable when it comes to on-location shooting both local and abroad for the foreseeable future, as Johnson points out.”‘Seeing how far behind the US is from other countries it might prove problematic for the industry to shoot in Canada if we don’t get our numbers down,” she said.
Just another reason why virtual sets could become a sweeter alternative.
Pinewood Atlanta Studios.
Pinewood Atlanta Studios
Creating the safest movie lot in the worldSpeaking to Insider, Patterson says he believes he and his team have come up with a way to make Pinewood Atlanta Studios the safest (and cleanest) place to shoot a movie in the world.When Hollywood shut down back in March, Patterson said he was quickly on the phone making calls about how to make the studio safer. Patterson told Insider he has put millions of dollars (he can’t give an exact figure because he says he hasn’t revealed it to his board yet) into the 700 acre/18 sound stage facility located in Atlanta, Georgia that is known best for housing Marvel titles like “Ant-Man and the Wasp” (which had the biggest physical set of any Marvel Cinematic Universe movie to date) and “Avengers: Endgame.”In addition to the security cameras and measures the studio already had in place, there will now be a testing protocol, developed with BioIQ, an Atlanta-based healthcare company.
Patterson says the testing process includes:A baseline test 24 hours before anyone can come on the lot, which includes a nasal swab.If it comes back negative, access is given to a daily checker portal in which you have to answer a set of questions each morning before entering the facility.If you succeed through that, a text message is sent that gives you access to a badge on the lot.You come to the lot in the morning with your badge and PPE and there your temperature is taken. Pass that and then you can enter the lot.This process is then repeated every day to enter Pinewood Atlanta Studios.If you come back positive for COVID-19, you go into quarantine until you test negative, then go through the steps above again.
The massive Hank Pym lab in “The Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
Patterson said that BioIQ is also developing an algorithm for each production on the lot so it can place all cast and crew into segmented risk populations. If you are the first assistant director on a project, you are going to be tested more often than someone who is working in accounting and never leaves the production office.
And all of this data collection, which Pinewood says it will not have access to due to privacy concerns, will be made available in real-time to a production’s COVID-19 Compliance Officer.Patterson added gone are the days of directors inviting their friends to the set or even the crew mingling around the set.”We have a 40,000 square foot soundstage, it’s where we did the lab scenes in ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp,’ for something like that there are 150-200 people working between shots,” Patterson said. “That’s gone. You have to now give teams time to come on and off. The work is going to be slower and more expensive, but it’s going to be safer.”
(L-R) Kevin Bacon and “You Should Have Left” director David Koepp on set.
Hollywood needs to restart for those who are at home not workingAs we have learned throughout the coronavirus pandemic, attempts to get back to some kind of normalcy is harder than it sounds. But the people Insider spoke to universally said Hollywood has to get going again for the simple reason that those who depend on production to earn a paycheck have been without income for months.
“The people sitting at home want to get back to it,” said Johnson. “I don’t think anyone is going into it not wanting to be careful, but people need and want to work and if you’re in that situation you’re hoping people are trying to figure out the safest way possible. I think for writers, like me, it’s just a different ballgame.”Johnson has the luxury to work on a project like “Bosch” from home. Apatow is in a similar situation.”I’m at home writing and talking to people over Zoom and developing projects,” he said. “But I feel terrible for all the people who aren’t able to work right now. Most people don’t have savings to allow them to ride this out.”But Bacon believes this is a moment where the work will galvanize a production even more than the typical family atmosphere that formed when working on a set pre-COVID.
“Movie and television crews are not just good at facing physical challenges, they relish it,” Bacon said. “A lot of people love to tell war stories about, ‘It was the coldest winter ever and we were out there shooting on the water.’ We work in really extreme circumstances, so I have a lot of confidence that the crew, and actors as well, will really figure it out and be good at it.”Patterson admits despite all the preparation he’s done, with production on several major blockbuster movies beginning to ramp back up at Pinewood this week, he still has his concerns.”I’m always worried about the stuff I haven’t considered,” he admits. “But I’m comforted in the fact that everyone in the industry has had to stop and focus their energies on this. I’m eager to move to the next step where we start executing these plans and come up with better solutions.”LoadingSomething is loading.