As New York makes progress on its laborious reopening plan, the city’s entertainment chief is hoping to see content production begin to return in a significant way by September.
Anne del Castillo, commissioner of the powerful Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, said she expects to see TV productions return to soundstages and studio facilities by September. A handful of projects with tiny crews — under 10 people in one case and under 25 in another — have lensed in the city in recent weeks, but those were rare exceptions.
“We’re looking at a much more robust comeback in September,” del Castillo told Variety. The veteran indie film and non-profit executive took the reins of MOME in April 2019. Since the coronavirus lockdown hit in March, she’s been in regular contact with networks, studios and producers in order to help make sure that cameras were ready to roll as soon as the all-clear came.
“It’s been very hard to see these industries that are really so definitive of New York City just (struggling) to find a way forward,” del Castillo said. “We’re trying to help them find that way forward within all the limitations created by the health crisis and the economic crisis.”
The largest production entities have been focused on developing their own guidelines for how social distancing will work on sets and on location. After industry groups on both coasts developed white papers to lay out COVID-19 protection protocols last month, producers and others have been working with guilds to fine-tune plans for everything from temperature screenings to individually wrapped portions on the craft services table.
“Everybody was waiting for the guidance,” she said. “Now we’re really talking to TV series and film (producers) about how and when and where they want to come back. We’ll see some activity start soon, but the bulk of it will really come back in September.”
Filming on location on the streets of New York will likely be farther out — in part because so many restaurants are taking up space on streets and sidewalks to offer outdoor dining, she said.
At the time the COVID-19 crisis hit, there were 35 active non-news TV series filming in the city. It will be a slow build to get back up to that level. “I don’t think we’re going to see all 35 of them roll up at once — that would be quite a challenge,” del Castillo said.
The city will monitor the situation as productions fire back up in order to make sure that safety protocols are being followed. Film and TV production alone annually accounts for about $60 billion in economic activity for the city, not to mention $3 billion in tax revenue and about 100,000 jobs. Losing that for four months is definitely putting a dent in the city’s coffers.
“That’s all the more reason we’re trying to make sure we get things up and running and they are safe,” del Castillo said. “Once it gets started it’s important that it really keeps going. We don’t want to see any subsequent shutdowns.”
Amid present conditions, New York City may well see TV production resume at volume before Los Angeles does. Del Castillo credited her boss, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for leadership that helped New Yorkers understand the importance of social-distancing measures.
“I think people really took the quarantine seriously,” she said. Both also hammered the need for people to wear masks. And the slow pace of reopening, difficult as it was for many, has helped guard against the feared second wave of deadly cases.
“New Yorkers are really committed and put their minds to having a strong recovery,” she said. “I think we are a model for how other people can approach reopening.”
(Pictured: MOME commissioner Anne del Castillo)