How Shows and Movies are Filming During the Pandemic
When people world wide got stuck in their homes due to a pandemic, TV shows and movies were helpful aids in getting them through the isolation. Streaming services quickly became the hotspot for entertainment. For Disney+, this was convenient, considering it launched only four months before we were all confined, meaning that the content still felt fresh. The shows and movies on platforms including HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix and more gave us plenty of entertainment― at least, until we ran out of things to watch. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, people had started picking and choosing their streaming services to save money, and studios knew that they needed to create new content to keep viewers interested, whether that meant rushing through a delayed season of a beloved show or dreaming up an entirely new movie. State governments started to release COVID-19 guidelines for filming within their state, and Hollywood acted accordingly. With ordinary life non-existent, film crews needed to find a new way to create the entertainment necessary to satisfy all of us at home with nothing to do.
On-screen, pandemic-made films and shows will seem normal—no masks or social distancing unless written into the script. However, behind the scenes, many new safety precautions have been instituted. Usually, cast and crew converse off-camera, eat meals together, and hang out as friends would. Instead, they are forced to stay on task, there solely to do their jobs. There have been many changes made to jobs on set to uphold the tight film schedule. In the past, people constantly moved around to get to their jobs on set, not giving a thought about whom they interact with. New guidelines prevent all of this. Some changes are apparent, like decreasing the number of people on set, forcing layoffs. Some shows even started controlling cameras remotely instead of having a cameraman onsite. According to a writer for the ABC show The Conners, the writing team tries to avoid scenes with intimate moments, actor-to-actor contact, and large amounts of extras or background actors. Set cleaning happens constantly, and nurses are onsite helping to ensure everyone follows protocol. Many crews, especially those for shows or movies filmed within a couple of months, opted to quarantine the entire cast for the requisite two weeks and to keep everyone within a quarantine bubble during shooting. And obviously, almost all reality shows have gotten rid of the live studio audience and use fake audience sounds instead. Some shows have Zoom audiences, but the sentiment is not the same.
Large-scale films have a much harder time following safety protocols, even though they usually have the budget for it, unlike some smaller shows. The films hire people whose only job is to remind crew members to practice social distancing and keep on their masks. Also, within three months of filming, the production of Jurassic World: Dominion reportedly spent up to three million dollars on 27,000 COVID tests. Apparently, some sets have been treating proximity to maskless actors as something that requires a security level clearance. For example, if a member gets a red zone clearance, they will be very close to maskless actors and have the highest chance of getting infected if one of the actors is sick. However, people in the green zone will probably never be near the actors while their masks are off. For example, catering will never interact with cast and crew, as everyone eats alone in their trailers to minimize contact. COVID-19 has taken away a lot of the fun of being on a film set, but cast and crew must give up those luxuries to get audiences their shows and movies.
Even with all of the safety measures in place, there have to be some positive COVID-19 tests. Dealing with positive tests is hard for a film crew, as stopping filming is not the ideal option. Instead, like other places where people need to be around each other, such as school, anyone near the infected person must quarantine. The worst-case scenario on a film set is when a lead actor tests positive; then, production shutdown is inevitable. Every show has its unique guidelines for handling these situations. For example, on a smaller production, one positive test might mean that everyone has the chance of being infected. Comparatively, on a large set like Jurassic World, there are groups of people who never interact with other groups; therefore, only groups that interact with each other would need to be quarantined.
Different sized sets also have varying testing requirements. Some productions require testing for everyone every day, while others keep it closer to three or four times a week. This is probably due to the wide range of production budgets. So far, most productions have been doing a great job of maintaining quarantine bubbles. There have been no large-scale “superspreaders” within the past year, which means that everyone on sets has been keeping up with guidelines, so that audiences can see the finished products.
Although these guidelines might seem harsh, they seem to work well. In a couple of weeks of filming in Pinewood Studios in Atlanta, less than three percent of 7,000 tests came back positive. The one issue with filming during the pandemic is that some might call it a waste of resources. Instead of protecting Chris Pratt from the virus while he films with dinosaurs, those tests could go to places facing a deficit of tests. Nonetheless, most studios have turned their attention to investing in the necessary measures to keep cast and crew on sets safe and healthy. Most people are glad that the result of all the precautions is more entertainment during this pressing time.
Catlin, R. (2020, October 26). How in the World Are TV Shows Filming During the Pandemic?
Donnely, M. (2020, September 10). A Day on a Film Set in the Time of Coronavirus. Variety.
Sandberg, B. (2020, December 19). Lights, Camera…COVID! The Perils of Shooting Amid a
Pandemic. The Hollywood Reporter. https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/features/lights-camera-covid-the-perils-of-shooting-amid-a-pandemic