It’s increasingly looking like the coronavirus pandemic will spell a lost year for Hollywood. Most major studio production has been put on hold in the wake of the pandemic, and new releases have all but completely cleared out of the summer. Although movie theaters have recklessly been given the okay to open in Georgia as early as next week, it’s entirely possible that a new film doesn’t open until the fall, if moviegoers are even comfortable attending theaters by then.
Despite the evident public health concerns, studio executives are eager to get these productions back on track to help fill out the schedule into next year, but there are lingering challenges for meeting safety regulations. According to a report from Variety, studios and production companies are exploring plans to safely resume filming movies sometime this year. The Directors Guild of America has, in a move far too on-the-nose for a movie, appointed Contagion director Steven Soderbergh to lead a task force dedicated to sorting out how productions can resume. The director will reportedly work with a team of epidemiologists and guilds to chart the post-pandemic future of film.
Some of the plans are similar to Major League Baseball’s dubious proposals for a quarantined season. Studios are reportedly considering putting up all employees in hotels for the duration of the shoot, isolating them from friends and family. Crew members likely receive temperature checks before entering the lot, and studios hope to have widespread coronavirus and antibodies testing available to their workers — both of which feel like a distant reality.
Even if these measures are enacted, films will face a much harder path to profitability. Budgets will almost certainly balloon to cover proper sanitation, even with a skeleton crew onset to maintain safe distancing practices. One media company advisor cited in the Variety report mentions the inherent liability concerns, should an actor or crew member test positive for the virus. But more crucially, what worker protections are in place for contracted guild workers, who often don’t have paid sick leave to fall back on?
Tom Cruise, ever willing to throw himself in front of an impractical, death-defying challenge, reportedly expects to resume filming the next Mission: Impossible entry this June. Paramount has considered scrapping part of the shoot set to take place in Italy, moving it stateside, or at least waiting until the fall to finish the film’s more globe-trotting elements.
But Elsa Ramo, an attorney who has represented Skydance Media — the production company behind recent Mission: Impossible films, Jack Reacher, and the Top Gun sequel — warns that it may be far longer before that can be a practical reality. “I have a lot of clients with productions that they want to shoot in 2020,” Ramo told Variety. “But it would be arrogant and misleading of me to offer them any sort of assurance that’s possible.” Especially if another outbreak returns in the fall and winter, any plans to salvage this year could seem far too optimistic for major Hollywood productions.