TheGrill 2021: Every producer now has a COVID-19 war story, including reinventing Kevin Hart’s cancelled stand-up tour
Six Hollywood producers joined 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.
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Duncan Crabtree-Ireland was also present. He represented actors guild in the creation of COVID-19 safety protocols, which have governed TV and film shoots since their restart in September 2020.
Producers had projects that were stopped by the March 2020 pandemic shutdown. However, the process for restarting those projects in a new normal with COVID-19 still a real danger could change from project to project. Gilbert explained that BRON was faced with this challenge when it came to restarting projects of different budget sizes. Each project had its own challenges when it comes to implementing COVID protocols, and finding funding 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 agreed. “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.”
International productions also faced challenges. 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 recalled how Anthony Russo had to be quarantined after his driver tested positive while he was scouting locations in Prague.
Other productions had to be managed, such as 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. However, the pandemic caused it to be cancelled and Laugh out Loud had make do with what they had.
“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.”
However, the pandemic may have prompted some changes to the status quo that could last the long term. Crabtree Ireland noted that self-taped and virtual auditions have become more common in the industry due 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.”
The full roundtable can be viewed here.
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