When you think of nearly every step that’s involved with creating, shooting, marketing and releasing a movie, large crowds are involved. From upwards of 250 people on a big-budget set to hundreds of fans packed in a theater on opening night, the industry was not built for the isolation required to battle COVID-19.
And so, like almost everything else in the world, Hollywood ground to a standstill in March. March 11, specifically, is when we learned that America’s Dad, Tom Hanks, and his wife Rita Wilson tested positive for the coronavirus while in Australia shooting Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic and were getting treatment Down Under. Suddenly, the pandemic became very, very real. Of ALL people—TOM HANKS got it?!?!?
But Hollywood is nothing if not filled with some of the most creative minds on the planet. It’s still unclear when we’ll ever be able to enjoy packed theaters again, not only because the virus is still raging, but also because two weeks after its 4-times-delayed release, Christopher Nolan’s highly anticipated Tenet pulled in only $30 million in the US versus $177 million globally, making other studios likely to delay US theatrical releases until they can secure higher ticket sales (Tenet was originally estimated to make $850 million). However, that doesn’t mean that Hollywood is sitting on its hands. Production has resumed—and has even been completed—on several high-profile projects.
Michael Bay produced Songbird, which was one of the first feature films to shoot in Los Angeles since the shutdown. It’s actually a pandemic thriller (too soon?) that stars KJ Apa and Sofia Carson and features Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford and Demi Moore in supporting roles. Songbird’s director, Adam Mason, leveraged creative camera tactics that allowed actors to avoid being face-to-face while shooting, and all of the cast remained separated from the production crew.
But Songbird is a small film with a set that was mostly outside and easy to control. That’s not the case for Jurassic World: Dominion, which resumed filming outside of London in July with a team of 750 people and a budget of $200 million. The production has gone to extreme (but necessary) lengths to keep everyone safe—from its 107-page safety manual, to infrared temperature scanners, to plexiglass partitions in the crew cafeteria (which serves vacuum-sealed meals). So far, so good.
Filming outside of the US—where the virus is more contained and governments have more standard national protocols—seems to be the only option for movies with blockbuster potential. James Cameron’s Avatar sequels are filming in New Zealand (though locals aren’t necessary happy about it). A short flight across the ocean, Marvel has resumed production on Shang-Chi in Australia. In Berlin, Germany, Sony Pictures is shooting the video game adaptation Uncharted.
There have been a few US-set productions coming back to life, however. In Atlanta, Red Notice (starring Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds, who both recently shared on Instagram pictures of getting their COVID tests) and Sly Stallone’s Samaritan are ramping up. You can bet the rest of the industry will be watching and waiting to see if everything goes smoothly.
That’s because problems do continue to plague filmmaking in the age of coronavirus. For example, the Ben Affleck film Hypnotic is struggling with insurance issues related to COVID-19, and also had to move its production from Los Angeles to Canada after it was unable to procure enough COVID tests for its production here in the States.
And then there’s The Batman starring Robert Pattinson, which everyone got really excited for after its incredible first trailer was released on August 22. Production had halted in London in March and then resumed in September… only for Pattinson himself to test positive for COVID-19 a few days later, closing everything down again. (Can you see why movies like Affleck’s might have insurance issues at this point?)
So, yeah, much in the filmmaking industry is still up in the air, but as Bryce Dallas Howard said in an interview about Jurassic World: Dominion restarting production, “We are the guinea pigs who are going to take the leap.”
Let’s keep hoping for the best—we wish for nothing but a return to 100% safe conditions and good health for everyone struggling to continue their work in the film industry, which employs 460,000 people in the US. I can only believe that with so many committed, talented and creative people involved, Hollywood can find a way to make it happen.