Editors’ Note: Deadline’s latest series, Reopening Hollywood, focuses on the incredibly complicated effort to get the industry back on its feet while ensuring the safety of everyone involved. We intend to examine numerous sides of the business; if you have suggestions about things to consider, please leave a comment.
Ten days into the film and TV production shutdown — originally scheduled for two weeks — One Day At a Time co-creator/EP/showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett on March 23 posted a tweet to the Hollywood community:
“Industry folks: Can we have a real & honest conversation about the realities that need to be in place for us to return to work safely? I don’t see that happening in two weeks. For me, I’d need a fast test DAILY for all cast & crew. You? I want a solution. Let’s talk about it.”
It sparked a brainstorming discussion moderated by Kellett, with dozens of suggestions from people representing a wide cross section of Hollywood, from a network head, showrunners and actors to an editor, a production assistant and location employees.
Actress Keegan Connor Tracy summed up the anxiety on everyone’s mind. “In film/TV we are accustomed to a certain level of feast-or-famine but I’m certainly nervous about the length of the famine ahead. But also afraid of being rushed back into it too soon,” she said.
There were out-of-the-box ideas for safe reentry into production.
“What if production became like drama camp?,” Pop TV president Bradley Schwartz wrote. “Everyone gets tested. Gets results. Kiss their loved ones. Moves to camp/studio for 4 (?) weeks. Build comfy quarters. Great catering. Alcohol. Nobody nor anything goes in or out. Shoots show. Has a blast. Memories forever. Goes home.”
The idea gained support. “Absent a quick daily test, seems you’d have to sequester the entire cast/crew for the length of production,” actor Christopher Gorham agreed.
But there was also skepticism. If sequestering the cast and crew is not feasible, “There also need to be protocols for how crew members conduct themselves when they leave a set,” veteran TV executive and producer Gene Klein said.
There were specific concerns expressed by crew members whose responsibilities are based entirely on frequent human interaction.
“Idk but I’m nervous because I work in Locations, which means, y’know, all that interaction with people who definitely won’t want to be interacted with for a LONG time. It was bad before + will be worse now. Can you imagine doing notifications? For night shoots?” said Angelica Marciano.
Added Alyssa Appleton: “Not to, uh, make it worse, but the structure of things will likely have to shift, too. As a PA, I leave the office/set ALL THE TIME to do runs/pickups/drop offs.”
The consensus was that the availability of daily testing is key to reopening sets.
“I think ideally that’d be daily testing for the foreseeable future,” said Dead To Me creator/executive producer Liz Feldman.
“Not sure how any work w contact can start without ready availability of quick tests,” said You and The Magicians co-creator/executive producer Sera Gamble. “I don’t know how to approach work requiring plane travel.”
TV editor Mark Hartzell brought up an unconventional model that mainstream Hollywood may want to follow.
“If there were a rapid daily test, I think episodic and feature production would quite possibly model itself on (wait for it) pornography,” he said. “W built in flexibility for personnel/actors to isolate 2 weeks if positive.”
Actor Paul Campbell went beyond testing to suggest changes to the content being filmed. “Daily tests would be a start. Even big crowd scenes feel like a stretch. And maybe we swap out the final kiss with an emotionally charged salute?”
Deadpanned Kellett in response, “The sexy salute!”
Jennifer Liao shared her experience directing a movie a few months ago that could be applied to filming during COVID-19. “Our leading man had the flu for the first week of the shoot (even had to call in sick one day), and there were a handful of kisses scripted, so we would fake the angle or there was some, “You could touch her shoulder…that’s sexy right?”
In an interview with Deadline, Kellett talks about what she has learned from the extensive Twitter discussion, what the biggest challenges in reopening Hollywood might be, and the changes we may see on One Day At a Time when its fourth season resumes production after the pandemic-related shutdown.
She also shares her concerns for the team of One Day At a Time (which includes star Rita Moreno and executive producer Norman Lear, both considered high-risk for the coronavirus), reveals why we will not see the pandemic reflected on the show until a potential Season 5, and how our daily lives will be different post-COVID, with a hugely popular birthday tradition possibly gone for years to come.
DEADLINE: You heard from showrunners, actors, PAs. What did you learn from the conversation? What are the must-haves in a safety protocol to restart production?
KELLETT: I did hear from a lot of people, which was really exciting. It seems like everyone’s concerned, everyone’s worried. We want to get back to work, but we want to do so in a manner that people don’t feel scared to go to work; it seems unfathomable to me that we would return under a circumstance where people didn’t feel 100% comfortable. I was pleased to hear other people were also thinking that fast tests seemed to be what also made them comfortable to ensure that everyone on your set every day was COVID-free and not putting anyone else in danger. So, it does seem like that’s the one answer that, right now, we can all wrap our brains around that makes us feel comfortable until we hear a solution that is better than that solution.
DEADLINE: How do you envision a safe, functional set when production resumes? Is quarantining tested cast and crew for the duration of a TV shoot feasible?
KELLETT: Actually Bradley Schwartz, the president of Pop, had the idea of like a drama camp. I think that might be feasible for a movie production possibly, that day one, everyone gets tested and stays quarantined together. I think the reality of that, though, just thinking about food for that many people. Somebody needs to go out into the world and bring food back, unless there is just incredible refrigeration devices somewhere, where it’s very remote, and all the food is brought in day one. So, I’m not exactly sure I can wrap my brain around that actually working, but certainly that seems like a possibility for a movie that can shoot in 20 days. I think that’s possible.
I don’t see that being a reality with our TV show just because we have seven (episodes) left to shoot for this season, for example, and that would mean that, what, people couldn’t go home? I just don’t know what that would look like. Is it possible? Maybe, but then it would really require people to not see their families or be able to go home. So, it would require productions to pay for their crew to be all together in a hotel or… Greater minds than mine are hopefully thinking about all of this.
DEADLINE: What are the biggest obstacles to a safe return to filming TV shows?
KELLETT: I think it’s what does it look like? What are the solutions that people are providing that would make everyone feel truly comfortable? I am around immuno-compromised people. My parents are in my life daily. My husband has asthma. I have two small children. So, aside from obviously Norman and Rita, who are legends, who are in their 80s and 90s, we have to worry about them, but we also have to worry about anyone who is in contact with anyone that is immuno-compromised on our set. That’s just a lot of people, and I want everyone to feel comfortable. So, figuring out a way so that we all feel comfortable every day to do our jobs in a safe manner is of the utmost priority.
DEADLINE: Do you think live audiences will be possible anytime soon?
KELLETT: No. I don’t.
DEADLINE: Flying actors to shoots?
KELLETT: I really don’t see that being something that’s happening soon, either. I think that we’re going to be doing more local hiring, doing location scouting. I think scouting is OK, provided that, again, people are masked and keep a social distance from one another. You can certainly check out a location. Whether or not you can shoot in that location, though, is a completely different thing. So, it’s the shooting that’s the issue.
DEADLINE: In the discussion, Wynonna Earp creator Emily Andras said that “the front half of my season is going to feel like a different world than the back half” as her show, like yours, was shut down mid-shoot. Are you going to change the content in the unfilmed episodes to reflect the realities of social distancing?
KELLETT: We had not planned on doing that because all of Season 4 takes place largely in 2019. We have a New Year’s episode actually, that’s New Year’s 2020, that doesn’t happen until, I want to say episode 9. Our season ends in February-March when kids find out about colleges. I think that might be right as the pandemic is starting. So, I think the Alvarezes in Season 4 haven’t dealt with this. Perhaps, Season 5 would deal with it.
So, this season is a 2019 season, and ideally, we would shoot the final seven in that way. Now, this all depends on when we get to go back and shoot it. We’re a show with a lot of hugs and a lot of kisses and a lot of physical touch, as well as romance. So, we’re obviously going to have to rethink those. I don’t see myself being super comfortable with characters touching or hugging or kissing, certainly. So, that’s stuff we have to talk about with the actors, we have to talk about with healthcare professionals to see what they deem as safe. I’m not a scientist or a doctor, and I will not pretend to be so. I really look to greater minds than mine to tell us what we can and cannot do for the safety of our employees.
DEADLINE: Should TV series show a new normal or steer clear of it? On the thread you wrote, “I’m thinking, like World War II, we’ll want to escape from this. We’ll desire content about life before or life after, but not be reminded of this for a while.”
KELLETT: I think that depends on the creator. I think there’s going to be probably a lot of incredible content about quarantining. For myself, the Alvarez family, I think, would talk about it in the aftermath or maybe part of Season 5 — the beginning, the first episode would be a quarantine ending or something. I think that it’s certainly happening in the world and this family is dealing with the world, so I could see that be something that we talk about in Season 5. I don’t know how much we’d want to do of it in Season 5, we’ll see where the world is. So much of the show is reflective of what is happening around us, certainly to the Latinx community in Los Angeles.
And again, the first seven that we would want to shoot would be finishing off Season 4, which all takes place prior to the pandemic, so we’d have to make adjustments in order to shoot those, and then hopefully get a Season 5 pickup so that we can start writing what this family is going through after the pandemic and possibly an episode during.
And as far as my future work,I’m probably going to be trying to make stuff that is reflective of something else. I don’t know that I’m going to want to talk about it a ton in my future work at this moment.
DEADLINE: Are we done with onscreen hugs and kisses for the foreseeable future? Would “the sexy salute” temporarily replace them?
KELLETT: I think we are done for a minute. I was reading about some showrunners that shoot when actors are sick. They just have little tricks of how they shoot love scenes or kissing scenes, and I think we may employ those, but I certainly do not feel comfortable asking an actor to make out with somebody in this moment, even if they’re COVID-free.
I think it’s going to adjust society in some way. I think that handshakes will be a thing of the past. I think blowing out candles on a birthday cake does not seem like something we’re going to see anytime soon. So, I’m prepared to adjust for the safety of those around me, and I think Hollywood’s going to be forced to do that, as well.
I hope that our studio heads are having these conversations, how to safely return to work. We very much want to create more content for people once this pandemic is over and have things in place to shoot as soon as it is. And I look forward to a time when we can all return to work safely and get back to this lovely industry that we are in.