The Los Angeles Times ran some new work of mine in an article last week about the challenges of Hollywood getting back to work. With so many new rules regarding production safety, no one stopped to consider the impact of filming in neighborhoods during the pandemic. Well, we recognized the dangers right away.
In early July, with the COVID-19 outbreak worsening in Los Angeles and
around the US, I found a “Notice of Filming” flyer in my mailbox. Michael
Bay was planning on bringing a full-size action blockbuster film-set to
my block. He wanted to film his new action movie, “Songbird”, about the
pandemic still raging two years into the future intertwined with alien and government conspiracies, in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood hard-hit by the coronavirus. Beyond the offensive plotline and disruptions it would bring to an already shell-shocked community, my neighbors and I immediately pushed back with concerns of coronavirus spread. After conversations with FilmLA and our local Neighborhood Council, we weren’t sure what would happen. But within a day, they canceled the location shoot. Unfortunately, the “On A Lark” production appears to be moving ahead (They actually named the production company “On A Lark”. Apparently, gambling with people’s lives is just “a lark” to Michael Bay and co). According to the industry coverage, it was supposed to be a small indie style thriller, but the film notice belies that fact. Their FilmLA request showed all the signs of a full-size shoot, including no parking on either side of the street, intermittent traffic stops, moving car scenes and even 7 AM - Midnight filming days. For ten days. And all this in the worst-hit neighborhood in LA.
The carelessness to green light this production in this manner is stunning. I’m eager to see our industry come back to life, but there is no reason to be unsafe or cavalier about
the dangers of COVID-19 spread. And, you certainly need to be taking the safety of the neighborhood into consideration. Why film in a neighborhood at all right now? Why not a desert? Why not a warehouse district? Why not your Beverly Hills mansion?
Bringing this production to a Latino neighborhood in the middle of the pandemic is more than just a logistical and safety problem, it’s an ethical one as well. In the context of ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, the whole concept fails to take into account that most people are already living this dystopian future right now. No need for Hollywood to make-up government conspiracies with the rich pitted against the poor in a post-apocalyptic horror show. This is our daily lives in America! Black and Latino populations are dying at alarmingly high rates from coronavirus, while wealthy Americans are able to stay out-of-harms way, and the federal government is failing us at every turn. No script-writer can top that horror show.
Now is a time for content-makers of all kinds to really show their strengths. As artists, we’re supposed to be creative, flexible and able to produce magic out of thin air that resonates with the current needs and wants of society. If you can’t continue to create in this environment with these restrictions, maybe you are not much of an artist. Now is the time for Michael Bay and Adam Goodman to stretch their creative muscles and really push themselves. You don’t need explosions and CGI to make a good movie. Why not film an entire psychological thriller at your Beverly Hills Mansion? You could do that safely and not offend anyone in the process.
Now is not the time to recycle the same trash with a fresh coat of paint. The old playbook is out. You can’t roll into a neighborhood with a 100 person crew and dozens of trucks for 10 days. That’s not going to fly. At the least, it’ll get you bad
press. At the worst, people will die and it will be your fault.
Unfortunately, we can’t work the same way we used to pre-pandemic.
But, with a little flexibility, know-how and creativity we can all come
together to make new content safely.
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