How 6 Hollywood Producers Got Filming Done During the Pandemic (Video)

TheGrill 2021: Every producer now has a COVID-19 war story, including reinventing Kevin Hart’s cancelled stand-up tour

Six Hollywood producers joined TheWrap for TheGrill 2021 to discuss how they navigated the shock that the COVID-19 pandemic inflicted on the entire film industry.

The discussion was moderated by Stacey Sher of Shiny Penny Productions and Van Toffler of Gunpowder & Sky. Joining them were Brenda Gilbert of BRON, Jeff Clanagan of Kevin Hart’s Laugh Out Loud Productions, Mary Viola of Wonderland Sound & Vision and Mike Larocca of Joe & Anthony Russo’s AGBO.

Also speaking was SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, who represented the actors guild in the construction of the COVID-19 safety protocols that have governed film and TV shoots since they restarted in September 2020.

All the producers had projects that were halted when the pandemic shutdown was ordered in March 2020, but the process of restarting those projects under a new normal where COVID-19 was still a real threat could change wildly from project to project. Gilbert said that BRON faced that challenge when restarting projects of varying budget sizes, each with their own unique challenges when implementing COVID protocols and finding funds for the insurance.

“We don’t have any corporate backers, so we really had to think in a creative and innovative way in adapting in safety and…in how it impacted every crew member,” she said. “We have one foot in the indies with our filmmaker-first approach and also have our multiple studio partners, so we really had to think about how COVID affected every aspect of production in terms of the budgets.”

There were also challenges faced for overseas productions. Some challenges were simply in casting, as Toffler had two Gunpowder & Sky productions filming in Canada that took longer to get off the ground because they had a harder time finding actors willing to quarantine for two weeks before filming as part of the protocols. Larocca recounted how Anthony Russo also had to quarantine after his driver tested positive while he was location scouting in Prague.

There were also challenges for different kinds of productions, like stand-up comedy specials. Clanagan was set to produce one with Kevin Hart for the comedian’s stand-up tour that would be released on Netflix. But when the pandemic cancelled it, Laugh Out Loud had to improvise.

“We rented a rooftop, open air restaurant on top of a hotel in Hollywood that seated about 25 people, so we did about 75-80 shows over 30-40 days, day after day after day,” he said. “So by the time we were ready to do the production, we had it perfected. The city had to come out because this was before vaccinations, even though we only had 20-25 people in the audience. Everybody had to wear masks so the laughs were muffled.”

But the pandemic has also led to some status quo changes that might stick around for the long haul. Crabtree-Ireland noted that virtual and self-taped auditions have become common in the industry thanks to the shutdown.

“On the one hand, that’s allowed actors more opportunities to be considered,” he said. “On the other, there’s a lot of problems associated with self-taping that we are trying to work through now in terms of how they can be done in a way that’s respectful of performers and expect them to be their own home-based producer.”

Watch the full roundtable here.

For over a decade, TheWrap’s Grill event series has led the conversation on the convergence between entertainment, media and technology, bringing together newsmakers to debate the challenges and opportunities facing content in the digital age. Tailored to C-Suite and high-level attendees, TheGrill presented by WrapPRO, delivers a unique series of curated discussions, industry panels and virtual networking activations that explore the ever-changing media landscape. View the full panel and all Grill content here.