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Hollywood's 'New Normal' Could Be Leaving U.S. Workers and Older Actors in the Dust

Is it dinosaurs or a coronavirus? You can’t be too sure.
Is it dinosaurs or a coronavirus? You can’t be too sure.
Image: Universal Pictures

Nothing is “business as usual” in a world ravaged by a pandemic—especially in the United States, which is sitting at over 5 million cases and 160,000 deaths. Even though they are keeping safety in mind, several studios are rushing to get things moving again. According to two recent reports, that means moving U.S. productions overseas and keeping some older actors out of the roster.

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The New York Times recently published an in-depth look behind the scenes of Colin Trevorrow and Universal Pictures Jurassic World: Dominion, which resumed production at Pinewood Studios in the UK in June. It’s one of a few productions that have resumed following the spread of the novel coronavirus—others including Avatar 2, The Witcher season two, and the Uncharted movie that’s still totally happening. According to the report, it takes a lot of work to keep a set pandemic-free; actors and key production members are tested for covid-19 three times per week, sets are sprayed with antiviral mist before each use, access is extremely limited (akin to a “closed set”), and the studio rented out an entire hotel for the cast and crew.

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“In order to get any of us on a plane, we had to thoroughly understand the protocols, who was involved, and hear second and third opinions,” Bryce Dallas Howard told the paper. “We are the guinea pigs who are going to take the leap.”

It’s clear Universal is working hard to make sure the cast and crew are as safe as possible. Although they’ve already had eight positive covid-19 test results between the Britain and Malta locations. The Times writes, “Four crew members in Britain have tested positive for the coronavirus since early July. Two had yet to be on the set. They were quarantined for two weeks, and after three negative tests were permitted to return to work. The other two were similarly isolated, as was everyone they had been in contact with. No one has become seriously ill, the studio said. (Of the crew members who were sent to Malta in advance, four tested positive. They have been put into isolation.)“

But moving the production overseas is taking its toll on American workers. According to the report, Hollywood studios aren’t just moving to other countries because of rising case numbers in California and test results delays, although those are a big part of it. It’s also because of “plodding negotiations with unions over protocols”—something we’ve also seen happen with Disney and its Disney Park unions. By moving overseas, the studios avoid having to negotiate with unions, which means American crew members are being passed over.

That’s not the only consequence of Hollywood’s “new normal.” Actor John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings) recently told Syfy Wire that he lost two films because they couldn’t get insurance for older actors against covid-19. This isn’t a unique phenomenon: There have been other reports of complications for older actors getting insurance to resume work. And back in April, Stockholm-based Hobby Film wrote a guide for resuming production in Sweden and Denmark that effectively blocked any actors over 70 years old.

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“I’m just at the bottom end of that 75-to-90 range that has apparently got three-quarters of a foot in the grave—or actually up to the knees in the grave. There is a tiny little bit in the back of my mind that’s thinking, ‘It could be over,’” Rhys-Davies said.

It’s a complicated time right now, and I’m sure studios are trying to do their best in the wake of an out-of-control pandemic that’s made it impossible to film in the U.S. But the people who are losing their jobs over government ineptitude and studios being unwilling to strike deals with American unions don’t deserve what’s happening to them either.

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Video Editor and Staff Writer at io9. My doppelganger is that rebelling greeting card from Futurama.

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DISCUSSION

lightninglouie
lightninglouie

The only reason why Hollywood dominated the global movie market in the 20th Century was because the European studios were shuttered during World War I. This, along with the economic disruptions of the ‘30s and the outright destruction of entire film industries during World War II, pretty much guaranteed that American movies would more or less define the medium for the rest of the century.

There is no reason to assume that this was always going to be the case. China and India have massive film industries, and it’s only a matter of time before foreign movies start earning as much money as Hollywood releases. The Wandering Earth, released in 2019, earned about $700 million globally.

Also, I’d argue that what we call “traditional American movies” essentially died out sometime in the mid-’00s, replaced gradually by blockbusters aimed at a global audience. In the ‘90s and early ‘00s, you could still count on conventional dramas, comedies, and non-action genre movies to earn as much as blockbuster tentpoles. In 2000, Cast Away, What Women Want, Meet The Parents, and The Perfect Storm all made more money than X-Men. This would be unimaginable today. As far as I can tell, that was the last year the top ten didn’t consist mostly of franchise movies. Around 2001 or so moviegoers just decided it wasn’t worth bothering to go to the theater unless the movie was really spectacular, though the studios didn’t entirely stop making the kinds of movies that had been successful in the ‘90s for a while — romantic comedies, biopics, WWII dramas, etc. They just didn’t sell anymore.