Coronavirus: A New Era For Film

Photo: Anne Lundgren
Tim Williams (center) with writer/director Gary Lundgren (right) and actor Jesse Borrego (left) of “Phoenix, Oregon”

The executive director of Oregon Film discusses how the industry has adapted to the COVID-19 climate, and how some innovations could be here to stay.

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With Gov. Kate Brown’s restrictions on large gatherings in place due to COVID-19, the film industry has faced challenges keeping productions together. 

Executive director of Oregon Film Tim Williams says that while COVID-19 has halted production of scripted series, the industry is adapting and may have developed operating changes that could remain after the virus has run its course.

Oregon Film, also known as the Oregon Office of Film & Television, is a semi-independent state agency that serves as the state’s representative in marketing and recruiting film.  

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

How has the film industry fared compared to other industries during COVID-19?

What are people consuming right now to the highest degree possible? The answer is content. Companies who work more with technology rather than getting together and shooting a script are actually doing ok.

We have a lot of animation work here, and most of the animation workflow has figured out how to work remotely. Visual effects companies have had a lot of new projects come up. They are all working remotely. Same things with interactive companies, people who are designing games. 

That’s the good news. 

What are the challenges facing the film industry?

The thing that has stalled are the people who want to shoot things right now. We definitely have people saying they are going to come in July, August or September, but they can’t say for sure. There’s a lot of speculation. 

I got an application for a series that wants to come back to shoot just this morning. They just announced Shrill season three. We know that they are coming back and shooting here and that’s great, but the question is when is that going to happen?

How have content creators adapted to the virus? 

I am encouraged by the amount of creative workarounds people have been coming up with. Somebody will take their content and send it to a composer who will write the music and send it back and it’s all virtual.

Commercials have also developed virtually. There was a Toyota commercial recently that was done completely virtually. They sent a camera to the actress and she filmed her part and sent it back. 

We’ll always need actors on set, but they’ve figured out new ways to work that could be a model for what happens on the other side of this. Is there a way to have creative collaboration without having to travel so much?It’s both terrifying and fascinating in equal measure.

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Is there anyone in the industry who benefits more from working remotely?

All this remote working is actually benefiting people who don’t live in Portland because they don’t have to commute every day. 

When we have Zoom meetings to talk about the work creators are doing, we get people from all over the state – Coos Bay, Haines, Klamath Falls, Salem. Their projects are no different from the ones in Portland except in terms of scale.  

We ran a short video contest called Inspiration Oregon; we wanted everyone to make a video about what inspired them at the moment, and we got applications that spanned the state. I was amazed at how broad the interest was.  

What role will the film industry play in helping to restart the economy?

Our industry will be back up and raring to go on day one because of all these new innovations and the fact that people are watching a lot of content. 

Things are desperate to happen. Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are all wanting to jump in and start creating once this thing is over.

We are an industry that can restart other industries. We can restart hotels and restaurants, woodworking and dry cleaning. We are an industry that can’t exist without other industries around it.

What will the industry need to figure out once COVID-19 is over? 

The next big step is determining what are the protocols for doing things and how we are going to put them in place. We will need to discuss what that looks like. 

Does it mean that everyone gets tested? Does it mean that everyone has to stay six feet apart? That’s a little hard to do when you’re shooting a love story.

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