It seems movie production, like life…uh…finds a way. Just 10 days into shooting the latest installment of the Jurassic franchise, Jurassic World: Dominion, Universal Pictures was forced to halt production as the world went into lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in early November, filming wrapped on the blockbuster, slated for a June 2022 release, after an unprecedented amount of protocols and precautions were put in place.
Forty-thousand COVID tests were administered to the 1,000-plus crew members over 100 days of filming. A robust system of track and trace was implemented for the few cases that cropped up. And a 150-page playbook was compiled so there was no ambiguity as to which protocols should be followed.
“It was important from a business perspective. Obviously you know we were paying rent on those stages [at England’s Pinewood Studios]. It was costing us thousands of dollars a month to keep the movie there,” said Donna Langley, chair of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference on Wednesday. “It was imperative, too, to try and jump-start our business again. The industry employs hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. And so it was important to try to see if there were a set of protocols that we could devise that could get the industry back up and running.”
Langley explained how the movie’s producers had to adapt to a new way of filming. So even though thousands of crew and hundreds of extras were involved in making the movie, filming was staged so that not everyone had to be there at the same time.
But not every mega-budget movie can be filmed under such conditions, Langley explained.
“Take the Fast and the Furious franchise as an example. These are big movies, with big sets and big action sequences. And the heart and soul of a Fast and Furious movie, other than family, is the forward-thrusting global nature of it, jumping from location to location,” said Langley, adding that it’s not unusual for such a film to jump continents. “So a film like that, we’ll probably need to wait until we’re on the other side of this.”
The pandemic has impacted all parts of the movie industry, from creation to distribution, and Langley made the decision early on in the pandemic to take a big-budget picture—Trolls World Tour—straight to home entertainment instead of delaying the release in theaters until they could reopen.
“We had spent the majority of our marketing dollars. We had a big consumer products program associated with it. There was just no way that I could pick that movie up and move it,” explained Langley. But she cautioned that going straight to home entertainment was not a trend she saw outlasting the pandemic. Instead, Langley believes the 17-day window Universal has negotiated with the major cinema chains strikes the right balance.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense is that you’re deploying all of those marketing dollars into [the] theatrical window, and then you’re wasting 90 days, then you have to relaunch it all over again for your home entertainment window,” says Langley, who is working with theater chains to shorten that window. “But we’re still big believers in the theatrical experience.”
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