Almost six months have passed since COVID-19 crunched our careers and intruded upon our lives, but ask people to analyze its personal impact and you encounter ambiguity: For every individual who feels damaged, there are others who testify that quality of life has in many ways improved.
“I hate the fact that my Zoom dependency has kept me happy,” comments one writer-producer. “But wasn’t it Hemingway who wrote that happiness itself is a dangerous dependency?”
This past week I’ve put questions about the shutdown to a spectrum of Hollywood players — from top executives to paycheck-to-paycheck workers. My focus: Let’s talk about living, not production starts. And we can keep it off the record.
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The upshot: Job loss and financial consequences predictably are cited as most devastating, with everyone sensing that it’s part of sweeping changes in Hollywood’s ecosystem. But even for them, and for those still working, albeit at home, the change in lifestyle has been exhilarating as well as troubling.
“I’m a better person but resigned to being a less successful person,” said one writer-producer. “I don’t like the trade-off but I’m dealing with it.”
“Love the gardening now, and hated the driving,” said a talent agent, pointing up another trade-off.
Surrendering the office routine has exacerbated a sense of isolation – an almost uniform complaint. On the other hand, the absence of commuting opens up time for ventures into cooking (“I’m almost a sous chef”) and other skills.
“I’d estimate 25% of the people who work for me do not want to return to an office job,” comments one senior executive. “That may be a savvy choice because many companies are eliminating their offices and reducing staff size.”
Inevitably, the Zoom syndrome has produced sharply divergent responses that, in turn, has burgeoned into a major quality-of-life issue.
To over half the people I talked with, adjustment to Zoom meetings has been a study in frustration.
“Zoom demands performance, not interaction,” says one talent manager. “Virtual meetings inhibit the exchange of ideas and conflicts – the stuff that used to energize personal meetings.”
“I’ve learned to make the most of them,” says one executive who serves on multiple boards. “But you have to restrict the number of participants. When you have 30 people fighting for attention it is headache-inducing. Zoom meetings must be produced as carefully as a play.”
“My day is a maze of back-to-back Zooming,” remarks one network development executive. “Honestly, I spend too much time reading my phone rather than listening to the pitch. If people were pitching in person they would know they were wasting their time.”
On the other hand, producers, managers and agents are by and large grateful that their meetings consume only an hour, not an entire morning, including drive time. “I miss the crowded reception rooms at Netflix or HBO,” remarks a WME agent. “You sense the rhythm of the town and the ability to renew contacts.”
“The bottom line is that, when you work from home, you never actually stop working,” comments one producer. “And let’s get real: You never escape that sense of low-level anxiety that pervades the business. It haunts you.”
So, having been put on “pause,” have lives been permanently changed? “Who was it who said ‘You can’t go home again?’,” asked one filmmaker. “Whoever it was, they were speaking the truth.”
But then there’s the other side. “These past months I’ve learned, not to love my fellow man, but to fear him,” says one filmmaker. “It’s the damn virus. A friend may put me in danger so you cut him off. But then I’ve gotten to know my children. I’ve even become a good amateur nursery school teacher. It’s all a weird contradiction, isn’t it?”
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