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'We are the Guinea pigs': Hollywood restarts blockbuster machine

Roughly 750 people are involved in the $200 million production of Jurassic World, which restarted on July 6, and the set would normally be a hive of activity

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Hollywood | movies

Nicole Sperling & Brooks Barnes | NYT 

Hollywood
Jurassic World: Dominion is among the major Hollywood studio films to restart production since the global shutdown in March. Photo: John Wilson/Universal Pictures & Amblin Entertainment

Like most actors, Bryce Dallas Howard is used to showing up on film sets knowing what lines she’s supposed to say, when she’s supposed to say them and, often, not much more.

Things are very different on Jurassic World: Dominion, one of the first major studio films to restart production since the pandemic led to a global shutdown in March. Before agreeing to return to Pinewood Studios outside London, Howard and other members of the cast grilled producers and executives from the studio behind the movie, Universal, through a series of Zoom calls and emails about what precautions were being taken.

Howard now knows everything from how to attach her microphone before filming — she does it herself outside, with help from her dresser, as a boom operator wearing a mask and a shield instructs them — to the person who makes her bed at the luxury hotel Universal has rented out for 20 weeks for the cast and crew.

“Until now, actors were not really included in prep,” Howard said in a phone interview, referring to the moviemaking process as “a need-to-know-business.” “But in order to get any of us on a plane, we had to thoroughly understand the protocols, who was involved and hear second and third opinions. We are the guinea pigs who are going to take the leap.”

has been unable to restart production on its own soundstages in California because of surging infections in the state, plodding negotiations with unions over protocols and the time it takes to get test results. So big movie studios, under pressure to get their production assembly lines running again, have focused on overseas shooting. The Avatar sequels are filming again in New Zealand. Sony Pictures has Uncharted, its adaptation of a popular video game, going in Berlin. Leading the way is Universal, with Jurassic World and a 107-page safety manual that details everything from the infrared temperature scanners the cast and crew encounter upon arrival to the vacuum-sealed meals provided by masked workers standing behind plastic partitions in the takeout-only cafeteria. Its safety protocols are serving as a model for other studios, showing Marvel, for instance, how to resume shooting Shang-Chi two weeks ago in Australia.

Roughly 750 people are involved in the $200 million production of Jurassic World, which restarted on July 6, and the set would normally be a hive of activity. But Universal has divided the production into two categories. The larger one is made up of the departments that don’t need access to the set during filming, like construction and props. The more exclusive category, called the Green Zone, includes the director, the cast and only essential crew, like camera operators and the sound department. The result, Howard said, is comparable to a “closed set,” which in pre-pandemic times was typically used for physically intimate scenes.

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First Published: Sat, August 15 2020. 00:46 IST
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