Will the pandemic usher in a new wave of independent filmmaking as a necessity?

Tyler Perry at the induction ceremony fo...

These “this is how the sausage is made” stories never get many comments, but I found this Variety story fascinating and horrifying. It’s not just about the process of making movies in a global economy on the brink of a worldwide depression, it’s about how to proceed with business-as-usual filmmaking during a deadly pandemic. The point of Variety’s cover story is that there is no business as usual, and there won’t be for a while. Plus, industries like Hollywood are receiving zero guidance from the federal government, so they’re basically talking to various state and local leaders about how to proceed. Variety starts with Tyler Perry and how he was the first big-name person to announce a restart on production:

Someone had to take the leap. After months of coronavirus-imposed shutdowns, Tyler Perry announced May 12 that he will begin production at his Atlanta-based Tyler Perry Studios on the second season of his BET show “Sistas” on July 8, and “The Oval” three weeks later. As he ramps up production, Perry will be among the very first in the business to put into action a profusion of untested ideas that have preoccupied the entertainment industry on how to get back to work in the age of COVID-19.

“I’m excited about it,” Perry tells Variety. “I’m excited about being able to make sure that people can take care of themselves and support their families, but also excited about setting a template here that I think could work everywhere.”

He’ll test the cast and his “drastically” scaled back Atlanta-based crew when they arrive at the studio and before they begin production, and four more times during the two-and-a-half-week shoots for each show. Everyone on the set will wear protective masks, and group scenes will be held until after the fourth day on set, when everyone has been tested again. Meals will be served in different “catering pods” on the largest soundstage to maximize social distancing. Perry will fly out-of-town cast members in on his private plane, and, since the studio is a decommissioned U.S. Army compound, everyone working on the production will live on campus.

Not everyone is on board with the idea of going back into production before there is medicinal treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19. One director of a studio movie that was in pre-production when everything shut down thinks such plans are irresponsible. The filmmaker, who spoke to Variety under the condition of anonymity, resents that he was sent to scout locations in March when it was clear to him that the world was in a pandemic, and he thinks any plan to restart is ludicrous. “A movie can’t work with masks and social distancing — everyone is all over each other all the time,” he says. “To not face that, either you’re in denial or you’re ignorant, or you’re pretending to not know so the company isn’t liable.”

[From Variety]

That is an insane and expensive level of “protection” for a film/TV set, and I can’t see how other productions could guarantee anything like that. I appreciate that Perry is trying to get people back to work and I’m sure there will be a lot of eyes on him and this experiment. Variety also spoke to Zoe Kravitz, who was in London working on The Batman when production closed down. She’s now in lockdown in England, still waiting to see if they’ll get back to production any time soon:

Actor Zoë Kravitz, who had to suspend work playing Catwoman opposite Robert Pattinson in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” says that part of her is “hoping to wake up every day to an email or a phone call saying, ‘We’re ready to go.’” But when that could be remains unclear.

“I’m in touch with everybody, and everyone’s ready to go when it’s safe,” she says. “But no, we have no idea.” The issue is simply that considering the massive crews, complex stunt work and elaborate sets, costumes and makeup, large-scale productions might be too big to reasonably accommodate COVID-19 precautions without a vaccine. After all, just suiting up to play one of Batman’s most iconic rogues is not a one-person job, Kravitz says: “You have people just touching your face, touching your body all day long. I need help getting into the catsuit. I can’t do it on my own. I was probably touched more than any job, just because of the clothes and the combat and all of that.”

[From Variety]

Variety makes an interesting point that the bigger productions (like The Batman and various Marvel films) will probably be some of the last to restart production because they’re so big, so intensive, and as Zoe says, there are working in such close quarters. There’s a theory being floated that independent filmmaking may benefit from the pandemic, because they’re smaller, faster and cheaper productions which can be done with a small crew and a handful of actors in a matter of weeks. Which would be something, wouldn’t it? If this is what it took for a new wave of indie filmmakers and a move away from those bloated studio productions? The pandemic might be a massive film/cultural reset.

Zoe Kravitz at arrivals for HIGH FIDELIT...

Photos courtesy of WENN.

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13 Responses to “Will the pandemic usher in a new wave of independent filmmaking as a necessity?”

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  1. Laura says:

    it would be interesting to see a re-imagined The Batman without all the extra

    • susannej says:

      Wow. This could be a good thing. I´m slightly depressed at the moment (who isnt) and could most definately use more food / stories for “Kopf-Kino” aka movies in my mind….

  2. lemonylips says:

    It would be brilliant if independent would be able to use this positively. I’ve worked in the independent film making in EU for years. Our system is really different and is supported through soft money funds. To create a solid independent you need to have coproductions with other EU countries, use their locations and or cast and crew. So this will still continue to be tricky, as finances might go lower since they are depending on state funds. In USA though – this will deffo be the time for productions and streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon and I can see many changes. What I look forward to though is that even if they can make it safe they will have to concentrate more on the story rather than locations, big production values and make more films like let’s say August: Osage County or films like that.

  3. Snazzy says:

    I’m all for independent movies making a comeback because there’s some great story telling in those films, but there’s very little chance I’ll spend the amount of money it costs to go to the theatre to see one (and of course the ongoing health risks without a vaccine). Going to the movie theatre is expensive, and just not worth it now without the special effects, opulent sets etc. I’d rather see independent movies at home on my sofa … so not sure how they will balance that out.

  4. Léna says:

    Even if movie production restart, will we go to the cinema again? At least not like before, until we have a vaccine. Numbers at the box office are going to be lower.

  5. Luke says:

    The “how the sausage gets made” posts are my fav!

  6. Lady Jane says:

    There was a bbc article about this suggesting that big productions could still go under if set in space or underwater https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-52663585

  7. Keira says:

    Thanks for a sausage making post!

  8. Doodle says:

    I like posts like these.

    I’d rather watch an interesting indie movie than yet another Batman movie. Why are they making another one? I’m pretty sure there are other ideas out there that should see the light.

    • Kelly says:

      “Why are they making another one?”

      Because Batman movies make a ton of money. If these movies ever flop it’s because they were too expensive to make, not because few people watched them. Take Dark Phoenix for example – that was a flop of a superhero movie, but the volume of people who watched that movie is still easily thrice of what a succesful indie film would get.

    • ZZZ says:


      They’re making another cuz, money. Marvel & DC fans are incredibly devoted, they’d pay to watch paint dry if it’s part of the ‘cinematic universe’. Studios love that, they know it’s reliable $$$$$$$$.

      To everyone reading about Tyler Perry. He is known for being anti-union. He thinks it holds things up.!So it doesn’t surprise me at all he is doing this.

      It’s amazing, the delusion I’m seeing everywhere. Ppl really think it’s back to business. Watch the second wave hit us hard & sooner bc of that. Humans have such hubris – they think they can arrange anything to accommodate themselves, including nature.

      I don’t think this will help independent film. I actually think indie film is dying. This will just make it harder for them.

    • Bunny says:

      Hey a lot of people live off these productions – crew, HMU, extras… it’s not only celebrity actors. If people are willing to pay for a fun hero movie, and I get to be employed in its production, then what’s the harm

  9. koo says:

    “A movie can’t work with masks and social distancing — everyone is all over each other all the time.”
    this person is right. I work as crew and I can confirm that it’s people all over people doing their best to get the production running ~ PAs, camera, light, electric team, second team, first team talent, hundred of background actors plus catering to keep everyone fed for the long hours ahead (a TV show usually films average of 12 hours a day). I think what Perry is doing is not feasible for most productions out there. also it takes ONE mishap to re-propagate the virus. I also don’t like that he’s anti-union, that means he already cuts corners when he can. we have SAG-AFTRA and other guilds for a reason, mainly our well-being and safety on sets.