To say 2020 has been a rough year would be an understatement. While most industries have been impacted by COVID-19, the arts and entertainment are among those hardest hit — in March, around 120,000 U.S.-based crew members were reported to be out of work.
The need to maintain social distancing has not only put a halt on many productions, it also means fewer audiences are attending theaters. While the bigger studios might be able to absorb the financial hit and have resources to more smoothly shift working practices, smaller and independent productions are finding the situation more difficult.
Thankfully, being in a creative industry tends to breed creative solutions. Anybody who has produced an independent film knows that sometimes you have to take non-traditional routes to getting your production over the finish line. This pandemic is no different.
Let’s take a look at some areas of production you can adapt to suit the current climate.
Financing is difficult at the best of times. Whatever way you spin it, film making tends to be an expensive endeavor. At times of economic turmoil such as our current pandemic, investors are more reticent to take a risk on a production that might not be able to result in box office returns. This isn’t to say that funding is outside of your reach.
If you already have an online following, crowdfunding can be a good option. While more people are out of work, this doesn’t seem to be having too great an impact on campaigns. Kickstarter reported that not only were visitor levels consistent with pre-pandemic levels, but success rates have risen. However, if you don’t have the kind of support that enables crowdfunding, there are still grants available — some of which are specifically geared toward productions or filmmakers that have been impacted by COVID-19.
Many of us self-fund our short films, through credit cards and loans. However, it may be the case that the pandemic has both interrupted your production and your ability to make payments on those loans. If your loans were significant enough that you’ve been forced to file for bankruptcy, please don’t consider this the end of your filmmaking career.
You aren’t the first filmmaker to fall foul of financing, and you are able to rebuild your credit through tactics such as maintaining regular payments on bills, and exploring credit builder loans. In the meantime, it’s worth considering packaging the work already completed on your film into a showreel, and approaching investors or grant providers for completion funds. This provides a tangible proof of concept that may give contributors more confidence in your project.
Work With the Restrictions
Despite the fact that COVID-19 is still very much present, not all filmmaking has ceased production. Individual states have issued guidelines for media and even some exemptions. The Governor’s Open Texas Order, for instance allows for media permits to be issued on the proviso that production companies adhere to safety protocols such as maintaining a distance of 6 feet between cast and crew members. Part of your adaptation process must include researching the restrictions for your location, and planning to apply them stringently.
This may, of course, require you to make script or shot changes. Consider if it’s absolutely necessary for 2 actors to be in close proximity to one another during scenes. Can you switch dialogue scenes from 2-shots to over-the-shoulder shots where the actor that is being shot from the rear is wearing a face mask?
Use the grammar of cinematography to help you make creative and safe decisions here. Remember that your crew and cast are professionals, and can contribute suggestions that will turn this situational lemon into lemonade.
It’s also important to make certain that as many crew as possible are wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) throughout the shoot, and that regular testing is undertaken. The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have released a list of resources for filmmakers to keep their workplaces safe, including testing facilities and PPE suppliers.
However, one of the biggest adaptations you and your crew will need to make as a result of COVID restrictions is in regards to your mindset. We’ve seen how inconsistency in business and government, a lack of stability, and weak leadership only serves to exacerbate the challenges of change during this pandemic. A production can be no different.
You need to establish clear goals for safety and cleanliness, and communicate these clearly to all crew. Producers and creative leadership should present a uniform approach, to encourage confidence and a sense of stability at a turbulent time.
One of the effects of this pandemic has been the widespread adoption of working from home. Those films that were in post-production at the onset of COVID-19 were in a fortunate position, as it emerged that many of these tasks — from computer-generated special effects to marketing — can be completed away from studios. However, if you’re still in the midst of shooting, or about to begin, it’s important to consider which roles can be adjusted to operate remotely.
While it’s convenient for everybody to be in the same place, it is not necessary for writers to be on set. There will always be times that script adjustments need to be made, but you can utilize communications and project management software such as Slack or Asana to arrange immediate needs for new sides, and also ensure that all crew can see what changes to production need to be made. Similarly, editors are able to begin cutting remotely, with dailies being shared via secure cloud platforms.
If you’re still at the early stages of pre-production, it may also be wise to consider whether live action is the right choice for your film. Animation is among the minimally disrupted industries at this time, as all elements of the process can be undertaken remotely. It may not have been part of your initial vision for your project, but sometimes restrictions can produce interesting creative results.
Film production has taken a significant hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as filmmakers we need to adapt by understanding the restrictions in place and utilizing resources that are not strictly traditional. These limitations may well be temporary but the challenge will open up new opportunities and unlock strategies we can use in the future.