Getting moving again
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Here’s a nightmare for everyone who has survived the quarantine by binge-watching: what if the streaming services and broadcast networks run out of new materials, and all that’s left are reruns?

This scenario no longer seems farfetched in our world that has been upended in bizarre ways by the COVID pandemic.

For sure, one day we’ll be seeing movies about the tragedies spawned by the coronavirus disease 2019 crisis, and also comedies about physical distancing and manic personal hygiene practices in the time of COVID-19.

As for romance, the South Koreans got it right early on: their movies aren’t big on physical intimacy. The real-life kisses between some pet dogs and their humans are more torrid than those between star-crossed sweethearts Yoon Se-ri and Ri Jeong Hyeok in the Netflix monster hit series “Crash Landing on You” – and it takes forever before the characters hug and kiss… gently.

Award winning director and film maker Jose Javier “Joey” Reyes, spokesperson for the Philippine Motion Picture Producers Association, says the industry is considering possibilities for filming intimate scenes. Facing “The Chiefs” last week on One News / TV 5, Reyes told us that actors must first give their consent to a kissing or hugging scene. Then they must undergo COVID testing. If both test negative, physical contact can then be filmed.

Also being considered, he says, is confining the entire production crew to accommodations on the shooting site, with only one entry point and no one allowed to go out of a controlled area until filming is over. There will be isolation areas for food preparation and delivery, with single-serve meals only or bring-your-own-food-and-drink schemes.

Reyes said movie stakeholders have been discussing how to adjust to the new normal in filmmaking to stay physically and financially healthy.

Among these are workdays of no more than 12 hours – no more lagare – to avoid fatigue and weakened immune systems. Medics will become intrinsic members of the production team, to check body temperature and symptoms of any illness. Another new job: health protocol supervisor on the set.

Props including wardrobes will be disinfected and segregated per actor. Similar measures are being considered for TV shows, such as in the use of lapel microphones and makeup kits. Post-production work that can be done remotely or at home are being considered as well as online payments, which certain companies (such as Cignal / TV 5) started doing early in the quarantine.

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Over the weekend, there was a ray of hope for the industry: the sequel to James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster sci-fi movie Avatar will resume filming, according to producer Jon Landau.

The shooting, however, is in New Zealand, where the small population makes physical distancing easier, and the traditional emphasis on a clean environment and public hygiene enhanced responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Zealand can afford to allow its creative industries to resume operations, emphasizing the importance of an effective response to the pandemic for the health of the economy.

Even in the United States where the response has been inadequate, Americans seem determined to ignore the coronavirus threat, so perhaps we’ll soon see Hollywood reopening for business.

Obviously, reopening will be more complicated in our country, where even the principal enforcer of quarantine rules in Metro Manila is the first to break them. 

Pre-pandemic, the movie industry was already facing revenue challenges due to falling attendance at cinemas, film piracy and competition from streaming services.

Now the cinemas, whose steep entrance fees fuel demand for pirated movies, are shuttered and may take time to reopen. Certain Philippine film producers have started selling to streaming services such as Netflix, but the local industry needs support to expand into the international market.

Reyes hopes the government will use part of the amusement tax collected in cinemas (about 30 percent of box office gross sales) to support the film industry in this crisis. The tax goes to the Film Development Council of the Philippines, which is under the Office of the President. Some local government units collect their own amusement taxes from cinemas, concert halls and other entertainment establishments.

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In some countries, the new normal in the movie industry includes a revival of drive-in cinemas.

Recent reports said that in Florida, the 1948 drive-in Ocala cinema, refurbished in 2011, is seeing a surge in attendance. The Ocala is one of 305 drive-in theaters across the United States that remain in operation.

I don’t know if drive-ins can take off in our country. It will need new movie infrastructure. Health protocols now being implemented in US drive-ins especially in serving food will have to be designed into the business model.

Before the pandemic, however, the men behind TBA Studios (producer of “Heneral Luna,” among others) told The Chiefs that Filipinos continue to pay good money to watch films in cinemas for the experience unique to a moviehouse. Maybe Filipinos will also find drive-in movies a unique experience worth paying for.

Perhaps some of the country’s wealthiest will be interested in this investment. Joey Reyes says that a local streaming service for Philippine movies will also be a boon for local producers.

In the meantime, film industry players are preoccupied mainly with restarting their livelihoods.

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YOUR CREDIT IS GOOD, BUT… Apart from the creative industry, education is a challenge for all stakeholders. Some senators are calling for deferred or staggered payment schemes for tuition as people lose their jobs in the pandemic and schools prepare to reopen. A law or executive order, however, may be needed for this.

At the University of Sto. Tomas, for example, students accepted into the medical school were required to pay a reservation fee of P50,000 by Friday, May 22, in cash through two banks. The payment is non-refundable, but will be deducted from the regular tuition. Credit card or deferred payments were not accepted.

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