COVID 19 BLOG SERIES: 

The Effects of Tyler Perry

The world is changing in many ways. Every day there is a new headline about what is going on in our world, and sometimes it can be overwhelming. In the entertainment industry, we are starting to see some actual change. Production jobs are popping up all over the country, studios have announced that they are getting ready to film once again, and we are even hearing about productions completed successfully during this pandemic. So, what does this mean for filmmakers? Can we trust that the tides are changing for good and for the better? Or is this going to be another false start? Once again, we are going to have to be the judge of that ourselves, but we hope this blog provides insight into some of those questions for you.

 

As we dive into this week’s blog, Film Connx wants to continue to be a source of valuable information on subjects that matter most to the film community. This week we are taking a look at what Tyler Perry Studios has done to successfully film during a pandemic and how that has affected other productions. Enjoy!

Tyler Perry Studios

It is no secret that Tyler Perry is spearheading the expedition in filmmaking during the Covid-19 pandemic. Tyler Perry Studios was the first studio to complete a full season of a primetime scripted series filmed during this time. While other productions have put forth valiant efforts to create a safe production environment, we have yet to see anyone match Perry’s standards. In most cases, productions get set back due to cast or crew testing positive or their inability to get Covid-19 test results back fast enough.

 

Tyler Perry Studios recently opened its doors to show the world of filmmaking how it is maintaining a safe environment. To everyone, the process is stunning. First, Perry employs a quarantine bubble system. The bubble system involves cast and crew staying on the lot at all times during the duration of a shoot. Before starting their quarantine, the cast and crew are provided  a 30-page document detailing the outline of the new shooting process. Next, the team is tested for Covid-19 and then begins their 2-week quarantine in the dorms/housing provided on the studio lot. After being cleared the cast and crew start production while  following safety protocols, including social distancing, masks, sanitary products, and getting tested every four days. While to some this could be seen extreme, to most it is understood as a necessity. During the duration of making the second season of Sistas, the successfully completed production, there were no reported cases of Covid-19 between cast or crew. It is said that Perry will be using the same protocols for his next shows “The Oval”, Bruh, and “Ruthless”. 

 

Tyler Perry Studios

Of course, being the first to pioneer such uncharted waters means there is a learning curve. Perry talked about how challenging it was to downscale to the appropriate amount of people they could house on location to approximately 360 people. He also detailed the challenges of quarantining cast and crew until the initial test results came back. Before any production happened, the team slowly phased people in, initially checking in and testing 160 people, and during this time they only had four positive Covid-19 results. The studio immediately sent the positive people home and got them appropriate care. During pre-production there was a delay in test results when cases began to spike, and test results wait times increased. This of course caused production to be delayed but that was promptly fixed.

 

It goes without saying that Tyler Perry Studios is the first and the best at understanding how to find a new normal for film during this global pandemic. Studios are taking note of this fact as well. Recently, it was announced that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will be working with Netflix to resume production of his film Red Notice next month. Some say he should ring up Perry for advice on what to do. Other studios and shows have taken precautions like quarantining their casts and crew for two weeks before filming, using mannequins as stand-ins for certain scenes, or testing every day of the week while also maintaining safety guides outlined by their state.  But is this enough? Will big studios have to follow Perry’s exact form to not sacrifice their quality of content?  

Eike Schroter/ABC

We’re seeing some of these questions unfold in real time. In Vancouver ABC, and Sony TV’s hit medical drama, The Good Doctor was on its way to starting filming in the city with production at the beginning of August. However, on July 31st the entire crew was laid-off and pre-production was put on hold. These measures came to a plateau as a result of a standoff over Covid-19 safety protocols. It is no secret that the United States has handled COVID-19 in a disparate way, unlike Canada, and that we are struggling to contain infections. Due to this, ABC and Sony want to place strict safety protocols and frequent COVID-19 testing for their cast and crew. At the time of publication, the parties remain at a standoff.

 

On the flip side,because of their quick reaction to Covid-19, local Vancouver unions are pushing back and calling for much more limited testing of crew members. They argue that frequent testing is a waste of resources, considering the low case numbers they are experiencing right now. The even bigger issue comes in when taking into account that most of the hit medical drama’s actors are represented by American unions such as SAG-AFTRA. These unions currently require rigorous Covid-19 testing and safety protocols. Sadly, the American production companies’ impasse with Vancouver doesn’t seem like it will die down anytime soon with conflicting viewpoints. So, where do we go from here? 

One solution to this problem, but likely not the most practical one, is to keep productions in their respective countries using only local talent and crew. Doing so allows for fewer complications surrounding certain international protocols and guidelines enforced by unions. However, it does get complicated for situations such as The Good Doctor which is filmed in one country and features actors from another. Replacing such high-profile talent is out of the question for these big studios and we will likely see similar issues in shows like Riverdale and The Flash as they both shoot in Canada.

 

Another solution is following in Tyler Perry Studio’s steps in finding enough space to quarantine everyone to allow for less rigorous testing like the Canadian unions want, however this would hurt the pockets of those responsible for the production. Not only would the studio need to find housing for the crew, but they would have to provide food, water, sanitary products, transportation, and all things necessary in the Covid-19 testing process, just to name a few things. While the studios could foot the bill, one has to ask is it worth it? Why not put production on hold and fund other shows that are not international and require a much smaller budget to make? 

Tyler Perry Studios

 

This question seems to be a common one among the filmmaking community, as we are seeing almost zero attempts at shooting internationally — especially with shoots involving America. Filmmakers and production houses are getting crafty, however, and are learning to work around such limitations. If an Italian background is desired, they are realizing that there is no need to fly to Italy to get it. This time in quarantine is forcing people to think outside of the box to create compelling pieces. Tyler Perry Studios is paving the way for household name production studios, however smaller studios with less resources may only be able to use TPS as a loose guide to follow. 

 

The next phase for filmmaking is going to be what will happen when we, America, finally move out of Phase 1 and into Phase 2. How are we going to handle the flu season on top of that? Will productions shut down again? Will people be jobless once more? These are questions that can only be answered with time and hopefully, we will be able to withstand the impending storm that is COVID-19. Until then, we must keep on  trying to make the most of filming during such a unique time.

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