Art has two primary functions in society; it can entertain or it can educate, and in some wonderful cases it can do both. As actors, we serve stories that are effectively a reflection of society. It allows the audience to reflect on how our generation or moment in time sees itself in relation to the past, present, and future.
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Despite COVID-19, new records are being set for film production in — and around — Vancouver.
That’s according to the head of a local film studio, who says more than 60 projects will be simultaneously shooting in October.
Pete Mitchell says this market has become more attractive because B.C. has managed the COVID-19 pandemic so well.
“Absolutely. The way that, as a community we’ve handled COVID, has made it even more appealing. The limits that we have on production here are physical, the number of studios, the number of people, locations that are available –that sort of thing. Otherwise, there would be even more production.”
Mitchell, who’s the President and Chief Operating Officer of Vancouver Film Studios says there’s also strong demand for content because streaming services are running out of new material.
“Everybody has watched everything they ever wanted to watch on Netflix. The companies that are making content have a backlog of projects that they want to get into the pipeline. The demand is huge and it’s not just North America. It’s world-wide. People are used to seeing new content on a regular basis and there is none. There will be a delay as well because when something goes into production in October, it’s not necessarily getting to the screen until, if they’re lucky, April. More often then not, it’s a year before something shows up on somebody’s screen.”
Mitchell adds Vancouver has suffered since many film and TV crews were ordered to stop working in mid-March, but more projects are leaving New York and LA.
“We’ve done a great job as a community. We continue to do so and people from around the world want to shoot here. Which isn’t to say that it’s slow elsewhere because the demand is so great for content that lots of other production centres are also up and running and about to go full capacity, but believe me, people want to be here. It’s a great place to live and work. So, we’ll be setting records in terms of simultaneous productions. People are going to see a lot of trucks and tents around their neighbourhood. They should know that the industry has done a really, really thorough job of making it as safe as possible.”
In May, Mitchell told NEWS 1130 he was worried Canada’s 14-day quarantine for any workers coming in from other countries would be a problem, but now he concedes that’s no longer a concern.
“It’s just a matter of perspective because, in March, two weeks of quarantine seems like a long time and in September, it seems like nothing.”
British Columbia’s ability to stem the spread of COVID-19 by having strong public safety orders in place also makes it a compelling destination, but Mitchell says 99 per cent of workers in the area right now are from British Columbia.
“So, it’s a small, small minority that are coming in from anywhere and those people have been required to quarantine…. there’s so much at stake for these companies to keep the shows running that they’ve been over-engineering the solution, so there’s ongoing testing that’s been happening on a regular basis, there’s groupings of employees to keep them separate from other groups of employees like wristbands, different colours are issued, so that nobody mixes and you’ll see far more tents because that’s everybody spreading out when they’re at lunch or just sitting waiting to go to the next shot. A tremendous number of protocols have been put in place and I think it’s well above and beyond the WorkSafeBC standard, but that’s because the risks to shutting down production are so high that nobody wants to go through it.”
Mitchell says work started ramping up again in August.
“A lot of shows started prepping and figuring out how it is that we’re going to get back into production in a safe way. That’s been an extended pre-production period, but what’s happening now is it’s all converged and there are tons of shows about to go back into production around the world, but particularly in the Vancouver area.”
He admits the boom happening now is not enough to make up for all the work lost since March.
“I don’t think we can catch up completely, but we’re giving it the best shot we can. You’ll see the numbers overall for the year down substantially. There’s essentially a six-month hiatus and we won’t be able to make all that up, but what I do see is there’s going to be a healthy return and then, 2021 should be a very good year. The real thing that’s of great importance in all of this is the 40 or 50-thousand people that worked in the industry who’ve been off for that period of time are going to be back at work. It’s a large workforce that has been inactive. There’s all kinds of ramifications of that where people are not going out to restaurants because they didn’t have a job and I think we’ll see this is part of recovery of the overall economy.”
If you lost your job in another sector because of COVID-19 and you have transferable skills, Mitchell is suggesting you reach out to Creative BC.
As for what star-gazing you can expect to do if you’re hoping to see one of your favourite actors on set, Mitchell says the only big name he can share is someone who grew up in –and still calls– Vancouver home.
“One of our favourite native sons, Ryan Reynolds, is going to be pretty visible around town because I think he’s got two shows going.”
Click here to learn more about our Professional Actor Diploma Program, starting September 2020.
Hollywood cast and creative will still be required to quarantine for two weeks when crossing the border, slowing the return of the major studios and streamers for new or restarted production.
Film and television productions in British Columbia has a greenlight to restart a couple months after the coronavirus pandemic shuttered local shoots for Netflix, Warner Bros. and other Hollywood studios and streamers.
“Employers can now prepare to restart production activity,” the B.C. Provincial Film Commission at CreativeB.C. said in a statement on Friday. The go ahead follows WorkSafeBC, another government agency charged with reducing the risk of serious injuries on local movie sets, including by stunt performers, issuing Health & Safety Protocols to guide the industry’s reopening with minimum standards.
Film and TV producers will be expected to develop their own workplace safety plans and use the WorkSafeBC protocols as a possible template. CreativeB.C. added no government authorization was required for new or returning production by Canadian and foreign producers to take place.
“The motion picture industry in B.C. was never ordered to shut down, however, all employers carefully restarting activity must be in compliance with provincial health officer orders, notices and guidance, and must develop and implement their own COVID-19 safety plans,” the agency stated.
The B.C. production sector has long been dominated by Hollywood film and TV shoots. Local U.S. TV series shoots in and around Vancouver that were suspended in mid-March included the 15th season of Supernatural, the fifth season of Van Helsing, and the first seasons of Resident Aliens and The Astronauts.
Hollywood’s exodus from Vancouver was in part accelerated by The CW’s Riverdale shutting down production on its fourth season after a team member on the WBTV drama’s Vancouver set coming in contact with a person who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The westernmost Canadian province has since brought the incidence of new coronavirus cases and deaths under control. As of June 5, B.C. has had 2,632 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 167 confirmed deaths from the virus and only one new case since June 4.
The province is, however, still holding the line on cross-border travel as B.C. retains a mandatory quarantine for returning travelers, including Hollywood actors, directors and producers. The provincial government has not yet indicated when Americans will be allowed to cross the border without self-isolating for 14 days, leaving the likely return of Hollywood production to later this summer or the fall.
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Although many Toronto businesses have been given the green light to start reopening, film, television and digital productions set to shoot in the city this year are still shut down — with no plans in place to resume in the near future.
So, as sets sit idle due to COVID-19, unions, guilds and city officials are exploring safe ways to kick-start Toronto’s film industry, which has brought in nearly $2 billion annually for the city’s economy in past years.
“We’re very much focused on finding ways to reopen, finding ways to make production happen again,” Marguerite Pigott, the city’s film commissioner, told CBC Toronto.
But to do that, she says, casts and crews will have to get creative.
Ideas being considered to cut the risk of infection include rewriting large crowd scenes and action sequences, and finding ways during filming or post-production to make actors appear closer to each other than they actually are.
“This is an industry that sleight-of-hand is not a new thing to any of us, so this is just a new level,” Pigott said.
“Do you need all these crowd scenes? Does the action scene need to unfold in that particular way? Are there ways scenes that are not yet in final draft … can they be re-written and reconsidered so that they’re more shootable in these COVID times?”
Industry employs 30,000 people in Toronto
The Australian soap opera Neighbours resumed filming with strict rules of its own, which include no hand-holding or kissing allowed during the filming of scenes.
Manitoba, meanwhile, is poised to allow film and TV production to start as of June 1 if physical distancing and travel restrictions are followed, making it a potential movie hotspot over the summer as one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to reopen its shuttered studio doors.
But with cast and crew in close proximity during shoots — and both crowd sequences and intimate scenes posing health concerns — Pigott says it’s impossible to say when reopening would become a reality for actors and filmmakers in Toronto.
“That’s a really devastating shock so for many people; it is very, very challenging times,” she said.
Despite the uncertainty, industry officials are now scrambling to draft new on-set safety rules to get productions back up and running as soon as possible.
Alistair Hepburn, the director of broadcast production for ACTRA — a union representing thousands of performers in the film, radio, television and new media industries — says there were over 100 Toronto productions on the go before the industry was forced to shut down in March.
And with 30,000 people employed by the industry in Toronto alone, Hepburn says unions and guilds are working together to draft protocols that will protect the health and safety of all industry members. Those protocols will be submitted to the provincial Ministry of Labour on June 1 for consideration.
“It’s really going to be about a community effort to keep the space safe,” he said.
But Hepburn says there is a risk to starting up too early.
“It’s all fine and good for industries elsewhere in the world to start up, but it only takes one on-set infection for that industry to go sideways in a hurry,” he said.
“An overreaction is better than an under-reaction.”
‘Self tapes’ will likely likely be integral part of auditions
One of those thousands of industry professionals is Richard Okolo, a Toronto actor who has two short films on hold that were supposed to shoot this spring.
He’s been on multiple webinars this week for actors, all of which have emphasized the future importance of “self tapes” — an audition method that requires actors to film scenes on their own and then send them to casting directors.
“Self tapes are going to be really big,” Okolo told CBC Toronto Friday.
As a result, online professional systems for actors such as Casting Workbook have begun hosting workshops to help performers perfect their home auditions.
But that’s easier said than done, Okolo said.
“Getting the right lighting, shooting them right, having a reader to be able to do those self tapes properly … that’s really the key of what’s happening.”
Okolo said the industry will likely also change in other ways, including a push to enforce physical distancing measures and the use of personal protective equipment on sets.
“We’re just trying to figure out how these things are changing,” he said.
And those changes, Okolo said, will likely be the new normal, even after the threat of COVID-19 has dissipated.
As for job security, he says cast and crew will be in an even more precarious situation than before the pandemic.
“These are kind of the things going through our minds right now in the industry.”
Push to bring L.A. productions to Toronto won’t stop
Meanwhile, the city says it won’t stop its bid to bring Los Angeles productions to Toronto, something Mayor John Tory has been pushing for since 2016.
And despite COVID-19 restrictions, city spokesperson Lawvin Hadisi says Tory and other leading players in the city’s recovery strategy continue to push for the return of productions.
“During consultations with the industry since the inception of the pandemic, film industry players were, without exception, very positive about the resumption of production activities as soon as circumstances permit,” Hadisi told CBC Toronto in an email on Friday.
“The mayor wants the film and television productions around the world to know that despite the impacts of COVID-19, Toronto will be ready for a return of the industry and that we continue to be a film- and TV-friendly city.”
Click here to learn more about our Professional Actor Diploma Program, starting September 2020.