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

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. (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.

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.

“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.

“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.