“The day of freedom has become a day of closure. “
Lamented Andrew Lloyd Webber so much when he revealed on Monday – the same day all remaining lockdown restrictions were lifted across England – that he was shutting down his West End musical Cinderella after an actor tested positive for COVID-19. The theater manager did nothing to blame the British government, which he said created the “impossible conditions” that forced him to shut down the show indefinitely on the eve of its official opening.
With infection rates skyrocketing across the country due to the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, the decision to remove the final set of lockdown restrictions, primarily affecting social gatherings, while making wearing the voluntary mask, has been deeply controversial – praised by elements of the conservative media (who have followed the government’s line by dubbing it “Freedom Day”), but strongly criticized by the scientific community in the UK and around the world.
As of Monday alone, nearly 40,000 new cases were recorded, the highest single-day tally since January 11, with experts predicting daily infections will soon surpass those seen in the second deadly wave of the start of the year. year. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself spent his own ‘Freedom Day’ in quarantine, after being warned by the NHS Special Track and Trace app, which notifies all users who have been found unless two meters away from anyone who tests positive for the virus for 15 minutes or more and asks them to quarantine themselves for 10 days. BBC Radio reported on Tuesday that 1.8 million people in the country are currently in isolation in a mass quarantine that has hit businesses in almost every industry.
As it turns out, the UK becoming one of the world’s top hotspots for the most virulent strain of COVID has coincided with it becoming a top movie and TV hotspot as well. in the world. Having already benefited from a pre-pandemic boom thanks to a healthy tax credit system, major studio and streamer investments and a strong dollar against the British pound, the additional bottleneck resulting from the lockdown of 2020 and the growing demand for content that followed has seen production levels skyrocket. “I haven’t seen him this busy in my entire career,” said one film producer The Hollywood reporter.
And through these bustling creative industries, much like Lloyd Webber’s musical where social distancing just isn’t an option, “Freedom Day” has proven – for many workers in the industry – to be anything but. In the days leading up to July 19, a sudden wave of major productions was hit by what the media called “pingdemia.”
Filming of the second season of the hit Netflix drama Bridgerton stopped for the second time recently following a positive COVID-19 test and is said to have stopped indefinitely while streamer and producer, Shondaland, creates a return schedule. Netflix’s feature film musical adaptation of Mathilde with Working Title was also disrupted following a coronavirus outbreak, with the first filming unit forced to stop working and self-isolate. And then there are the HBOs Game of thrones prequel Dragon house, filming on multiple stages at Warner Bros. Leavesdon, which closed for two days on Monday after a member of the production tested positive.
But these are only the known shoots. According to another filmmaker, for every production that makes the headlines, “there are two or three others that close and do not make the news.”
While Netflix is known to have strict COVID-19 procedures in place and proactive testing on its series – which is why it has already identified cases and acted on them – others are less vigilant. THR heard of a British feature film where the DoP and the film crew were infected after refusing to wear masks on set.
“On too many productions, COVID supervisors are not listened to and their advice is ignored,” says veteran British producer Jonathan Weissler of Balagan Production. “A lot of times these supervisors are relatively junior production people who now have that job title but no real authority. When a director or a DoP refuses to wear masks, what message does it get to the rest of the team? “
Weissler also suggests that many productions are “covering” their COVID issues, simply filling in the gaps with the team only so that more people are infected the next day.
But with COVID delays now written into insurance policies, such a reduction could affect any compensation that may be due when a production is affected.
“If they don’t stick [the guidelines], they could lose the compensation they get when production is delayed, and they’re kind of incentivized to stick with it, ”says Enders Analysis COO and TV director Gill Hind. “If you don’t actually follow the guidelines, you probably lose that compensation. “
With most people on production likely to be at least partially vaccinated, few people on sets are likely to become “seriously ill,” she adds. “People will therefore be able to return to work fairly quickly. And if you leave immediately, your coworkers will not be infected. So I think the industry has done pretty well.
Hill adds, “We’re probably likely to see a few stops. But it’s not like everything is going to stop suddenly. I think the industry has been as careful as it gets. “
Despite the shocks felt by Bridgerton, Mathilde, Dragon house and probably many more to come, the latest chaos emanating from the UK is unlikely to have any impact on the level of production, which seems to be going only in one direction. The days of spring / summer 2020 containment, when studios were forced to shut down and projects were left on the back burner for months, are well and truly over.
That said, anger has been shown at the government for its overall handling of the pandemic – including the decision to remove all restrictions entirely amid an increase in infections and, as Lloyd Webber argued, its guidelines. isolation “blunt instrument” – is not likely to dispel soon.
“I think our government has blood on its hands. Not only have they caused so many COVID deaths by acting so slowly and awkwardly during the initial lockdowns, they are now removing the mask policy when we explode with new cases, ”Weissler explains. “I have no problem wearing a mask if that’s what it takes. It seems like a small price to pay, but our government has called the removal of the masks ‘Freedom Day’ and this post has made the masks so political at a time when it gives us the best chance of living with COVID until what we get better treatment, or the virus mutates into something less deadly.