Courtesy of The Vancouver Sun
By Dana Gee
The global film and TV industry is working out how to get back to work after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered productions in early March.
In B.C., the hope is that productions will resume, in some fashion, by early June under phase three of the government’s Restart Program. Industry, union and government organizations are working out enhanced safety and health protocols for the nearly $3 billion-a-year industry that employs around 70,000.
In recent weeks, some countries have begun shooting with local talent and have set dates to open their borders.While guidelines are being outlined, Enderby Entertainment run by Enderby, B.C.-native Rick Dugdale, has yelled “action” on a new way of doing things.Dugdale just wrapped shooting on a feature film where none of the actors, crew and production people were in the same location.The psychological thriller 92 was directed by Dugdale from a Los Angeles-based virtual command centre. The production team managed all logistics with the help of technology.
“I’m directing over Zoom,” said Dugdale.
“We have a real film set via Zoom. It feels like we are standing on a film set. We have a cinematographer, we have a production designer, we have the actors and we have the writer and the editor on set as well.”
Set in Japan, the U.S., UK, France, Sweden, Serbia and the United Arab Emirates, the film was shot over a couple of weeks in eight countries (Japan, Canada, U.S., UK, Germany, Sweden, Serbia, UAE) and employed about 50 people.Dugdale says a distribution deal is close and he hopes to have the film released in July.
The story, written by Cam Cannon, follows five characters forced to work together to shut down their “tech titan” mentor’s secret invention.The cast is made up of Veronica Ferres, Lilly Krug, TJ Kayama, Martin Stenmarck, and Vancouver’s Aleks Paunovic, whose Burnaby home stood in for a Seattle apartment.
“There were no handshakes on this film, which is so remarkable to me,” said Paunovic.
“It is so amazing we could pull this together. But everyone was so creative and enthusiastic for it because it is something that has never been done before. There were lots of technical difficulties, but there was a lot of patience in the crew and the actors to keep on pushing forward and go past these technical difficulties.”
Paunovic, who plays an IT specialist in the film, laughs looking back at his three-day shoot.“Sure, I might have forgot to hit record one time,” he said about learning to be his own cameraman.“At first, it was extremely nerve-racking because I didn’t know what to expect,” added Paunovic, who is a series regular on the TV shows Van Helsing and Snowpiercer.“It was super fun and innovative.”
The actors did their own hair and makeup and were trained on the equipment they had at their disposal.
“From the inventory, we basically give them a recipe book on how to set up their scene,” said Dugdale.
Dugdale said that since the pandemic hit, industry types have been busy trying to get the lay of the land in terms of rules and guidelines around the globe.
Enderby Entertainment has a full international slate in the works as well as a busy Canadian schedule.“We have four feature films shooting in Canada also starting in the summer, so you are trying to figure out every state, province, country — there are different rules and regulations everywhere,” said Dugdale.
“As much as Canada seems to be the healthiest part of the globe, there does seem to be some lack of understanding of how the reopening is going to look. No knock on the powers that be … but we are supposed to be in production in July in the Okanagan Valley on a big show.“We are looking at three different scenarios: quarantining people in a hotel; flying the actor in early, which becomes costly when you are bringing your star in for twice the length of time that you need them; then the biggest thing is the border — when is the Canadian-US border going to open,” he said. (The U.S. border closure has been extended to June 21.)
“This film might be releasing while we are all in lockdown,” said Dugdale, who said he hasn’t heard of any other production company doing a project like this.
Aside from the necessity to create content, Dugdale sees 92 as a move toward a different way to make movies — a way that is accessible to the smaller, independent filmmakers looking to attract attention from large streaming services like Netflix that now service a global market.“I think this opens it up to the little independents who are saying ‘how do I compete with the majors when you are trying to sell to Netflix and Netflix is only buying for the international market, so they need international stories?’ Now, here’s a little film that I can put an international take on,” said Dugdale.
“I think you would find, four or five years ago, the Netflix of the world was buying territory by territory. Now, they are buying for the world,” Dugdale said.
“If your film is in small-town USA, it is not really going to work in Spain or Italy or France. But you have that small-town USA and that kid graduates from college and goes backpacking across Spain and Italy and ends up in Brazil, and you get that footage remotely, then all of a sudden your film set in small town America feels global and international.”As for the traditional film/TV production world, Dugdale expects things on set to look a lot different once everyone goes back to work.
“Everyone is coming up with their own production protocols and guidelines,” said Dugdale.
“You are going to start to see sets broken up. If you’re at base camp, you probably don’t need to come to set. If you are in the production office, you don’t need to come to set. You’re going to see a lot of borders, which will be a little unfortunate because I think people enjoy the filmmaking process.”Things like testing, PPE and specialized on-set medics are going to be the norm going forward.Safety, insurance coverage and landing talent will be dictated by how well a production performs when it comes to health and safety protocols.
“I think, in a few years, it will get back to those big shoots,” said Paunovic.
“But right now, it is all about telling stories in a safe way, and people all coming together within that idea of staying safe.”