Movie-making in the Era of Covid-19

Elizabeth Horan

With nothing to do stuck at home during this pandemic, I know I’m not the only one who’s binged series after series of TV shows and taken on movie marathons, from Harry Potter to Star Wars, just to pass the hours.  How is the movie industry producing films during such a time?  Movie-making without Covid-19 is already tedious and requires help from hundreds: actors, directors, extras, makeup artists, and catering staff.  Imagine the challenge with masks and social distancing, just to name a few obstacles. 

“Jurassic World: Dominion” was one of the first major movies to resume production after coronavirus closed down sets. Being so, it essentially wrote the guidelines for filming in a pandemic.  The process includes electronic temperature checks, routine swab tests, daily safety briefings, and color-coded zones to organize the crew.  Each person that arrives on set goes through a temperature testing station, and is organized into color coded zones where they work for the day. It has been reported that key cast members housing together got tested for the virus three times a week during Jurassic World’s making. Alexandra Derbyshire, an executive producer on the Universal Studios film believes, “Social distancing is the hardest part because the nature of filmmaking is so collaborative”.  Extra people have been hired with the job of solely keeping others at more than an arms-length away to socially distance. The cast of Jurassic also rents out hotel space to limit their exposure to the outside world, where they lived for 19 weeks.  Other production’s members also quarantine together in a ‘bubble’ similar to how the NBA isolated themselves as a team.

However, safety protocols such as additional sinks, hand sanitizer stations, improved ventilation, and swab tests have sent prices soaring for film studios, so unfortunately non-blockbuster productions may not have enough funds for safety measures and production is put on pause.  Many productions have halted for the moment, but even ones with strict precautions such as “The Batman” were shut down after the lead actor tested positive.  Other ones forced to halt include Marvel’s long-awaited “Black Widow”, John Wick 4, Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch”, and “Mission: Impossible 7” (and 8).  Tom Cruise, the lead actor in the “Mission: Impossible” series was recorded explicitly ranting at his crew for not following Covid guidelines and threatened to fire anyone: “‘If I see it again, you’re f****** gone.’” 

Not only is Covid-19 affecting how movies are made, but also how they’re viewed. Formerly, movie theaters were the go-to place to watch movies.  However, even before the pandemic they were becoming more obsolete, with viewers streaming movies at home.  Often it is more cost effective to stream or rent movies at home, and some just prefer their home to the theater.  Now, whatever your preference, movies pretty much have to be watched at home.  Many movie theaters have closed temporarily due to being non essential, and some have been forced to close permanently due to the financial repercussions of the pandemic.  The few open movie theaters are far less populated than they were pre-pandemic.

As mentioned earlier, movie productions were on pause for a while, so for a time it didn’t matter that movie goers weren’t attending theaters.  However, with many movies resuming filming, production companies have to find a way to release them and reach viewers.  Recently, Warner Brothers announced it would be releasing its new movies on HBO Max as well as in theaters.  The announcement was exciting for viewers, giving them a cheaper option to see brand new blockbusters.  However, not everyone was pleased with the decision.  Patty Jenkins, director of the now available on HBO Max movie, Wonder Woman 1984, was among those upset. Filmmakers and actors feel releases to streaming services aren’t as prestigious as showings in theaters, and that their hard work is being properly appreciated.  In addition, the movies make less revenue when released to streaming services.

The pandemic has also forced streaming services and third parties to be creative in regard to movie viewing with others.  Apps like Teleparty allow you to watch a show with a friend and include a chat box for commentary.  Vigilant social distancers are using this type of technology to enjoy shows with friends or faraway family while maintaining Covid-19 restrictions.  Some services, like Disney+ have even built their own sharing feature into their app. 

The pandemic has forced many things to change, the movie industry notwithstanding.  We have yet to see the magnitude of the virus’ impact on the entertainment industry.  Luckily, for now, movies are still being made and released, and we have plenty of old and new content to binge while we quarantine.