We are all dying to get back to work. I know that the last few months have become a “Come to Jesus” type of moment for me in terms of how I can work and what it takes to survive. Things are not easy. We are trying to put Hollywood back together and in better shape than we left it.
One thing giving us all hope is that production is starting back up again.
As we all try to figure out how to go back to work in Hollywood safely, we may need to take some tips from Almost Never Films, a production company that just wrapped on Harvest of the Heart, a movie shot 'during the time of corona'.
They made the movie without a studio for under one million dollars.
And they made it safely.
Let's talk about how.
How One TV Movie Shot During the Corona Pandemic
Jonathan Bennett, one of the stars of the movie, told Variety about the day he got the call to work on the film. The actor, of Mean Girls and Cake Wars fame, said, “I remember the moment the call came in because I was at Costco buying groceries in safety goggles, an N95 mask, and gloves.”
We live in wild times.
He went on to say “I was surprised that a movie was starting this early,” Bennett said. “But my big concern was, what are the safety precautions going to be like?”
Great question Jonathan. We are wondering the same thing.
Danny Roth, the chief creative officer of Almost Never Films, and line producer John Mehrer put their heads together. America was exploding with cases, and they needed a safe place to shoot. So they consulted some maps and tax credit ideas and choose Oklahoma, where the money goes far and cases were relatively low.
They flew in and decided it was the perfect place, In Roth’s words, “We came to do our own self-quarantining. And just get on the ground for our work.”
Getting to work involved casting, hiring crew, and scouting locations.
Harvest of the Heart began its 16-day shoot on May 27th. The romance starring Bennett and Alix Angelis was made small, designed to sell to an outlet such as Hallmark Channel or Lifetime.
So how did they actually get back to work?
Harvest of the Heart was self-financed, so they were able to get insurance for everything... except the possibility of someone getting coronavirus. That's a big exception.
Mehrer said: “[we] only found one insurance company that was writing new business. And so it was a little bit more pricey.”
Roth described the advantages of being in Oklahoma, “I found it to be night and day from Michigan to Oklahoma when we traveled,” he said. “John and I were barely leaving the house at all. And food was in short supply. And certainly, PPE was in short supply. When we got [to Oklahoma], paper towels, toilet paper, hand cleaner — all that stuff was plentiful, plentiful here. Masks — I mean, masks are like candy at the checkout counter.”
But that was not enough.
The cast and crew all tested negative before they were allowed to start work; their temperatures were taken each day as soon as they arrived at the set by a medic who was the designated COVID coordinator.
Residency for people not from Oklahoma had to be worked out as well.
Out-of-state actors and crew lived in Airbnbs so that there was no cross-contamination from other residents in hotels. “I literally haven’t had contact with anyone except people we’re working with,” Bennett said.
Everyone was required to wear a mask, even the actors up until they began shooting scenes. Lucky for them, the movie didn't have much touching or deep kissing, so they were close-talking but nothing too explicit.
They also limited who could come to set. No visitors were allowed unless they could prove they had tested negative that same day.
The COVID coordinator was in charge of making sure the set was sanitary before shooting each morning, and throughout the day. Anything that was touched was sanitized. Boom poles, door handles, equipment, etc.
And there was hair and makeup available, but each actor was given the option to do it themselves.
There was also a personal declaration that meant cast and crew would act responsibly. “We have strict off-set protocols,” Mehrer said. “If things opened up, it would be really fun to go out and hit the clubs. But we made them sign papers saying that they wouldn’t be going to restaurants, they wouldn’t be going to areas with big gatherings. That they wouldn’t go to the gym.”
One thing in the project’s favor is that the production filmed primarily outside. So there was not too much close-quartered contact by cast and crew.
After wrapping production, everyone involved would be tested again before going home. “We don’t want to send anybody home to get anybody else sick,” Roth said.
From Variety, “Bennett said it felt like the cast and crew had entered into a social contract in order to work. 'You’re not just here showing up and being safe for you, you’re being safe for the team that you’re working with,' he said. 'Of all the sets I’ve ever worked on, everyone just knows we’re all in this together. And there’s a sense of camaraderie and this definite sense of trust that you’re putting in the people around you.”
“It’s different,” Bennett added. “And it’s not normal. But it’s 100% possible.”
The movie is in post now, but it’s fantastic to know it was completed at all.
While being a relatively small movie, it shows that there are pathways to production if everyone chips in. We are a long way away from a vaccine, so to move forward, we need to find people willing to participate in social and professional contracts that keep one another safe.
Their strategy seems sound, and we're happy no one got the virus, and they were able to finish shooting.
Where do we go from here?
Realistically, 16 days is not much time to shoot a movie. Indie shoots usually are around 20-30 days and bigger features and TV go on for months. That's one of the hardest things about where we are going; finding ways for ongoing productions to be safe.
A swab with a rapid response that people can take every day before arriving on the set would help a lot.
But until things like that happen, we have to think outside the box.
Put your best ideas in the comments!