Hollywood workers on how the industry has changed — 1 year after pandemic shutdown

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Cinematographer Mario Contini shoots a commercial during the pandemic. Photo by William Mathieu.

KCRW put out calls to entertainment industry workers to ask them how their lives changed when the pandemic shut down Hollywood a year ago.

This week, they update us on their lives now and share their reflections on the past year. 

David Saudeco is an LA-based actor. He says a year ago, “I was about to celebrate my tenth year in the industry as an actor looking forward to what the new year was going to bring to my career, obviously. And of course, we all know what happened.”

Matt McCree worked as a writers’ assistant on season four of “Mr. Robot.” He says, “Then I picked up a job in an audience coordination company due to lack of work and then got laid off as the lockdown started.”

Costumer Monica Haynes was working on a project in March 2020. On Friday the 13th, she was told to take the week off while the production company decided what they were going to do. “The following week, I was informed that they were not coming back up, and I was out of a job,” she says. 

Mario Contini was working as a cinematographer, and still is today. “Thankfully so because I was quite concerned about the stability of this job in the industry and where things were going.”

We also heard from a filmmaking team that recorded together last year. This year they sent in separate dispatches. 

Christa Beck says, “This time last year, I was wrapping up a film shoot with my filmmaking buddy Beth Dewey, along with teaching an advanced directing course at LMU that then went online.”

Beth Dewey adds, “One year ago, I was shooting b-roll of something I'd never seen before or since. And that is empty freeways in downtown Los Angeles.”


Empty LA freeways in the early days of the pandemic. Photo by Beth Dewey. 

For Dewey, those empty freeways soon meant an empty savings account. She says, “The life of an independent filmmaker can be tenuous anyway. And when the pandemic hit, my income streams were greatly reduced. But of course, the cost of living in LA remained high. And I burned through my savings. And I honestly do not know what I would have done had it not been for my family.”

While her friend Christina Beck has been focusing on writing, Dewey ended up finding work in a different part of the business.

Dewey explains, “I was able to pick up some work doing acquisitions for Indie Rights Movies, which is an independent film distribution company. Distribution was one part of the industry that saw an uptick because everybody was staying home watching movies.”

Cinematographer Mario Contini didn’t have to wait too long after the shutdown to find work, though he did have to get creative with PPE. He collaborated with a friend from the band Saint Motel to shoot a music video. They wanted to include backup dancers, but wanted to make sure everyone was safe. 

He says, “We got the LA Roller Girls to come on board, we put them in all black leather suits with bedazzled masks and plastic face shields on, and it kind of appears a little ridiculous at first. But it totally works because it fits the environment.”

Writers’ room assistant Matt McRee was already struggling to find work when the pandemic hit, but things started to turn around for him in the fall when he got a call from one of his old bosses with a job offer on a new show. “It's a Marvel- Disney+ show called ‘Secret Invasion.’ And I've been working full time on that since then. It's been fantastic to be working full time on a TV show again,” he says. 

But the news isn’t all good. McRee explains, “The week I was hired, my wife was let go from her job on a different show. So we're still a one income family.”

Costumer Monica Haynes had to wait out the spring and summer. Once she did find work, there were new procedures in place.

She says, “I did not work again until October of 2020. … I was working out of costume houses and the costume houses were taking the protocols pretty seriously. We would have to be daily tested … and then we would get a wristband and that's how we were identified throughout the building as people that did actually get checked prior to coming in.”

Actor David Saucedo's year was a bit of a rollercoaster. He says, “I did work a little bit right when this thing broke. Right in March, I was working on a short film called ‘Worry Dolls,’ which I completed, and then I didn't work for a while. And then I only worked on one other project.”

He did, however, try his hand at something new. “I did pick up writing, and I'm really super excited about some of the stuff I wrote. … I'm working currently working on a script set in Mexico City, in the 60s, so Latino characters.”

As to where they’re physically working, Matt McRee is full-time remote for now. 

And does a writers’ room work on Zoom? McRee says, “I think it's proven itself a tool that can be used for writers’ rooms, but doesn't necessarily have to. Some people like the feeling of the back and forth of actually being in a physical room with the other writers, and some people like not having to live in LA. So I can see Zoom hanging around for a while.”

As an actor, David Saucedo has had a hybrid remote and in-person experience. 

He says, “I have been on set during COVID. In October, I shot a national commercial, and the audition was online, the callback was online. … I was a little worried … about working on set, but they were super good about it. They had the zone system set up, everything was very well done. And obviously, at some point, I do have to remove my mask when they say action. But I felt good.”

But for the moment, Saucedo is taking a step back from acting, largely because he doesn’t feel safe taking the offers that have come his way. 

“I've been getting offers to audition for series regular, recurring characters, guest stars. And a lot of this stuff films out of town, and luckily my agent and my managers are very understanding that I don't feel comfortable traveling, so I've turned down a lot of opportunities,” he says. 

Costumer Monica Haynes did take a job out of state. It’s for a movie, but she can’t say which one because of nondisclosure agreements. 

She says, “We are taking the COVID protocols very seriously. I am working in a state that is not necessarily following those rules, however, which is very unsettling to see people walking around without masks eating in restaurants as if COVID had never happened. And so I essentially try to avoid those places as much as possible.”

Right now, Haynes is still in pre-production. But regardless of the state guidelines where she is, once they start shooting, she’ll be putting on multiple layers of PPE.  

“We do need to wear face masks, facial shields, and also gloves and gowns when we do the fittings. We have COVID monitors who will be spraying out the dressing rooms as well as the high-touch surfaces. We are continuing to get tested twice a week. That's been going on since I started on this production at the beginning of the year. And that's true for everyone including the extras,” she says. 

Cinematographer Mario Contini also has to mask up for work. He says, “I'm quite happy with the excessive precautions that have been taken so that we can continue to work. I don't mind showing up to set an hour early. But other than that, wearing a mask all day is definitely difficult. You're typically going home with a headache, especially multiple days in a row. I'm really looking forward to the time that we can go to set and be breathing in normal air again.” 

One thing everyone mentioned: The pandemic has given them time to think about how the industry has changed. Filmmakers Christina Beck and Beth Dewey are optimistic. 

Beck says, “As far as the business goes, I think it will be forever changed. And that's a great thing. Breaking down old systems, creating space for a better representation, new faces, new voices, more inclusion. This opportunity is a long time coming. … And I'm really excited to see where film and television goes from here.”

Dewey says, “If I were to look at the pandemic in a glass half full kind of way, it's for me been a creative incubator. I have a couple projects in development, I'm collaborating with people, and I don't know that we would have had time to cultivate that, had it not been for the pandemic. … I doubt the industry will ever return to the way it was before the pandemic. In distribution, for example, we will probably see a hybrid of in-person and virtual film markets now. And also, I think, now that it's proven that we can work remotely, that genie is out of the bottle, and I don't think it's gonna go back in.”

For people who have to be on set, actor David Saucedo urges caution.

“I think overall, the industry really has to kind of take it slow, be careful about how they ramp things up. Obviously, we all want to work. But I do know plenty of people that work in the industry that have gotten sick and have gotten COVID, so take it slow,” he says. 

And he thinks some of the precautions put in place over the past year should stay there. “Especially craft service,” he says. “You think about everybody running around touching all that stuff. So maybe they can kind of rework how they do the craft service.”

Cinematographer Mario Contini has had to learn to adjust his on-the-job expectations. Before the pandemic, he says sets would be swarming with people trying to get multiple tasks done at once. Now he’s noticed, “The pace on set has changed dramatically, and you physically cannot be in the same space as someone else. … We've become more observers on set when it's not our time and place to have the field. And I think, if anything, what we will take from this time in the past year, is that we will have a greater respect for our crew and the craft and understanding that quality takes time.”

Finally, KCRW asked this group about their thoughts on going back to the movies as a viewer.

Monica Haynes says she’s come to enjoy watching movies at home. “I really don't know if I will be going [back] to a movie theater. I've gotten used to seeing things online through streaming networks. And that actually has been working a lot more, as well as saving some money.”

Matt McCree is also erring on the side of caution. He says, “I haven't been to theaters or even restaurants in the past year. And I don't really plan to until most everyone's been vaccinated. I'd really rather be safe than sorry, in regards to COVID. That said, my wife and I did just rent ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’ on Disney+ and really enjoyed watching it from the comfort of our couch.”

David Saucedo says he sees himself waiting at least a year before going back to a movie theater. “That's a big thing for me because my wife and I really love going to the movies. And we also love going to film festivals … and the shared experience in the community you get from being at festivals. … But it's gonna be a while before I go back to my movie theater for sure.”

Mario Contini says he’s gotten quite comfortable watching movies from his couch. But he acknowledges “I think we can all relate to the fact that there is no experience like the movie theater experience. And if I look at what drove me to get into this industry, it was the magic of being in the theater with the sound wrapping around your head, and cinematography, and a large screen, and feeling the energy of the audience in the room. It's just something that cannot be replicated at home. And although I missed it a bunch, I will admit that I'm probably not going to be the first one to jump back into the theater. It's going to take me a little bit until I feel comfortable doing that again.” 

Beth Dewey hasn’t been inside a movie theater in the past year, but did go to a drive-in. That experience wasn’t quite the same thought. She says, “I just know that more than anything, I crave that collective experience of watching a movie. And I can't wait to share that with humanity once again.”

Christina Beck is also longing to get back to the place she loves. She says, “There's something magical about sitting in a dark theater with a friend or complete strangers. It's a safe place to decompress and to escape. And the reason I became a filmmaker is to be a part of that magic. I miss it, and I can't wait to go back.”

Credits

Guests:
David Saucedo - Actor, Mario Contini - Cinematographer, Monica Haynes - Costumer, Matt McRee - Writers' room PA, Christina Beck - Actor, writer, director, Beth Dewey - Producer and director - @bethdewey

Host:
Kim Masters

Producer:
Kaitlin Parker