New York City’s ambassador to the entertainment industry says “productive conversations” are underway to plan for a resumption of TV and film production and the live event industry as the nation cautiously eyes an end to the lockdown that has upended American life during the past month.
Anne del Castillo, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, told Variety on Friday that her department has been in active discussions with major players in New York’s entertainment industry since the social distancing clampdown began in mid-March.
Of late, del Castillo said, there’s a clear focus on setting plans and protocols for the eventual resumption of the work that was shuttered abruptly as the urgency of the coronavirus threat came into focus last month. Entertainment-related businesses were among the first to go down, and now showbiz companies are actively drawing up plans to be shovel-ready as soon as state and local authorities give the greenlight.
“People are calling me saying they want to come back and they want to understand what that will look like. We’re talking about how the city can come back to work in a way that makes sense for their workers and their facilities and for the public,” del Castillo said. “It’s a very productive conversation taking into account that people are in crisis.”
A significant investment in some form of health testing in all working environments is likely to be necessary for employers to reopen their doors, del Castillo said. The availability of reliable tests will influence the time frame of the return to work in the city of 8.4 million that has been hardest hit in the U.S. by the deadly contagion.
“We need more testing for sure. We need to be able to know that people are healthy and can come back together safely,” del Castillo said. “That’s going to be critical for any kind of restart.”
The commissioner emphasized that there’s no clarity on a timetable for an easing of the stay at home order. Del Castillo’s team at MOME has focused on talking to industry players to gauge their needs in order to help influence Mayor Bill de Blasio’s broader plan for a gradual reopening of public life in the nation’s largest city.
“The city will have broad guidelines,” she said. “Within the specifics of the industries we serve we’re talking to people about their strategies and their needs. Our office is trying to be a bridge with the industry so we can take their needs into account as we’re making recommendations for (the city’s) policy.”
After TV and film production, Broadway and other live events went dark last month, del Castillo’s office spent about three weeks dealing with urgent calls from companies and individuals with questions about the shutdown order.
“We spent the first three weeks on the phone 24 hours a day clarifying executive orders and getting feedback on additional questions,” del Castillo said. “The last two weeks we’ve finally been able to take a step back and say ‘OK when we get to come back, what should we do?’ There’s no hide-the-ball here. The Mayor and the governor have been clear on the need to be careful and thoughtful on how to roll out the return to work.”
The commissioner, a veteran of the documentary field who was tapped for the MOME post last year after serving as her predecessor’s lieutenant, called for federal help to aid the many small businesses in the entertainment sector that will struggle after the wallop of the coronavirus shutdown.
“We need that federal help for the industry to be able to pick itself up again,” she said. “We really need much more relief than has come. If folks don’t have the capital they need to get started again, that will be a really big problem.”
Del Castillo said she has been impressed by the industry’s can-do approach to getting back to business.
“I’m very heartened to see these collaborative conversations happening,” she said. “I think as a creative industry they’re going to come up with creative solutions.”