“Freedom Day has become a day of closure.”
Then Andrew Lloyd Webber lamented when he revealed on Monday – the day all remaining lockdown restrictions were lifted across the UK – that he was closing his West End musical Cinderella after a cast member tested positive for COVID-19. The theater empire drew no blow by placing the blame entirely at the feet of the British government, which he said created the “impossible conditions” that forced him to close the show indefinitely on the eve of its official opening.
As infection rates rise sharply across the country due to the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, the decision to remove the last set of restrictions that mostly affect social gatherings while volunteering to wear a mask has been deeply controversial – hailed by elements of the conservative media (who followed the government’s line of synchronizing the “Freedom Day”), but heavily criticized by the scientific community in Britain and across the globe.
On Monday alone, nearly 40,000 new cases were recorded, the highest single-day count since Jan. 11, with experts predicting daily infections will soon top those seen during the deadly second wave at the start of the year. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself spent his own “Freedom Day” in quarantine, after being pinged by the NHS’s special track and trace COVID app, which notifies all users who have been within two meters of anyone testing positive for the virus for 15 minutes. or more and ask them to quarantine for 10 days. BBC Radio reported on Tuesday that 1.8 million people in the country are currently isolating themselves in a mass quarantine that has hit businesses in almost every sector.
As it happens, the UK, which is becoming one of the world’s leading hotspots for the most virulent strain of COVID, has coincided with the fact that it has also become one of the world’s leading film and television hotspots. After already having a pre-pandemic boom thanks to a sound tax credit system, large investments from studios and streamers and a strong dollar against the pound, the extra bottleneck that arose due to lockdown in 2020 and subsequent rising demand for content has seen production levels skyrocket. “I have not seen it so busy in my entire career,” says one film producer Hollywood Reporter.
And across these busy creative industries, like Lloyd Webber’s musical, where social distance is simply not an option, “Freedom Day” proved – for many sector workers – to be anything but. In the days leading up to July 19, a sudden stream of major productions was hit by what the media has called “pingdemic.”
Recording on the second season of Netflix’s hit period drama Bridgerton stopped for the second time recently after a positive COVID-19 test and has reportedly stopped indefinitely while streamer and producer Shondaland set a return schedule. Netflix’s musical adaptation of Matilda with Working Title was also discontinued after a coronavirus outbreak in which the first film unit was forced to stop working and isolate. And then there are HBOs Game of Thrones prequel House of Dragon, shoots across multiple stages at Warner Bros. Leavesdon, which shut down for two days Monday after a production member tested positive.
But those are the only shots known. According to another filmmaker, for every production that makes a headline, “two or three more that shut down and do not become news.”
While Netflix is known for having strict COVID-19 procedures in place and performing proactive testing on its series – which is why it has already identified cases and acted accordingly – others are less attentive. THR have heard reports of a British feature film in which DoP and the camera crew were infected after refusing to wear masks on stage.
“Too many productions do not listen to COVID supervisors and their advice is ignored,” says British producer Jonathan Weissler of Balagan Production. “Often these supervisors are relatively younger production people who now have this job title but no real authority. When a director or DoP refuses to wear masks, what message does it convey to the rest of the crew? ”
Weissler also suggests that many productions “cover up” their COVID problems by simply plugging holes with the crew so that more people become infected the next day.
But with COVID delays now written into insurance policies, such a corner cut can affect any compensation that may be owed once a production is hit.
“If they do not stick to it [the guidelines], they may lose the compensation they receive when production is delayed and they are a little incentive to stick to them, ”says Enders Analysis COO and Director of TV Gill Hind. “If you do not follow the guidelines, you will probably lose the compensation.”
Since most people on productions are likely to be at least partially vaccinated, only a few people on devices are likely to become “seriously ill,” she adds. “So people will be able to get back to work pretty quickly. And if you leave immediately, your colleagues will not be infected with it. So I think the industry has done pretty well. ”
Hill adds: “We will probably see a few shutdowns. But it is not as if everything will suddenly stop. I think the sector has been as cautious as it can be. ”
Despite the bumps that are felt Bridgerton, Matilda, House of Dragon and probably many more in the future, the recent chaos from the UK is unlikely to have any impact on production levels, which apparently only go in one direction. The lock-in days in the spring / summer of 2020, when the studios were forced to close their doors and projects were left in mothballs for several months, have gone well and really.
That said, being angry at the government for its overall handling of the pandemic – not least the decision to remove all restrictions right in the middle of an increase in infections, and as Lloyd Webber claimed, its “blunt instrument” isolation guide – is unlikely to disappear soon.
“I think our government has blood in its hands. Not only have they caused so many COVID deaths by acting so slowly and clumsily during the initial lockdowns, but they are now removing the masking policy when we explode with new cases, ”says Weissler. “I have no problem wearing a mask if that is what is required. It seems like a small price to pay, but our government has called the removal of masks ‘Freedom Day’, and that messaging has made masks so political at a time when it gives us the best chance of living with COVID until we get better treatment, or virus mutates into something less deadly. ”