As Tennessee begins to slowly restart its economy following a monthlong shutdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the state’s film and TV production companies are weighing the risks of rolling cameras too soon. Riverside Entertainment, a Nashville- and L.A.-based company that creates video content for clients including ABC, Disney, Spotify (and Rolling Stone), along with music videos and big-screen documentaries like 2019’s Bluebird, are figuring out what a film set might look like in the age of COVID-19. We spoke to Brian Loschiavo, managing partner and executive producer for Riverside, about his concerns of resuming production too soon.
How do you go about restarting production?
Like everything in the production business, it’s a collaborative art form, so it’s a collaborative decision. There are so many players that go into making a single production: our clients, our vendors and rental houses, our crew — who we want to make sure are comfortable. We’re a smaller company and every partner is on set, so for us to go back into production isn’t like a CEO of a big corporation that is putting workers in a factory back to work and they don’t ever have to set foot on the factory floor. It’s a decision we don’t take lightly.
What about logistically? Can location scouts, for instance, be done virtually?
As a company that exists in Nashville and L.A., we already have to do a lot of virtual location scouting, casting, and preproduction meetings. That’s the easy part, and they are things that can and should be done virtually for the near future. What gets complicated is when you’re on a set. How big a set can you be on? Are we going to set foot in a smaller space? Probably not. It will probably be an outdoor shoot or in studio spaces where there’s enough space to keep all the departments separated. We definitely would want to shrink the number of people that are required. So by having a DP [director of photography] who can also operate and pull his own focus, for instance, or having a jack-of-all-trades that can assume a little extra duty, we can have one less person on set. Obviously we want to put all of our crew back to work, but every single person that’s on set is an extra liability for everyone else.
So much quarantine content has been filmed at home, sometimes by the talent or artists themselves. Where do you see that going?
It is getting tired. I think people are going to get burned out on seeing everything on a webcam or selfie cam. And those productions are going to have a short shelf life in the grand scheme of things. Coming up with a piece of intellectual property that may start out that way and be possible to execute in this new world but then [has] a life after that and evolve[s] in a larger “normal” production is key.
What starts filming first then? Music videos and commercials, followed by TV and movies?
Yeah, absolutely. I think you’ll start seeing hybrids, especially for the scripted stuff. You can dictate how the story is told and you can get creative with leaning on outdoor locations in the script and keep the crew minimal. For commercials, you’re already seeing brands putting out their version of “in this together” feel-good stuff, which is an obvious reaction to what’s happening. I think you’re going to see a lot more graphic-heavy stuff, a lot more recycled footage, using fair-use video like news footage to create great campaigns. It’s going to be interesting for us.
Once you do return, how do you maintain clean and safe conditions on your set?
We’ve identified a company that can do that for us in L.A., and we’re in the process of doing that in Nashville as well. We’ve been talking to our rental houses, and they’ll sanitize their equipment and will have pickup and drop-off so you don’t have to interact with people. But there are companies that come in and can blast the entire set, make sure it’s all sanitary, and have someone on set who can be a consultant to keep an eye on things. It’s hard for any producer or director to keep an eye on every person on set at all times to make sure they’re adhering to the rules.
Do you think it’s time to for production to resume?
We have very little overhead, and it’s easier for us to sustain without income, but there are a lot of companies that don’t have that luxury. So I completely respect the fact that they’re trying to fire up as soon as possible. I hope that we all, as a community, can be responsible for that, because the last thing we need is to have a big headline that sets us back exponentially farther than we’re already at. A camera can be touched by 15 different pairs of hands on a set in a given day. Same with the lights. Same with the cables. Same with craft services. The more you peel back the layers of what goes into a production, the more pitfalls you hit. There are workarounds for all of it, or we just wait until there’s a little bit more data. I always think, “Is whatever I’m about to do worth it?” And I just don’t think we’re there yet.