Production in a Pandemic Part 1: Movies

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Abby Throndson

Movies aren’t being released, or are being released on various streaming platforms.

Abby Throndson, Co-Editor-In-Chief

In March, the Hollywood industry shut down. Movie premieres were postponed, cancelled, and productions cut short. Premieres were first pushed back a month or two, stacking the 2020 summer box office releases, but as we got further into the spring and summer, premieres were cancelled or pushed back even more, many suspended until 2021. 

Some movies forwent traditional premieres and theater releases, being released on streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+, and Apple TV+. Aaron Schneider’s war film “Greyhound,” starring Tom Hanks, was originally set to be released in March, however, when the country shut down due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Sony announced the release would be pushed back to May, and then delayed even further to June. Finally, Apple TV+ announced that the movie would be released for streaming on July 10, instead of holding a traditional theatrical release. Disney’s live-action “Mulan,” had a similar release on Disney+. The movie was available with an additional charge of $30 on September 4, 2020, with a release to all Disney+ subscribers three months later. 

Some highly anticipated releases are having the traditional theater release, but also being released on streaming services. “Wonder Woman 1984” delayed their August release to October, and finally settled on a December 25 release date, being released in theaters and streaming on HBO Max on the same day. The Warner Bros. movie-musical “In the Heights,” based on the 2007 musical about a predominantly Latino neighborhood during a city-wide power outage, was scheduled for release in June 2020, but is now postponed until June of 2021 and is already planning a release both in theaters and streaming on HBO Max.

Many movies have pushed back release to 2021, including Wes Anderson’s latest movie, “The French Dispatch.” The movie was set to release over the summer, but has been postponed indefinitely, waiting for a time after the pandemic to release. “No Time to Die,” the latest installment of the James Bond series release was pushed back to April of 2021, as is the second film in John Krazinski’s horror series “A Quiet Place.” 

Some movie premieres are also being pushed back because of the inability to film during the pandemic. Film production works on years long schedules, and the unpredictable nature of the deadly pandemic isn’t always compatible with the long production time of movies. “Shazam! 2” pushed the release date from February 2022, to June of 2023. The next “Star Wars” trilogy delayed production and has been scheduled to premiere every other December starting in 2023.

Despite this, some movies have started filming, like “Jurassic World: Dominion.” As the first major production since the pandemic began, the filming process has been more tedious and costly. Productions have had to purchase large amounts of face masks, COVID tests, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) units to properly ventilate the set. Financially backed by Universal, one of the biggest production studios, the cast and crew stayed in hotels, creating a bubble for filming, quarantining for two weeks before starting filming, and then only seeing those within the bubble, limiting the exposure to the outside world and being tested regularly. On set, masks are changed regularly, cast and crew are distant from one another, and new crew members have been hired to ensure the production follows safety protocols. 

However, smaller movies that do not have the financial backing of a large company are having to spend more of their budget on COVID safety. Smaller movies are still able to create a bubble atmosphere, quarantining for two weeks before starting filming, and then only see others in their bubble. Smaller movies have also sped up their production time to reduce costs, some being completed in two weeks or less. Smaller productions do not have the money to shut down and restart production, so filming in less time decreases the risk of someone in the group contracting COVID. “We Need to Do Something,” a small upcoming horror movie filmed in 18 days, compared to the “Jurassic World” that filmed for 19 weeks. 

While more movies have begun filming, many have had to pause or stop production due to positive COVID tests. When a positive test comes back, production halts while those who have been in close contact with the positive case are put into quarantine. In some cases, like “Jurassic World: Dominion,” the positive case was close to the central cast and main group of crew, so the movie was put on pause. These pauses could potentially cause a deficit of movies in the future, and impact the livelihoods of lesser known actors. With less money in the budget, small movies that are shut down because of COVID are at risk for being completely scrapped.