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How Hollywood gets back to work

Jen Rogers
·Anchor

David Mandel has made a lot of people laugh. He’s won two Emmys running HBO’s VEEP, wrote on “Seinfeld” and was just about to shoot a limited series for AT&T (T) owned HBO before the coronavirus pandemic broke out. He’s a writer and director who goes into every scene prepared with a script, but thrives in the unrehearsed moments on a set.

“So much of the great stuff comes at those moments in between takes where you're out there sort of huddling with the actors in a scene, talking through that scene, trying stuff, very face to face,” Mandel told Yahoo Finance. “The notion of trying to eliminate face-to-face or minimize it just works so against the process.”

But that’s the challenge Hollywood faces as it tries to restart production which has been halted since March. As comedian Tim Meadows told Yahoo Finance, “I cannot work from home.” 

Hollywood is trying to restart production

The timeline for getting back to work is a moving target with plans changing on a daily or weekly basis.

For David Mandel though, it’s about much more than the date shooting actually starts again. It’s about the new choreography crews and casts will need to master to actually operate in this environment.

“I think schedules are out the window and I'm not talking about the calendar,” he said. “I'm talking about what you can do in a given day — how people are going to arrive, staggered arrivals, how the day is going to work, what that might mean for crowd scenes or not crowd scenes or maybe more special effects.”

SCHOOLED - The Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Television Network. (John Fleenor/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) AJ MICHALKA, TIM MEADOWS
SCHOOLED - The Walt Disney Television via Getty Images Television Network. (John Fleenor/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images) AJ MICHALKA, TIM MEADOWS

From The Walt Disney Company to ViacomCBS, studios are treading carefully. Hollywood’s biggest companies realize you can’t turn the entertainment industry on like a lightbulb. 

Viacom CEO Bob Bakish said on the company’s most recent earnings call that some shows may be easier than others to get back to work.

“If you start segmenting different kinds of production, sound stage-based productions, things like sitcoms, that's a more controllable environment,” he said. “So we feel good about that. Dramas, again, if you look at it, there will likely be limitations.”

Shows that are less production intensive will have an easier time getting back to work. Tim Meadows had his ABC show “Schooled” canceled this month, but his other show on CBS All Access “No Activity” is returning.

“I know that's going back into production,” Meadows said. “It's a lower budget show, and the cast — we work in twos. So there's not a lot of extras or crowds or anything like that. So I could see that being an easier production to go into.”

(Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

Production costs are going up

Producing a major movie or TV show is never cheap, but shooting in a COVID world looks to be substantially more expensive than before. It’s not just the basics of masks and gloves, there are thoughts of quarantining crews and actors together. Technology may also have a role to play, as editors use special effects to remove social distancing or PPE from a shot. And it’s all going to take more time. 

For Mandel it changes everything.

“All of a sudden, something that you might have been planning as, like, a really tight, budgeted... like a 20-day shoot, that's not going to be possible if you're trying to do something with any sense of scope. And these things are going to really fight each other and really, I don't know, change things. And there's no great answer.”

Finally, something everyone in Hollywood can agree on.

Jen Rogers is an anchor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @JenSaidIt.

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