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Entertainment in the Time of Covid — Will Film and Television Ever Be the Same?

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After several months of doing what we can to flatten the curve–which has included a lot of staying home and watching TV–people are getting anxious for new content. Yes, streaming services offer what seems like inexhaustible options for entertainment. But what about new stuff?

The good news is that film and television productions are beginning to ramp up. But things are going to be… different. At least for a while. So, what does that mean exactly?

Productions Are Slower, and More Expensive

Increased testing and safety precautions are taking their toll on both film and television productions. They’re adding anywhere from 10%, in the case of TV, to 25% for larger film projects, to bottom line costs.

Some previously greenlit television shows have even been scrapped altogether because of increased costs from stricter safety protocols. Which will ultimately lead to fewer shows being released over the next year.

Some film sets that were originally to be filmed in Hollywood have opted to move to locations with fewer COVID-19 cases and more available testing.

This includes a Ben Affleck-led Solstice Studios feature that was originally slated to begin filming in April. Union requirements that call for cast and crew to be tested three times a week just wasn’t feasible for the LA area, so they’ve moved to Vancouver.

And while these extra costs can be shouldered by large studios, independent operations are being hit a bit harder.

Strict Safety Protocols

Current film and television productions have to have protocols in place to quarantine and test entire casts and crews before filming begins, which as you could imagine, is a logistical challenge.

Several of Tyler Perry’s television shows have resumed filming, and he’s set up a quarantine bubble of sorts at his facilities in Atlanta, with frequent temperature checks and testing. His cast and crew are provided food and lodging, yoga classes, and Sunday church services–something some of his actors have referred to as a kind of adult camp.

And Jurassic World: Dominion, which is being filmed in the UK, bought out an entire London-area luxury hotel for its cast and crew to insulate them from the outside world during production.

But as we saw earlier this week, when Robert Pattinson tested positive for COVID-19 on the set of The Batman, it’s all too easy for a huge, carefully-run production to be shut down in the blink of an eye.

Robert Pattinson
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Expect More Unscripted Television

All of these factors have made scripted television and film the most difficult thing to shoot, so we can expect to see networks and streaming services continue to rely heavily on unscripted shows for the time being.

These productions are already set up to be shot remotely, and shows that rely on sequestering contestants/stars are set up perfectly to quarantine their casts and crews together.

If you think about it, talk shows really didn’t even miss a beat at the start of the pandemic. We just got to hang out with Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, and Trevor Noah in their living rooms. Many of these shows have moved back into the studios, minus the audience, but still feature guest appearances by webcam.

We haven’t seen such a boon for reality TV since the 2007-2008 writer’s strike.

Creative Problem Solving

Some productions have gotten pretty creative in how to keep things rolling on set. Soap operas, known for their frequent love scenes, have been employing the use of dolls–or sometimes an actor’s real life romantic partner–as body doubles in on screen kisses.

In more expensive TV and film productions, the use of digital imagery or green screens can make it seem as though actors are close together when they are not. The use of LED screens, like those famously used in The Mandalorian, are another promising option. These can also stand in for international locales, when flying in the time of COVID-19 can be less than desirable.

We can also expect to see more animated content popping up. That industry should thrive, due to its ability to produce content remotely.

The Future of Entertainment

So will film and television ever be the same? It looks like we’re headed that way. Sets are slowly and carefully opening. Pandemic-themed plots are being developed. And some movies and shows even seem perfectly set up for these unusual times (everyone on Grey’s Anatomy is already wearing a mask anyway, right?)

But really, only time will tell. In the meantime, buckle in for lots of reality TV over the next several months.

And reruns. There’ll always be reruns.