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As Hollywood is cautiously charting a path back to TV production, Vancouver may help lead the way.
A number of shows filming up north have set tentative July-August production start dates, I hear. They include ABC’s The Good Doctor and A Million Little Things, the CW’s Supernatural, The Flash, Riverdale and Charmed, and Netflix’s Midnight Mass.
I hear The Good Doctor is eying a late-July Season 4 production start (I’ve heard July 20 and July 30 as possible dates). A Million Little Things is eying an Aug. 10-Aug. 24 Season 3 start. Supernatural has been aiming for an end-of-July start to finish its final season before star Jared Padalecki segues to production on his new CW series, Walker.
The Good Doctor, AMLT and Supernatural are all on their networks’ fall schedules, with bigger urgency for them to get going though no one is rushing a return to production before safety protocols are agreed upon with the unions and implemented.
Several other Vancouver-based CW series, which are not slated to debut until January, also are cautiously plotting a return to production. The list includes Riverdale (Season 5) and The Flash (Season 7), which are eying a possible restart in August-September, and Charmed, which is being rumored for a potential Aug. 10 Season 3 start.
Additionally, I hear it has been a priority for Netflix to get production on high-profile new horror series Midnight Mass — originally slated for a spring start — underway in Vancouver. It is now aiming at a new start date in late July- early August, I hear.
Like California, Canada’s British Columbia province, where Vancouver is located, earlier this month lifted restrictions on film and TV production, allowing filming to restart. For U.S. production to resume in full force in either location, the Hollywood studios need to reach an agreement with the guilds and unions on safety protocols. Negotiations between the two sides are currently underway.
While California is in the midst of a spike of new infections, posting multiple record high numbers over the past two weeks, British Columbia has been praised for its handling of the pandemic. The province’s Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was profiled by the New York Times, which called her one of the most effective public health officials in the world for her success in keeping the disease in check in British Columbia without severe restrictions.
In contrast to Canada’s two most populous provinces, Ontario and Quebec, which had been hard hit by the pandemic, British Columbia never faced a major outbreak and has been able to successfully reopen schools, restaurants and hair salons. The province yesterday announced its first COVID-19 death in more than a week.
But B.C. also has remained on high alert, imposing state of emergency very early on, which is yet to be lifted. Canada’s land border with the U.S. continues to be closed, and anyone flying into British Columbia has to self-isolate for 14 days.
I hear the series eying production restart in Vancouver in July-August are planning for self-quarantine upon arrival, with talent asked to arrive two weeks prior to the projected started date in order to comply with the health orders.
But, apart from the mandatory self-isolation, the fact that COVID-19 appears to be largely under control in British Columbia (32 new cases recorded for the last three days combined) should be reassuring for the U.S. series filming there, suggesting possible lower risk of infection and coronavirus-related shutdowns.
That may help alleviate the need of rigorous testing three or more times a week, which has emerged as a sticking point in the studios’ negotiations with the Hollywood unions and guilds on final safety protools.
Meanwhile, the pandemic is expected to create more opportunities for Canadian-based directors and actors.
While most U.S series filming in Vancouver already use predominantly local crews, guest stars and directors — especially for non-CW shows — are often flown in from the U.S.
With mandatory 14-day self-quarantine and increased potential safety risk for the entire production when someone flies in from a COVID-19 hot spot, which, for example, Los Angeles County is considered at the moment, I hear producers for shows like The Good Doctor and AMLT are focusing on employing predominantly Canadian-based guest actors and episodic directors for the time being.
In the U.S., Atlanta has been leading the charge by reopening early and planning multiple productions to start in the coming weeks, including Tyler Perry’s BET series Sistas and The Oval.
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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.”
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