Beyond Protocols: Is COVID-19 Changing Film Culture?

COVID has not only physically changed the way assemblies work, it has also changed the culture of the workplace – with a little help from technology.

That’s according to Glenn Gainor, head of physical production for Amazon, Amazon Original Movies, Amazon Studios, who came from LA via Zoom to address the industrial side of CinefestOz last week.

Gainor recalled that pre-COVID, showing up on set sick or in good health was a “badge of honor”. The pandemic has since changed attitudes about how films should be produced, with technology making the process easier.

“If you weren’t feeling well, you showed up anyway. You have to make a movie. You have to be in the movie, ”he told the audience.

“I think the culture has now changed permanently. If a director isn’t feeling good, you still want them to have the ability to direct. You have a cast on set. You might have very special locations; you have to go in, you have to go out. You have limited time, money – so many reasons may compel you to continue.

“I’m impressed with most of the low latency steering connections we have. If a director is not doing well, you can say “Go home”. You can be comfortably seated and set up your monitors, you can steer; you can see all the plans, you can communicate.

“We’re seeing capabilities where you’ll have instant 5G sent from your camera to a monitor, streamed live and all you need is a certain phone and an app.”

Gainor believes that this technology, which allows instantaneous transfer of high-resolution images, may have other advantages. Live feeds can be sent to an editor for example, or it can be beneficial to shoot in difficult places. It can even have an impact on the storytelling. He sees it as the passage of cinema from the 20th century to the 21st.

“If you’re making a traditional studio film, you might want to take a road trip and let people drive miles and miles, and drive for free… whatever makes sense for the story. Again, great technology [means] the folks at Video Village can make sure everything is running smoothly.

“Before, we were a very curled up group; everyone on the shooter – all 15 in this truck. We can now expand with this kind of technology, be a little more civilized in that sense. These are advances. “

Other key technological changes going forward include virtual production, something that Gainor says will continue to change the way movies are made and set new challenges.

“You will also see these [LED] screens, by the way, in movie theaters; the concept of 35mm projection projected on the wall is also something that [we’re] going to be challenged with; the screens will push us imagery.

“The average viewer might not know the difference, but as filmmakers we have to know that we are going in that direction. So what does this mean as a storyteller? This means that we need to be more aware of the high dynamic range, where we are going to have more intensity and lighting. If you point the camera into the sun it could really blind someone in the theater, and possibly at home, as we go down to 8K. You will squint because of the image being projected on you by the technology.

“So how do we tell stories knowing that we are going out into this world?” How can we protect the future so that our films do not look outdated, but in fact remain progressive? We want our films to live for years and years. ”

When it comes to COVID-19 filming more generally, the executive considers the COVID-Safe protocols Australia established at the start of the pandemic to restore production as a source of inspiration internationally. Notably, in April 2020, Fremantle Australia’s Neighbors was one of the first television series to restart production globally, while filming in Sydney The children of the corn, which has never stopped, was among the first projects to establish now common bubble systems.

“The first place we looked for advice was in Australia because of what’s called the ‘pod system’,” said Gainor, who worked for Sony’s Screen Gems at the time.

“Part of that became something that we also adapted. “

Gainor predicted that COVID-Safe practices will be part of production for a long time, continuing to exist in the same way as general health and safety protocols.

In June, Netflix became the first major studio to implement a general policy requiring vaccinations for casts of all of its US production. Other studios are expected to follow suit, including Amazon. As the vaccination rate in Australia accelerates, it appears to be only a matter of time before similar conversations begin here.

For Gainor, vaccinations are now part of the conversation.

“We must always take this very seriously. The biggest defense we have for this, according to our specialists, is asking people to get vaccinated.

“We’re one of the very few industries that says some people can wear a mask at work, but still others – actors – can’t. So all we do is protect not only our crew, our director and our producers, but protect our actors. They are the ones who have to take off the mask and act, and pretend there is no pandemic going on. “

The executive joined Amazon in November of last year because of its content and creative leadership, as well as the diversity of global stories, and hinted that there would soon be Amazon Studios films in Australia.

“I’m here in what’s called Hollywood; Culver City, LA. We have a certain vision, but the filmmakers in Western Australia may have a different version, a different vision. It is important to empower people to tell their stories according to where they are in the world. It’s really critical. We don’t want to filter this out. We want to celebrate the differences.

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