James DuBose on What a Covid-19 Vaccine Means for the Film and Television Industry

On the eve of Pfizer vaccines released to healthcare workers, renowned actor-director Tom Cruise made headlines when he lashed out at two crew members for violating social distancing protocols on set.

Many regarded Cruise’s rebuke as verbal abuse, since the actor made significant use of expletives and shouted throughout the entire leaked audio clip. However, many others, such as Whoopi Goldberg and George Clooney defended Cruise, noting that it has taken film crews significant effort to keep the film industry afloat during the global pandemic.

James DuBose of Woodland Hills, California, a veteran TV producer, understands the strain that COVID-19 has put on the film industry. Millions have been put out of work, and countless films have had to start and stop in response to members contracting the virus and intermittent lockdown orders.

How the Film Industry Has Adjusted to the Crisis

The World Economic Forum showcased the ups and downs of filming mid-COVID, per testimony from cast and crew members of Australia’s Neighbours (a nationally famous soap opera). For example, the number of crew members on set had to decrease significantly. Not only did this create a challenge for directors and producers, but it forced filming to last longer than was ideal, notes James DuBose.

Actors had to avoid physical contact as much as possible. For a soap opera, foregoing “intimate scenes” proved difficult. The Neighbours cast and crew persisted despite positive COVID-19 tests by removing those infected individuals and working with COVID-free teams only.

In another more recent example, Mission: Impossible 7 has had to halt production multiple times since it began filming on September 6. Considering that fact that Cruise and his colleagues are farther behind schedule than they could have ever imagined, it’s understandable that leaders would be on edge in the face of blatant disregard for COVID-19 restrictions. In the same way that film crews likely fear the wrath of Tom Cruise on the M:I-7 set, film producers fear that regulators might shut down production due to safety concerns. Everyone is on edge.

What a COVID-19 Vaccine Would Mean for the Film and Television Industry

Recently released for emergency use in both the United Kingdom and the United States, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is reported to be 94% effective among those most in danger of fatally contracting the virus. Another provider, Moderna, is also about to disperse vaccine supply across North America. Experts have found Moderna’s formula to be 94.5% effective among the same crowd.

Currently, healthcare workers are a priority amidst vaccine distribution. The likely next group of vaccine recipients are older citizens and other at-risk patients. Furthermore, many experts grow concerned about supply and distribution. 

Despite vaccine release, it could be several months before film crew members receive vaccinations. But once they do, stress levels should reduce significantly and producers can begin to visualize a “return to normalcy,” however altered, says James DuBose.

James DuBose on a Post-COVID Film Industry

Considering the fact that numerous crews persisted through the virus (unless local restrictions closed production), it’s likely that the movie industry will continue production even as crew members slowly receive vaccines.

Some medical experts are still recommending mask use and moderate social distancing after receiving both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. For example, the vaccine is effective against COVID-19 symptoms, but it is still possible for vaccinated patients to be asymptomatic carriers. Non-vaccinated crew members may not be safe working alongside vaccinated crew members.

An indirect concern among producers is how movie theaters will gradually return to max capacity, says James DuBose. A pandemic-conscious culture may be more timid about joining packed theaters and prefer to stream new movie releases online.

That said, there are subtle signs that pent up demand for work (among film crews) and movie releases (among consumers) could cause mass excitement and a speedy return to pre-COVID days. As more people accept the vaccine and hospitalizations decrease, time will tell on whether the darkest COVID-19 days for film industry companies are behind them.