Saturday, May 21

When Every Set Looks Like Contagion: Within the Year of the Hollywood Pandemic | the Angels

For decades, Hollywood soundstages have built alternative universes in downtown Los Angeles: fictional courts, hospitals, homes and offices. Today, they all look like the Contagion set.

Makeup artists walk around in astronaut helmets. The actors take breaks inside plastic bubbles. And healthcare professionals rub everyone’s nose for a deadly infection before they are allowed in.

Like much of the rest of the world, Hollywood in 2020 grappled with Covid-19, a virus that has created unprecedented challenges for film and television production at a time when people are stuck at home and desperate to escape into stories of fiction.

Los Angeles film industry completely closed when California became the first state to issue a strict stay-at-home order in March and Los Angeles location filming sank to its lowest level ever.

Nine months later, the actors have slowly returned to the set. Some the main characteristics of the study were resumed operations in Los Angeles this fall, and FilmLA, a nonprofit that issues permits for the region, received 880 applications in October – a 24% increase from September. Full-length TV shows like Shameless, NCIS: Los Angeles, and American Idol are also back in Los Angeles. The Bold and the Beautiful returned with a wide range of unusual precautions, including the use of dolls or real pairs of actors for kissing shots.

But by multiple measures, the challenges facing the center of the entertainment industry in Southern California remain enormous. Across Los Angeles, working actors and other employees behind the camera have been unable to make ends meet during this year’s closings, some fleeing California or abandoning their careers entirely. Massive and prolonged unemployment, combined with changes in the actors’ insurance plans, has left some struggling to access basic health care coverage. And there is growing concern about the types of projects that could be shut down for good.

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“We will never know how many people abandoned their dreams due to this pandemic,” said Shaan Sharma, a television actor who has advocated for better health protections for actors this year. “We will never know what movies or shows would have been shot. We’ve had a lost year … It has absolutely decimated our community. “

The Jurassic World: Dominion set.
The Jurassic World: Dominion set. Photograph: John Wilson / Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment

Reinventing our industry ‘

“We had to reinvent our industry,” said Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 399 union, which represents more than 5,000 drivers, location managers and others in Hollywood.

The sets have been transformed. Covid is changing protocols behind the scenes. Even the stories are different. Some TV shows are setting their new seasons in the contemporary Covid era, allowing actors to wear masks on camera. Others have rewritten scenes for outdoor locations or removed stories that require crowd shots or lots of extras.

Mike Menapace, a transportation manager on a new Universal sitcom, said he kept everyone on set physically separated or isolated in groups of “capsules.” The production ran regular tests and the actors only removed their masks when the camera was rolling.

“It’s like relearning what you know,” he said, noting that a positive Covid test could halt an entire production. “It is absolutely stressful day by day and minute by minute. There is a lot of extra work and limited bodies. “

Marie Fink, a longtime stunt actress, said it was strange to navigate physical fight scenes in times of Covid when people try to stay apart at all costs. During a recent night scene that involved being submerged in water, she finally had to remove her face shield because she couldn’t see. However, the mask had remained: “It’s difficult, we always try to have fun at work.”

Levi Tinker of the TCL Chinese Theater places hand flags and star prints on Veterans Day.
Levi Tinker of the TCL Chinese Theater places hand flags and star prints on Veterans Day. Photograph: Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

On the set of The Rookie, an ABC crime show, one of the actors had brought protective individual bubbles they could sit during breaks, said Frances Fisher, a veteran movie actress who appeared on the HBO series Watchmen. Rehearsing with a mask and shield was strange: “You can never see the facial expressions of your scene partner.” But he felt that the protocols were at least safe and that the productions were taking all precautions.

Tensions on set can increase. In recently leaked audio from the filming of Mission: Impossible 7, Tom Cruise was heard yelling obscenities at the crew for apparently violating social distancing protocols.

Hollywood turns dark

Working actors are used to long periods between jobs, but the complete lack of opportunity in the early months of the pandemic was terrifying for those who live paycheck to paycheck.

Although California health officials authorized the restart of filming in June, lengthy negotiations with unions over Covid security protocols prevented Hollywood soundstages from resuming operations over the summer. While a handful of major movies Cautiously started by rebooting in England, New Zealand, and Berlin, LA remained silent.

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell filmed Mission: Impossible 7 in Rome last month.
Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell filmed Mission: Impossible 7 in Rome last month. Photograph: MEGA / GC Images

“Many have suffered. It’s just a massive economic effect, ”said Paul Audley, President of FilmLA. In addition to those directly employed by productions, there are more than 6,000 small businesses that depend entirely on Hollywood, from local garbage collection to specialists who make accessories. “I don’t think there is any way to recover what was lost.”

In addition to hundreds of thousands of people out of work, the industry has suffered billions of dollars in losses, with a economic toll it is likely to hamper Hollywood’s growth for years to come.

“People are leaving Los Angeles,” said Fink, the specialist. “It is heartbreaking. We all love what we do. So it’s emotional if you’re not doing your job. “

For the many workers who continue to operate behind the scenes, “the shutdown was devastating,” said Dayan, the union leader of location managers and drivers. The union was forced to create an aid fund to help its members.

Losing medical care during Covid: ‘Stress can kill you’

This year, the crisis exacerbated controversial changes in the health plan of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (Sag-Aftra), the American union of film and television actors.

Citing large financial deficits, Sag-Aftra health plan officials announced in August it would increasing the amount that actors would have to earn to qualify for medical care, from $ 18,040 to $ 25,950 each year, leaving many fearful that they will no longer get coverage during a pandemic. The new plan, which begins in January, also increases premiums, makes it harder for some seniors to qualify and makes some spouses ineligible.

“People were angry, scared and upset,” said Fisher, the veteran movie actor, who is also vice president of the Sag-Aftra location in Los Angeles. “The panic was palpable.”

Officers said The changes were necessary amid rising health care costs and a lack of live entertainment, but given extraordinary job shortages and tougher restrictions, more than 11,000 people could lose Sag insurance, according to estimates by some advocates and a class action lawsuit lawsuit Recently presented by some actors.

Extras are seen in the film Jurassic World: Dominion set at the University of Oxford.
Extras are seen in the film Jurassic World: Dominion set at the University of Oxford. Photograph: Charles Latham / REX / Shutterstock

“I haven’t worked since March,” said Sandra Gimpel, an 81-year-old acrobatic who has been in the business for decades and was still working regular concerts prior to Covid. “The stress level this year is enough to kill you.”

Under the new health plan, people over 65 who are receiving a pension can no longer use their residual payments to qualify for the $ 25,950 eligibility threshold. Gimpel was left struggling to find out if he was earning enough before Covid to continue accessing coverage.

Gimpel believes she will be able to stay in her health plan in 2021, but is not sure about the year ahead: “This is not the time to take people’s health insurance away.”

Sharma, who is currently on The Chosen program, said that he would lose his Sag-Aftra insurance for the first time in his career, and that many union members have been out of work since the beginning of the crisis: “You are simply fighting for leftovers on the table. “

A spokesperson for Sag said advocates’ estimates of lost coverage were exaggerated and that about 10% of participants would lose coverage next year due to the changes, though more are likely to suffer as a result of the closures.

Meanwhile, actors are hopeful that 2021 will bring a renaissance, with vaccines on the way.

“As much as I wished we didn’t go back to work until this was all over, that was not a possibility,” Dayan said. “The reality is that we cannot afford to stay home for six months. People have to put food on their table ”.

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