As new cases of coronavirus are declared on an hourly basis and the world reacts, production on multiple projects has already come to a halt. But many in the entertainment-industry trenches want to see the industry step up in the name of safety and do more — and suspend production across the industry.
Emmy-winning director Richard Shepard and executive producer Hannah Fidell are currently in prep on “American Crime Story: Impeachment,” scouting office locations — thus coming into frequent contact with surfaces and touching door handles. For location scouts and directors, travel is a big part of the job. “It’s not even safe in prep,” Fidell stresses.
Shepard describes film and TV productions as “a breeding ground” for viruses. “It’s hundreds of people working in close proximity,” Shepard says. “From makeup people touching faces to costume designers dressing people, everyone is breathing in this air.”
He points out that it’s not uncommon for actors and crew to be working on multiple production sets. Fidell, meanwhile, acknowledges that it’s not just location scouting that are breeding grounds for germs, but sets too.
“They really will have blood on their hands if they don’t shut down production and help slow the inevitable,” she says.
Both are calling for the studios to not evaluate shows on a case by case basis, but to act as a collective whole.
“We need to be smart and proactive. We can’t be inundating the medical and health system,” Shepard says. “The goal is to contain the amount of people being sick.”
The longer a production continues, the longer too does the risk that exposure will occur on set. Preparation and filming can draw dozens of people into close quarters for long periods — and the larger the scene, the larger the risk.
“If we don’t shut down now, we will have something very dangerous on our hands,” Shepard says
Understanding how COVID-19 is spread is fundamental and California Governor Gavin Newcom canceled statewide gatherings with people over 250, but production is plowing ahead. “Days of Our Lives” and “Stephen Colbert” are just a few shows carrying on, whereas other shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Tonight Show,” “The Morning Show” and “Late Night” have temporarily halted work.
Fidell agrees that production needs to be halted: “It’s a breeding ground for germs and they really will have blood on their hands if they don’t shut down production and help slow the inevitable.”
Jesse Peretz who worked as a director on Hulu’s “High Fidelity” and Netflix’s “Glow,” agrees that acting now and taking the hit is better than prolonging decisions to stop production. “The NBA canceled and this feels like what our industry should be doing,” he says.
He very recently was on-set shooting a sequence for “Glow” where the sequence shot over a three-day period and required over 200 extras and 70 crew members to be in a theater. All he could do was watch as the crew went to work, makeup artists and costumers tending to the extras and actors.
Peretz and others have been accused of acting hysterical for voicing their concerns and suggesting a shutdown. “I’ve definitely been in a low level of hysteria,” he admits, but at the same time is beginning to feel relieved as people and executives seem to be coming around to realizing the risk.
The main concern extends beyond the call for productions to be shut down, it extends to the financial well-being of crew members. Being forced not to work means those crew members will not be able to financially provide for their families.
Peretz says, “The short-term financial hit would be a smaller price to pay than if they keep going a few more weeks.”
With crew members living paycheck to paycheck, halting production will have ramifications. “I feel worried about the people on the crews and the PAs, I hope the studios step up and take responsibility and all those people are taken care of financially,” Peretz says.
Shepard agrees, proposing a short-term solution of paying even a reduced salary so bills can be paid. “The crew needs to be paid and health care needs to be taken care of during this time.”
The important factor is no matter what happens next that studios and unions take care of its workers as production closes.” Shepard says as he optimistically waits for studios to step in and make a decision for the greater good, “We have to understand that the economic impact is going to be brutal, but we are all in this together.”