Long after this virus has gone, the world, as we now know it, will perhaps not be the same. Work, as we knew it, is already not the same. Writing a story or poem or script is essentially a ‘lockdown job’ even before COVID-19 (meaning, the writer works on it alone and sometimes, in isolation or a socially distant space), but making the story into a film is a job for an ‘unified front’, which hoists the edifice of that story, for all to see.
COVID-19 has made that hoisting nearly impossible right now across the filmmaking cities of the world, Mumbai and Chennai being the foremost in India, where a film shoot has now come to mean taking your iPhone and shooting a crow perched on your terrace water-pipe, as the sun goes down.
A normal film set is perhaps the most democratic work atmosphere one can encounter. There is no space for looking into who belongs to which caste and who is doing the job based on lineage. It’s a level ground for sheer talent and hard work. The joy one derives from the hard work which results in a bunch of people finding their niche to bring a story alive on screen is to be experienced; it is the power of what human beings can do when they are united towards a single goal.
A film needs every member on the set and off it (the post-production team, publicity team…) to work in unison, in order to give life to a story on celluloid. This magnificent ‘coming together’ of people has now been affected. And that’s an understatement.
As producers and directors congregate over Zoom calls, trying to put marquee dreams together, a million questions remain a mystery, for there is no one who’s done this before to be able to give correct answers to those waiting to start shoot. A sample set of questions which occupy a producer’s mind now: How will actors travel from one place to another?
How will the camera department shoot without being in close contact while filming? Forget 6 ft, even 3 ft distancing is not possible between the focus puller and the cinematographer! What about changing costumes in caravans, even if sanitised, and even if every single production person were clad in protection kits looking like astronauts waiting to float in space, is there any guarantee that the virus won’t latch on to the blazer or saree in between shots? It’s scary to even think of such a risk isn’t it?
Moving on, film units are gearing up for a ‘let’s tell our stories somehow’ mode. Stories that can be narrated for lesser than normal duration (string a bunch of short films together and make that a full length movie) or wrap up an existing film that has remaining shoot days with minimal crew and plan for shots which don’t need too many people in the frame, so the film can go into post-production and find a release on some digital platform... These are minor options opening up for the film industry to find its feet again. But we are not yet on firm ground.
Perhaps we will never be until a vaccine is found and everyone on a film set is secure about no virus lurking on property or person… but filming will also not stop because of this. Find a way we will to beat all these odds and arrive at a doable manner of shoot, which includes getting actors who are willing to shoot with safety precautions, actors who are willing to slash remuneration for a good role in view of getting work during a tough financial year, and roping in a technical crew which will deliver their best even if the budget or the shooting time is limited.
Digital platforms are waiting for new content as their consumers are waiting for ‘something new’. But for want of the shoenail (new content), we can’t lose the horse (concept which deserves an ideal filming scenario). A story which deserves expansive filmmaking with an impressive cast will perhaps have to wait it out. Again, there are no correct answers yet. The day we do find one, is the day when new content, which can also be filmed in a path-breaking manner, will find its way to you. Until then, it’s a case of taking one step forward and two steps back, as the film industry dances around this pandemic, trying to find its ‘happy feet’.
(The writer is a former journalist who has worked in the film industry for several years and is passionate about movies, music and everything related toentertainment. She can be contacted at Twitter: @n_sujatha0)