Corona Chronicles: A Reporter Tests Positive, Sam Neill’s New ‘World,’ and Other Personal Stories from Hollywood

Variety Editors

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The Olympics? Canceled. Coachella? Canceled. SXSW, Tribeca, movie theaters and Broadway? All canceled. The coronavirus has forced us all to adapt and adjust. Whether it’s working from home or watching for local businesses to open again, there are still many questions and uncertainties.

 In Hollywood, that has also meant that TV shows and movie productions have shut down, leading to a loss of work for thousands of professionals. In the Corona Chronicles, Variety’s weekly continuing series, people across the industry contribute their first-person essays about how their lives have been altered–and interrupted–by the coronavirus pandemic.

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AJ Abell
Reporter, WZTV-TV Nashville

My family loves to ski. We always get together for a big ski trip once a year, and this time we decided to go to Aspen. I had no idea I’d come back from my first trip to the Colorado resort town with coronavirus.

My symptoms started on March 9 with a light cough. On March 10, the day after I flew back to Nashville, I started to feel worse and worse. I began having night sweats like I’d never experienced before. I would wake up truly soaking wet to the point where it was easier to get in the shower to rinse off rather than drying my body. That would happen a few times a night. Then I started to feel incredible fatigue and my cough became much more productive: I was producing golf ball-sized chunks of mucus.

But, even with all these symptoms, it didn’t cross my mind that I could have COVID-19 because I did not have shortness of breath and didn’t really have a fever, which is why I figured I caught a bad cold on the plane.

I went to an urgent care clinic where I was tested for the flu. The test came back negative, but a doctor asked me if I might have been exposed to coronavirus. I said I had no idea. They gave me some steroids for the cough and some cough medicine.

After that, I found an article online about a coronavirus outbreak in Aspen and it noted that one of the resorts where my brother and I ate dinner two nights in a row, the Little Nell, had been identified as a site where two guests had tested positive. Also, the article said Aspen had the largest cluster outbreak of the virus in Colorado with 9 people testing a resumed positive.

I went to Vanderbilt University’s medical center the next day and got a COVID-19 test. All I could think about was how glad I was that my parents had flown home the night before. I didn’t think they’d been exposed, and they did not have any symptoms. My brother, however, did. He ended up quarantined in a hotel room in Denver because he had all of the symptoms that I had.

It took a few days until my coronavirus test came back positive. By that time, the worst of my illness had faded. My body aches were lessening, and the steroid helped with the cough productivity. It seemed to get better as quickly as it got worse.

I rode out my personal coronavirus crisis in my apartment; I’m lucky to be 27 and in good health.

Once I knew for sure it was coronavirus, I was mostly freaked out about all the people that I might have exposed before I knew. I’ve been on the phone at length with officials from Tennessee and Nashville health departments, getting quizzed on all the people I encountered after getting home from Aspen. They wanted the names and license plate numbers of my Uber drivers, the exact details of my two flights home including my seat numbers, and my trip to the grocery store, among others.

I was also lucky to have a job that I could do from home while I recovered. I love my job as a news reporter in the Music City — I chose Nashville as a destination because I knew it was an up and coming city; here’s so much to do and there’s an amazing liveliness to this place.

At the same time, being under quarantine wasn’t so bad for me because I have a lot of hobbies. I finished learning a new song on the piano and I set up a golf mat in my apartment to keep my swing in shape.

My station managers allowed me to shift to writing news stories for our online platforms. I gave viewers a glimpse into my predicament with some digital content that was posted on the WZTV website. Having a job meant writing eight hours a day. Before I knew it, I’d look up and it was 6 p.m. and time to think about what I would have for dinner.

My quarantine period is over, and my symptoms have gone away. As of March 25, I am back on the air as a correspondent, though I am still working from home for now. I have all the gear that I need in my apartment to go live and do interviews via Skype and Facetime, but the logistics of learning a new video editing software, among other things, will likely pose many challenges. Still, I am happy to be healthy again and have the privilege of telling people’s stories during this crazy and unprecedented time.

Sam Neill
“Jurassic World:Dominion” Winery owner – Two Paddocks

Suddenly, here we are. We have been cryogenically frozen, and “Jurassic World: Dominion” is on hold. Insects in amber. And like virtually every actor in the world right now, I’m not working. Dammit.

But we will return. We will. And what joy it will be to be back on a set, doing what I love best, with just the kind of people I love: other actors and all the remarkable people it takes to make a movie. That rare privilege. And to put things into perspective – there are many many worse things than a suspended movie.

So what to do in the meantime? Most importantly of course – stay home. And I find myself surprisingly busy there. Fact is, most of the time at work, you actually spend a fair bit of the day staring dully at a trailer wall.

Instead, here I find myself being busy with all the things I’m usually too busy to get busy about. I’m playing my uke. I’m singing. I’m Skyping with my friends. I’m intimately involved in the rearing of my grandchildren 2000 miles away. I’m rediscovering poetry. I put silly stuff on social media to encourage people, to cheer them up with a message [ Twitter @twopaddocks Instagram – @samneilltheprop ] . I get pleasure out of ironing my shirts and polishing a silver platter within an inch of its life. I’m reading great novels I’d never opened. I planted a shrub. There is beauty in the everyday.

I keep informed, of course I do. .I speak daily with staff at my vineyards [ I can’t get back to New Zealand, borders are closed ]. I heed the warnings. But I have stopped watching the news. This is the most seriously challenging time of my life, I do not doubt that. But the ramped-up anxiety that one gets from all the soaring graphs, the doom-laden background music, the unhinged press conferences; none of it was helping. And I feel so much better without it all.

It’s ironic that about the most helpful thing those of us who are unessential can do right now [ and I never met an essential actor ] is just stay at home, and stay the f…away from other people. We are all in this together, but we are better apart.

….I still miss going to work though.

Spider One
Lead singer, Powerman 5000

The year 2020 was starting to shape up. By the beginning of March, I had already written and directed two short films. I had an entire album completed and a brand new record deal in place. I also had touring plans locked in that would take me through the holiday season — which meant money was on the way! In a rare moment as a self-employed, independent artist I felt (dare I say it?) secure. It’s not a common feeling when you are solely responsible for every next move, decision and creation, though there I was, feeling a bit bullet-proof. Sure, I had chosen a tough road as a musician and creative. But at least no one could ever fire me. I was the boss, in control of my destiny.

Then came the rumblings of something called the coronavirus. At first, like many others, I didn’t think much of it. We had seen stuff like this before. No worries, full-steam ahead with all the great plans laid out!

I was just a week away from starting a tour on March 17 and had every intention of hitting the road. Arizona, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and more were waiting for us, and we were excited to play some new material from our upcoming album.

Then, something shifted. It started to become clear that this was nothing to ignore. Other countries were on lockdown, infection and death numbers were skyrocketing. This shit was serious. In a matter of 24 hours I canceled the March tour. So much for bullet-proof.

It’s funny, technology had all but destroyed the old model of the music business, but I always had the protection of being in a successful touring band. No matter how much the digital revolution had devalued music, there was always the option of performing live. Except for an occasional blizzard or hurricane, people were always down to show up for a concert. What I thought invulnerable was suddenly very vulnerable.

“Calm down,” I told myself, “my next tour is in June.” Things should be better by then. Right? Well, this seems unlikely with what we know now. What about September? October? What about NEVER?! OK, deep breath. Not never. This will be better at some point. I think. The uncertainty is what makes this so stressful.

So, in the meantime, we have all learned what social distancing is. Our sacrifice, for now, is to wash our hands and hideaway. Though to be honest, somewhere amongst all the fear and anxiety, I feel a weird sense of exhilaration. Not because I enjoy any of this. Not because I get off on hoarding toilet paper. Not because of any of it.

I think what drives my odd exhilaration is that this is life as I have never known it. Each coming day is a secret, which makes me hope that when things finally get back to normal, none of us will be the same. And perhaps that will be the best thing to come from all of this.

Roman Banks
Actor -”High School Musical – the Series”

It’s funny, I’d begun shooting my very first episode when this thing started to get serious in America.

In the middle of shooting my scene, we had a meeting on set that let us know that Disney was stopping production on all projects worldwide. It was quite the first day.

Thankfully, we were able to finish out the day and even have a small gathering that night, but then it was off to home. It’s all just been very surreal. I live in New York City, the epicenter of the virus in America, where there’s now over 20,000 cases.

Our federal government is failing us and it’s now up to us to hold ourselves accountable. Practicing social distancing is paramount for everyone’s health. It’s very serious now.

As for me, I’m having the same general concerns as everyone else: finances, work, mental health, the timeline of this thing, etc.

However, I’m doing what I can to make sure my concerns don’t evolve into fear. I want to continue to operate in faith. I have faith that we, as a human race, will get through this and come out of it stronger and more connected to one another. I’m looking for ways to make positive experiences out of my self-quarantine.

How can I develop my relationships with loved ones? What projects have I been dying to work on? What games have I been wanting to play? How can I grow closer to God? What recipes would be fun? How can I introduce more people to my music?

These things help me to maintain a positive outlook on this situation. It’s so important to me that I do everything that I can to maintain a positive mental health state during all of this. Mental health affects everything! If that’s not together, everything else begins to fall apart as well, and that’s the last thing needed during this storm.

And what’s needed the most? Love. Patience. Compassion. Being patient with your emotions. There is strength in all of these things.

We’re all fighting this together, and we need to be strong to fight! That’s how we make it through this. That’s how we win.

Charlotte Nicdao
Actress

In January, my husband, my Great Dane and I finally moved from Melbourne to LA. I was about to start filming the second season of “Mythic Quest” and I’d never been so excited to start work. The show’s a dream job. The people I get to work with, the character I get to play — it’s the kind of show I’d want to binge even if I had nothing to do with it. The move was scary but we tossed up variables and even in our worst-case scenario it felt right. “Worst Case Scenario.” Pretty funny.

We shot for one week before shutting down. My boss, who is justly notorious for being a strong, generous and pragmatic leader, made the announcement toward the end of the week that we’d be going on hiatus maybe for a week, maybe for two. Of course now it seems it will be much longer.

The show is still running, in a way. Our brilliant writers are writing, we’re planning online table reads. The cast has an active group text where we discuss important business such as the crafts and foods we’ve made, the video games we’re playing, and if any of us have cried that day. We’re the lucky ones; many people around the world are facing much worse versions of unemployment. And of course, with my fervid commitment to isolation being worth it, I’m keeping my brain and body busy enough to only occasionally remember we’re in the second act of a global pandemic.

Today, after a week and a half focusing intensely on winning isolation, I threw a tantrum. Were it a performance it would’ve been considered too broad to be realistic. I’d been repressing. Rather than thinking about the impending devastation of coronavirus, I had decided that quarantine was an opportunity: a cocoon that I could emerge from the as the Best Butterfly Ever. The strict timetable and ambitious “projects” I’d set myself finally gave way to reality, and the fear for my family’s health back in Australia. I screamed and cried and fell to the ground very melodramatically. It’s embarrassing to talk about but I’m certain I’m not the only one who broke down this week.

My panic purchase before my lockdown, which started just under a week before it became mandatory in LA, was an upright piano. I’ve been practicing obsessively, picturing myself coming out of the next few months the pianist I gave up on when I dropped out of my college jazz degree. I’ve done more yoga, cooked more elaborate meals and played more scales than I ever have in my life.

Speaking to friends on FaceTime I’ve discovered I’m not alone. There’s a general sense that we should all be “making the most” of social isolation. We should be learning languages, writing scripts, getting fit. It’s exhausting — but not as exhausting as looking at the news.

Last week, I sang Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and posted it on Instagram. I didn’t practice it, or perfect it, and I was very nervous to put it out into the world. But it turns out people don’t want or need perfection right now. We’re all finding comfort in knowing we’re going through the same thing, and that thing is messy and difficult and sad, but we can still find connection in it.

In the evenings I finally let go and watch TV, which has an extraordinary power to soothe and transport. And even in the face of uncharted waters like these, it’s coming through for me. I wonder if anyone is watching “Mythic Quest” and feeling the same way, and if that’s so, I make quiet promises to myself that we’ll be delivering a second season soon.

Cody Heller
Producer and writer

The moment Covid-19 is declared a pandemic, I am about to get my ass blasted. Let me finish. There’s this new thing called “Cool Tone” where your dermatologist attaches paddles to your ass and for like a half hour you lie there while a contraption sends pulses into your muscles that force them to contract. It’s like doing a thousand squats without, you know, the squatting. I had been saving up to try this bullshit and my time was finally here. You need four sessions spaced out a few days apart to get the intended results. I was currently in post for my Quibi show “Dummy” — our VFX company is in New York — so this was the perfect time to get the ass of my dreams.

I’m seconds from being blasted when I check my phone one last time (you can’t hold your phone during the procedure, the micro frequencies will apparently try to give it a perfect ass and make it explode). I see the New York Times alert. I have never heard the word pandemic. It sounds delicious. It isn’t. It’s worse than an epidemic. My first thought: this is my second of four ass blast sessions. What am I gonna do if we all quarantine? Will I get refunded for half the blastings? Will I have one half of a great ass? Will it have some weird effect where my ass will get worse than it started because I didn’t complete the series? I joke with my dermatologist about it, we have fun. I’m fun in a pandemic. I get my ass blasted. It looks exactly the same. I tell myself I’ll get through this.

A few days later, it’s almost time for my third appointment. By now, the world has fundamentally changed. I’ve stocked up on spaghetti and sardines (a responsible amount, don’t judge). Since I’m already working from home, things don’t change much on that front, except at the beginning of every conference call there are obligatory check ins and uneasy joking about the crisis. It all becomes real when I get the call from my dermatologist’s office to confirm my appointment for the next day… the third blast. “Aren’t you guys closed?” I ask. “We’re taking all the necessary precautions, but we’re still open,” the receptionist assures me. I think about my 70-plus year old parents who both live in LA. If I get Corona from a Cool Tone session and give it to them and they die, I could end up a hashtag. I think about my dream ass, the one I am halfway to earning. But, if we’re quarantined who’s gonna see it? I cancel my appointment. Humanity triumphs over vanity. I am proud of myself. But don’t hold yourself to my levels of nobility. I’m a TV writer. We’re a better breed.

John Salangsang
Freelance photographer

I’m a true freelance photographer. An event comes up and, if a staffer at one of the agencies can’t cover it or they have more events than they do staffers, that’s when I come in. I was booked for four jobs last week, but as coronavirus concerns increased, it was all canceled, one after another.

I had eight jobs set up for Coachella and that has gone too. They’re talking about October, but we’ll see what happens because now the sponsors have to decide if it’s going to make sense for them to do it in then, so, everything’s up in the air.

Coachella is normally a big chunk of my yearly income — that’s more than $10,000 of business that I lost.

I’m confident that I’ve got enough saved in the piggy bank that I can weather the storm. But I’m afraid that some of the other photographers that I work with don’t. Some of those guys have literally told me they live pay paycheck to paycheck. It’s really, really sad. And I’d tell them, you have to find another form of how you make your photography work for you. Back then, it made sense because you know, you can still go out and get creative and do your other things. Now leaving your house, there’s a threat; so that advice doesn’t apply.

In the last 10 to 15 years, the industry has changed. Back then, if you shot a photo and it ended up on a cover of Us or People Magazine, you’d make $2,000 to $3,000 after the agency took their cut, which is normally 50/50. Today, if you get a cover, your cut may be $600 to $700. I get paid per job, so when I cover an event, I make a set rate. Other photographers operate on spec, meaning they go out to an event on their own and shoot, the image sells and they get a percentage. So they rely on images selling because that’s the only way they’re going to get paid.

Before coronavirus, 90% of those photographers were struggling. And when I say struggling, I mean struggling to where they were almost losing money anytime they would go out and shoot; with mileage with parking, they weren’t selling enough photos to even cover that. And so, with all of this, I can only imagine how much worse it is for them.

But aside for the financial impact, the whole situation is a double-edged sword. Like right now, if I were offered a job to go out to shoot a party, do I really want to do that? Do I want to be surrounded? But at the same time, I need to make a living. So, I’m kind of conflicted with, “Yes, I want to work, but do I really want to work and be around other people?”

The only thing I can do in the meantime is build building blocks, just plan for the future and just note that once things start to get moving and getting back to some sort of normalcy that, you know, I’ll still be afloat by then.

Miranda Bailey
Producer/Founder of TheCherryPicks.com

My team and I were producing the film “God’s Country” with Thandie Newton for my company, Cold Iron Pictures. I also had an untitled project going into pre-production overseas.

We were filming in Livingstone, Montana and kept updated on the news so we knew we would eventually have to make a decision sooner or later. At that point, last Wednesday, it wasn’t clear if we had to close production. But as other productions were shut down, we realized that for the safety and well-being of everyone on set from actors, to the crew members, to the locals who were providing us with services, we had to close down the set. It was difficult for us to make this decision as we knew the effect on the crew. The director was sad but took it in stride. My producing partners and I were affected emotionally as well as it’s never easy to make a decision that affects the livelihoods of people of your set. But given the circumstances, we knew it was the right decision.

Our biggest concern was for the health of our cast and crews. No one wanted to stop a film where the snowy location is a character in the film! Moving the schedule meant we would lose the location until perhaps, another winter.

None of us are sure when we will be back up and running again or when any films or tv work will be available again. It’s extremely difficult to coordinate schedules for actors, crew and producers. We all have different projects we jump from and we don’t know how flexible or difficult those schedules will prove to be once the industry is back and running.

Thus, during this time of self-isolation, I am focusing on my other company, TheCherryPicks.com, which is a female film review site. Now more than ever people are hungry for content and excited to find new ways sites for entertainment/film information. CherryPicks is focused on the female audience so we have an opportunity to engage with many more readers now that people are mostly based at home. The Cherrypicks team and I have been writing articles with my favorite films from SXSW or favorite female-directed films, we will be doing a group screening of a film for our readers so we are having a lot of fun with that and it helps film lovers like us pass the time in a super fun way.

Sometimes challenges like this can enhance our creativity in ways we don’t anticipate and sometimes it does not. We all remain optimistic.

Jason Michael Kennedy
Casting director

There was no imagining months ago that we would have our lives turned upside down by a pandemic. My heart goes out to all the people who are suffering directly or indirectly from this outbreak.

As a casting director for “NCIS” and “NCIS: Los Angeles,” it was unsettling to suddenly be out of work, but I was most concerned about my staff and the rest of the crew who live paycheck to paycheck. I’ve been there and it’s scary to not know how you’re going to get by. Thanks to these shows, my family is very fortunate to have the means to support ourselves for a short period. We’re lucky, we’re healthy and we’re safe.

My husband and I have two boys, 10 and 14, and we knew it was crucial to establish a routine to get through the first week at home without killing each other. Being thrust into instant homeschooling was probably the biggest shock and I feel for our kids who are getting the short end of the stick. We’re playing it safe. We’re staying at home unless we’re going for a walk or need something from the store. Someday, I’m sure we’ll find some bread and toilet paper.

Keeping busy has been my saving grace to maintaining some sort of sanity and comfort. The kids are a good distraction. Meals and quality time are wonderful right now. We have a ping pong table top for our dining room table that has gotten a lot of competitive playtime from my competitive family. I’ve been working with my colleagues at the CSA on ways we can give back to the community and help our members. And my amazing casting team and I are seeing if we can put together a virtual open call in the coming weeks so we can do a little something for actors.

Still, the uncertainty is stressful. We don’t know when this will end. Will my job come back? Will my kids be able to graduate to their next grade levels? What is life going to be like a few months from now? I miss going places, seeing theatre, visiting friends. I know life will go back to normal someday, but today that feels pretty far away. For now, we’ll keep doing our part to help stop the spread of this thing and try to create some good stuff while we’re at it. And hopefully, we’ll eventually find that bread and toilet paper.

Alex Lee Moyer
Director/editor

When I found out my film, “Tfw No GF,” had been selected to screen at SXSW, it was legitimately one of the happiest days of my life. We scrambled for weeks to get everything in order, raising money for finishing costs on the film, planning the roll-out, etc. It wasn’t much longer after the paint had dried on the whole thing, that we began hearing rumors of the cancellation.

At first, it seemed impossible, but then it started to fall away with each passing day. I felt like my dream was being dismembered piece by piece. By the time the final announcement came down, it felt like having a family member die after a long illness. I was upset but also relieved because I wouldn’t have to deal with the anxiety of not knowing.

The ensuing chaos was so profound. I went from grief mode into battle mode within a matter of 48 hours, thinking: “How can I salvage this thing?”

Then came the creeping realization that the virus was more of a threat than any of us had anticipated, from both a health and psychological perspective. Suddenly, I and everyone around me became psychologically frozen as the news started to trickle in, not about SXSW but the world at large. Everything became suspended. At the time of writing this, it still is.

Some but not all of the arrangements I had made for SXSW were refundable. I ended up being able to salvage some of the money, not enough to provide any relief in terms of income, though, by any means. I like so many others now find myself “hunkering down,” not just for safety reasons but because it’s all I can afford to do.

The response on behalf of the festival was equally chaotic, the conciliatory measures were scattered and confusing and — I hate to say it — ultimately, unhelpful. I can’t blame them; it was a disaster for all. After the initial realization, I’ve kind of settled into a numb acceptance of it all.

Financial hardship is a constant for indie filmmakers and freelancers. We will be the cockroaches who inherit the earth when this is all over. I have a primary editing bay at home in my Los Feliz studio. That being said, I’m traveling a lot of the time, and currently holed up in Nevada. As of now, I’m working on a laptop and a portable monitor. These days, you can edit from anywhere now, so long as you possess the work ethic and the attention span.

I’m most nervous that people will remain fearful for too long, and that the shut down will come at too great of an expense to the things we love and enjoy as a society. However, I am also very hopeful that we will expand our connections and our creativity as a group. This is a great stimulus for new ways of thinking and communicating. I am hopeful.

Chad Michaels 
Entertainer

My partner Adam Magee and I returned from a “Drag Race” Themed UK Tour on March 12 and that’s when things started to decay.

My booking agent had already been receiving cancellations from nearly all my upcoming appearances before I arrived back in the states. I canceled the remaining few as I can’t in good conscience bring groups of people together right now, even if the venues are still open.

The weekly show I produce called “The Dreamgirls Revue” has been postponed indefinitely as our venue Urban Mo’s in San Diego decided to close down to protect our customers and community.

My calendar has been cleared by the current pandemic. This sudden economic upheaval has me deeply concerned about my colleagues and all the people affected in the entertainment and service industry.

My current plan is to wait this out with everyone else, follow CDC guidelines, and protect my family and community by social distancing and isolating.

My mother is 76 and I will be 50 next year; there is no room for error. I am currently offering personalized messages on CAMEO and posting content on social media to help maintain a positive and creative connection with people.

I am also working with Urban Mo’s in San Diego to Livestream our Dreamgirls show from the venue without an audience.

We are attempting to maintain some continuity with our weekly audience of fans and friends by streaming at our regular show time of 8 PM. We are also hoping to reach an even larger audience of people looking for some hope, inspiration, and laughs. Surviving in the world of “virtual entertainment” will inevitably be the next task at hand.

Arlene Nelson
Director of Photography

On March 11, armed with latex gloves and Lysol wipes that lay claim to kill the coronavirus, I boarded a flight from LAX to Miami with the intention to board a connecting flight to Morocco to shoot an HBO Series with Lisa Ling.

At the airport, my anxiety softened as I received an “On This Day in 2018, Facebook message” reminding me that exactly two years earlier I was in Morocco shooting with Zachary Quinto for a National Geographic show, “In Search Of.”

The photo sparked memories of a fantastic shoot and it had me shifting my thoughts away from the ubiquitous virus and over to the scents and sights of exhilarating Morocco. But once we landed in Miami and reached the connecting gate, President Trump was addressing the nation. Having caught the tail end of it, my mind wandered back to questioning whether or not heading to Morocco was a good idea. That’s when I received a text from my sister letting me know European flights were being suspended. Then a text from my husband: “Don’t get on that plane to Morocco. Come Home!”

I received a call from production letting me know they were in talks with HBO on the next steps. As the flight began to board, I let the gate agent know I didn’t think we were going to board the plane, which meant they would need to find our 14 cases before taking off. That’s when I got the text from production that our show had been indefinitely postponed.

The next day, I rented a minivan and drove three hours up the coast to check in on my elderly parents in Venice, Florida. In their neck of the woods, life was still very care-free. Restaurants were packed, grocery store shelves were full – but I prepared my parents for the inevitable: we shopped and laid out a plan for them in case anything happened.

Worried that domestic flights may soon be canceled, I left my parents and headed three hours to the Orlando airport, once again armed with my latex gloves and Lysol wipes, and boarded a flight home. As soon as I returned, I threw all my clothes into the washing machine before hugging my loved ones.

I am now hunkered down at home with my husband, daughter, and dog with occasional visits from my sister and nephew. We are doing a lot of cooking, movie watching and board game playing. The other night I had a virtual happy hour with producer friends of mine. I’m grateful to be home and all is well for now – though we are running low on TP.

Amy Chiaro
Executive producer, “The Dr. Oz Show”

None of us wanted to be covering a story like this.

All of us at “Oz” have watched as shows our friends work on were shut down due to concerns over the virus. One by one, we started to feel more and more isolated and alone in our office building and studio on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

We continued to push to keep ourselves on the air, trying to use all the precautions Dr. Oz was preaching about – washing hands frequently, not touching our faces, using gloves at times and trying to keep our distance from each other — which is tough in production. We found ways to bring social distancing to the studio. We normally brief Dr. Oz in person in the morning, before we tape shows, all crammed into a 10-by-10 office with around 10 people. Last week, we switched everything to a conference call from separate offices, trying to limit our exposure to each other and Dr. Oz.

We went down to essential personnel only in our control room and on the studio floor. And whoever could work from home, did. The teams in post-production have worked tireless hours making sure people could edit from home so we can keep delivering new shows on coronavirus, no matter what happens in the city and in case someone who works on the show gets diagnosed with the virus.

And then the thing I most dreaded happened last Wednesday: the call came in that one of our staff members who works out of our office-side building had tested positive for Covid-19. We quickly notified the staff and crew and worked fast to finish taping and get everyone out of our offices and transitioned to working from home. Our incredible technical team got Oz set-up with a home studio that we could all access remotely, so we got to work immediately, producing shows and booking guests.

A story like this needs in-depth, daily analysis from a trusted source who can interpret the medical data, analyze studies coming in from abroad and talk to those on the frontlines to learn from their experiences.

Keeping “Dr. Oz” on the air was never a question.

Matt Michalowski
President and Founder of PXL, an entertainment marketing agency

As the President and Founder of an entertainment marketing agency, I’m witnessing first-hand how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the industry on the distribution side. My company manages the web sites for several large studios, so our team is scrambling to address the many release date changes. I can tell that tensions are running high at the studios, especially on the theatrical side of the business where no one has any idea when things will get back to normal. On the other side of the coin, it seems like our home entertainment clients are being tasked with carrying the load through the next few weeks. Overall though, fortunately, business seems to be humming on (for now, at least). The overall consensus on the marketing side of the business is that things will eventually return to normal, and that the campaigns for the delayed movies we’re working on will likely be picked up again later this year, so we might as well use this time to get ahead.

As for me and my team at PXL, a few years ago I implemented a policy where everyone works from home on Wednesdays, so luckily we had the equipment, infrastructure, and processes to make the transition happen instantly and seamlessly. I’ve been working from home at my loft in downtown LA for over one week now (PXL got a head start compared to most businesses), and it’s going ok for the most part. My wife, who works in television media on the Lionsgate account, is nine months pregnant and is about to go on maternity leave, so we’re using the extra time at home to finish setting up the baby’s nursery. As far as our work setups at home, I’ve taken the desk near the window in the guest bedroom, and my wife has commandeered the dining room table as her temporary office. We spend our days buried in our computers and papers, so it’s not too different than being in the office – with the noticeable difference being a lot more video calls.

While it’s a scary time due to the uncertainty, we’re trying to look on the bright side and are thankful that we are still able to work right now despite the disruptions.

Brandon Victor Dixon
Actor/Philanthropist

I was thinking about this yesterday, all I do is create.

The WeAre Foundation uses the connective power of the arts to amplify voices that emphasize our shared humanity. It’s an art-based initiative.

Art is the most transformative force in our culture, our programs aim to tie that power to community works that can enable us to thrive as a more cohesive unit.

We have a plan set for Michigan in July and we’re thinking about what does this all mean for the plans we have?

Our whole initiative is about using the connective power of the arts to bridge the gap between communities. Our initiative this year has been about connecting communities to the power of their collective voice and vote.

Rather than just telling people to get out and work, we gather local organizations and we get them to talk about the local intersections of their work and how local and national politics can empower them in their work. We wrap it all in art-based activities with concerts and community festivals. It’s gathering crowds of people.

As we look towards November and the initiative we were going to roll out this summer in Michigan, we’re looking at whether we will be able to gather those crowds in July and August.

We have to consider whether it will happen.

One thing we’re seeing right now is a great by-product of the circumstances, there are people who didn’t get to indulge in their creative instincts before, and now they’re getting the chance to do so.

They’re sharing it online. That’s the kind of networking that I think will be important for us going forward.

We encourage people to go to our website — weare.org/about/ — and we’re putting out content that projects our message and how we harness these artistic works that are happening on social media and how to amplify the energy going forward.

If you’ve got the Hamilton App, you can also click on the WeAre link and it will take you directly to Register to Vote.

As much as what is happening now, is limiting, we have to think about what comes next.

Amanda Lenker Doyle
Casting director and executive board member of the Casting Society of America

Our mornings begin as they have for the last year — 5 a.m. wake up to a wet diaper and hungry babe. It’s the rest of the last 14 or so days in self isolation (I’ve lost count) that have been so disruptively different. My husband Devin and I had our first baby in October of 2018. We are both lucky enough to earn our living as craftspeople in the entertainment industry. He’s a cinematographer and I’m a casting director, and we have been self quarantined with our 17-month-old daughter, Gemma, since March 13.

We are both freelancers, both used to the ebb and flow of work, and we’ve grown accustomed to saving money when times are good for those long bouts of quiet. As the cancelation calls and emails began rolling in – one after the next – we made the early decision to self isolate and started planning for something unprecedented.

My casting partner Chrissy and I started a new show on Monday, March 9. We have been partners for four years and live on opposite sides of LA, so daily use of technology is not new to us. We have relied on apps like FaceTime and Zoom to do the majority of our work. Collecting self tapes has become a norm for us. We have utilized the tech available to us to give as many actors an opportunity as possible. In February, we wrapped a new film for Timur Bekmambetov’s company – a modern day, Screenlife adaptation of “Romeo & Juliet” – that required some creative technical experiments on our part. I started the new job on Monday by exploring different software to allow for potential live digital auditions in the event that we wouldn’t be able to have in person sessions. By mid-week, we heard rumblings of going on hold. We were shut down on Friday, March 13.

We will see what tomorrow brings. Every day seems to be both grossly monotonous and wildly novel. In the meantime, we are trying to temper the anxiety of not knowing what is coming next by connecting as a family in ways that our very busy lives didn’t allow for before. Parenting a toddler at this time is … challenging, but we feel very lucky to have each other — and a strong internet connection.

James McMurtry
Singer-songwriter

I live in Lockhart, Texas with my girlfriend and our two dogs and five feral yard cats. A year or so ago, we got priced out of Austin, had to leave the soon to be sold duplex I’d rented for eighteen years, and moved down here with the whole menagerie. My drummer’s wife is a realtor. She found us a place we could actually afford to buy. We got lucky. Our mortgage payment is less than the old rent in Austin, and right now, we’re both out of work. I had to postpone my spring tour and the bar where my girlfriend works is closed until further notice. We have some savings. We’ll get by I think. Most musicians and servers are not so lucky, I fear.

When I was younger, I hunted a good bit and, over the years, accumulated a pile of firearms and ammunition. I’m selling off what guns I don’t use, which is most of them, on the assumption that money will get you through times of no guns better than guns will get you through times of no money. I know many who disagree with me on that point, but it looks like a good time to sell, just the same. Americans are freaking out. Ammo shelves look like Castro’s Cuba. And, for some reason, the guns of mine that I shoot best have little or no monetary value, so I’ll keep those, I guess. I probably should have hunted smarter this year. I could use the meat now, but, for some reason, I can’t get myself to care that much, a common sign of advancing age in hunter folk.

The food stores out here are no more overstocked right now than the gun stores. I buy meat at a rural meat market that usually has more cuts than customers. Now you have to hope the hamburger shipment just came in if you want to make chili, too far back in line and you’re outta luck. The old cowboy in line behind me yesterday was dumbfounded, as if he either hadn’t heard of the virus, or thinks it’s just the flu. I hear there are no paper products at Walmart. The prospect of running out of toilet paper seems to be a national obsession. Alas, Amazon has done away with the convenient fall back of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. Society is apparently doomed for lack of guns, ammo, and TP. At our house, we don’t have any hand sanitizer, but we have plenty of soap, thanks to years of touring. I often take the extra bar from the motel room and throw it in my bag. I hope I can get back on the road before the soap runs out.

Kimber Elayne Sprawl
“Girl from the North Country”

We are actors. We are supposed to be the poster children for thick skin. Still, when you’re lucky enough to land a Broadway show and then a few days after opening to rave reviews, it’s suddenly on hold, your initial reaction feels paralyzing. And then you remember that as an actor you are also born believing in the unbelievable. I start each day now with Gratitude and Meditation. My life is still mine, my family is healthy, and my home is safe.

I wait for answers from our Government and support from the Actors’ Union; both of which feel out of my control. What I can control is making the conscious choice to find solace in solitude.

I do not see this as a setback, but as a set up for an abundant future! To keep my artistic juices following, I work on side projects that I’ve put off for months because I never had time.

I’m currently reading “The Night Circus,” a novel by Erin Morgenstern and “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle; I highly recommend them both! I watch classic films like “Waiting to Exhale,” it’s some of Angela Bassett’s best early work.

I’m working on a thousand-piece puzzle, that will most likely take me the entire shutdown period to complete. I listen to The Daily and Oprah’s Super Soul podcasts because it’s imperative to stay informed and ”connect to the world around you” (says, Oprah).

I cuddle with my cat, which appears annoyed by my constant presence.

I take long walks and pray that April 13 will be a glorious day because that is the day “Girl From the North Country” is supposed to reopen on Broadway. Get your tickets!

Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Director and EP of “Homecoming” Season 2

I feel very grateful, mostly because I am healthy and at home, but also because I only just finished post production on the second season of “Homecoming,” where I EP’d and directed every episode. We came in just under the wire, finishing the final QC and VFX details on the show as the doors on our post facility were closing. I know so many people whose shows and movies had to be stopped mid-stream and I can’t imagine how stressful it must be, not knowing how or when (or even ever) their work might be finished. There are, of course, bigger problems in the world right now, but we can’t ignore the emotional and financial hardships the next months are going to bring our industry.

I’m finding myself in a strange situation where I had pretty much been planning on isolating myself for a couple months to focus on writing a new feature script before the show is released. Having said that, I find that I can’t follow the benchmarks and page counts and such I had hoped to hit. There’s so much to think about, so much going on in the world that it only feels appropriate for focus to occasionally come second to the worrying. I’m also trying to give myself time for my mental health, to remind myself that being safe and healthy right now is the most important thing. In other words, low expectations for myself right now seems to be a rare positive thing. I still spend a lot of time working on the script and reading some new ones, but I’m also grateful to get to spend so much time with my boyfriend and my dog, obsessively playing board games and catching up on all the movies and TV I missed making “Homecoming” over the last year. At the very least we can cherish some time given to us with our loved ones.

I think a lot about the industry as a whole and how this virus is going to affect our futures. We know the immediate effect, but the long term effects are troubling. Independent productions that rely on private investors are going to have a large uphill battle coming up, I really think the indie world risks taking a big hit here. Also, how might productions look different in the future? Film sets are notorious for passing and traveling colds and flus. People are expected to work through sickness. We burn the candle at both ends for these few months of production to make these shows and movies a reality, but I hope what we’ll see is it a much higher sense of compassion when someone gets ill; a stricter sense of who should or shouldn’t be on set and backup plans in place when essential cast or crew are sick. Crews are traditionally an ambitious set of people, but hopefully this will shed some light on the fact that maybe we need to cut back on the ‘get it done at all costs’ type attitude this industry values so high. There are more immediate and serious problems to face but I am looking ahead to a future where health and hygiene are valued to a greater degree in this industry and our country.

Monique Hyman
Hairstylist in IATSE Local 706/Young Workers Committee Chairperson

I’m a dog mom to an all white Schnauzer with a mohawk named Falkor. I’m also a bride to be, supposed to be getting married this June. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about what’s to come.

Every day, I wonder how long this quarantine will go on for. How will I pay my bills? Will my wedding date stay? Or will it be pushed? Will my loved ones be able to celebrate this
special day with us? It’s been an immense challenge balancing these stresses in
in addition to financial and physical well being.

I’m constantly reminding myself to accept these anxieties for what they are, and shift my focus to what I’m grateful for. I’m grateful for Local 706, working tirelessly fighting for my union sisters and brothers to make sure the workers of the entertainment industry are included in the conversation of aid.

I’m grateful for the time spent on FaceTime with my mom who lives in Vermont, because to be honest, I haven’t been making the time for family like I should be. I treasure the video-chats with my sister in Montana and being able to see my little nephews with the biggest smiles on their faces. It’s a beautiful reminder that we’re going to be ok. I try to limit my screen time on social media with so much negativity being shared, and I’ve turned to more phone calls and texting with my friends instead. Zoom happy hour with my girlfriends has helped ease some of the social isolation pains. I continue to work out and do my best to keep my body and mind healthy.

Some days are more difficult than others and it’s important to recognize that. It’s ok to feel down sometimes, but it’s also important to remember how to pull yourself out of it. Some days I rest, and some days I’m productive. I’ve been learning a lot about myself from the inside out, trying to love and accept myself for my weaknesses and flaws both mentally and physically.

Most importantly, I won’t let the media or outside influences dictate my fears, and I promised myself that I will take it one day at a time, and give Falkor so many extra pets. We’re all in this
together, and I’ve found a sort of comfort in knowing that.

Julie Socash
President Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Guild

When I sat down to write about my experiences during this uncertain time, I didn’t know where to start. I am relatively new as president of Local 706, Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Guild. I am also a working makeup artist out in the field with the rest of our members, at least until recently, when all production shut down.

Every one of us are concerned for our own well-being and that of our families.
Being part of a union is like being a part of an extended family. Every time we speak, our business representatives have shared with me the need to get more information to our members and help make sure they are safe and healthy.

From the beginning of this health crisis, almost every single board member, chairperson or member who reached out to me did not call to ask for help but instead to offer their services.

A number of them have voiced their concern for their brothers and sisters and want to make sure we are doing everything in our power to help each other.

A board member called (before the lockdown) and expressed he has handyman skills and offered help to a member that may need emergency repairs. Another said I have plenty of extra food and supplies if anyone is in need. Someone else offered to bring groceries and drop them off for members who are at risk and can’t leave their homes. Many are making phone calls just to check on each other’s welfare. I can go on and on. I have no doubt that other local leaders are experiencing the same.

The I.A.T.S.E. under the leadership of international president Matthew D. Loeb have been a strong voice sending valuable information to us and letting everyone know that our Union families deserve the same help as all other families in America.

Over the past 13 months, I have been learning what our members want addressed, what their needs are and how I may be able to help implement their vision.

Over the last few days, I learned what a great family I am fortunate to be a part of and that our members’ hearts are as big as their talent.

Jon Wardle
Director, National Film and Television School

In every crisis there is always a choice. We can fall apart or we can fall together. Standing in my office at the U.K.’s National Film and Television School (NFTS) last Monday — having sent out an email closing the facilities and moving all learning online — I wasn’t sure which way we would go.

The NFTS is a very hands-on school. Students “learn by doing” — making films, television shows and games to an exceptionally high standard in a real studio
environment. Our graduates go on to work on 97 percent of the biggest films and television shows made in the U.K., from “Chernobyl” to “1917.” Translating a fraction of that into a new online format felt like a mammoth task.

On Tuesday morning, we all gathered for a hastily organised staff meeting via Zoom. My colleagues spoke with passion about what they were going to do to help, and the
sense of purpose was palpable. We were going to keep going, and not simply stumble on: we were going to smash it. By the end of that day, IT had packaged more than 60 computers and were busily arranging for delivery to students’ houses. This was critical because it’s hard to learn visual effects, composing or games without a high-performance computer.

We set up almost 100 Zoom licences so that teaching departments could run classes online. By Wednesday, new teaching sessions were beginning to appear online.
There were practical filming and sound recording exercises students could complete around their homes; demonstrations of lighting live from cinematography tutor
houses; group screenings and reviews of student films with 60-plus staff and students gathering together on Zoom to critique work.

Inspired by my colleagues, I reached out to a number of the school’s most high- profile supporters to ask for their help. David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Seven”) was the
first to reply. He was happy to do a masterclass with the students via Zoom if it helped keep up their morale.

Before you knew it we had masterclasses arranged with Ricky Gervais, Sally Wainwright, Edgar Wright, Jesse Armstrong, Nainita Desai and Alex Gibney. When I wrote to tell the students about Fincher, one of the students replied to say, “What a silver lining,” and I think that sums it up.

We can’t offer the students some of the things we would normally and certainly not in their usual way – I’m very sorry about that. But my colleagues and I are going to
work damn hard to ensure we find the ‘silver lining’ and that as a community of more than 600 staff and students, instead of falling apart, we will fall together.

 

Read More: Corona Chronicles: Volume I

 

Here are some of the places entertainment workers affected by coronoavirus and related shutdowns can get financial and medical help.

(Contributors: Jazz Tangcay, Marc Malkin, Angelique Jackson, Jenelle Riley, Chris Willman, Danielle Turchiano, Audrey Cleo Yap, Cynthia Littleton  and Elizabeth Wagmeister)

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