Tracking Board caught up with independent film producer Ryan M. Murphy who just got back to Vancouver to commence two film productions, and he updates us on the re-opening process so far in the wake of COVID19 pandemic.
What’s it like in “Hollywood North” right now?
There is a lot of enthusiasm and nervous energy to get back to work. It seems like in the past week productions have all been coming back to life all over town. It’s the best feeling getting calls and emails from friends who are all crewing up. The vibe is like coming back from summer break in high school.
You’re the first Hollywood producer back in Vancouver?
That’s the rumor. I stepped off the plane and the entire airport was empty. Canadian Customs had a great process set up and they said I was the first film industry person from LA coming through Customs. The agent was almost as excited as I was to be going back to work. It didn’t really hit me until I walked out of the security doors at YVR and the only person in the entire airport was my driver.
What are you working on in Vancouver?
A few romantic comedies that I feel the world could really use right now. It’s always great to be working, but I don’t think I’d be as excited starting a horror film now, since we’re living through one.
What’s the procedure for you to resume your film production in Vancouver?
So far it’s been a lot like the past few months. Lots of Zoom meetings. Being that I came in from the US I’m in a strict 14 day quarantine where I can’t leave my rental house in BC. My producing partner Steve Stabler and I are working with a local production company and they stocked up the house with everything I need. Between FaceTime and Zoom meetings, they’re doing all they can to keep me in the loop during pre-production. If you’re a producer coming from the US, you need to be prepared for a mandatory quarantine, but with Vancouver being such a beautiful place, especially this time of year, it’s not bad at all. I rented a house in White Rock which is a small coastal town, so my house faces west and overlooks the water. The rest of the Canadian production is out doing location scouting and navigating how things will work moving forward. The film business plays a large role in B.C. and everyone is eager to get back to work, but safety is the topic of every conversation, from the flights coming in to how to deal with extras on set.
Where are the health safety requirements coming from?
If you ask anyone here, they’ll give credit to everyone else. While speaking with the various different vendors and resources such as Gemma Martini of Martini Studios, she credits the group effort from the unions, producers, WorkSafe BC, and others. Prem Gill of Creative BC is focused on uniting and sustaining the safe and efficient growth of production in the entertainment industry here. The collaboration between everyone throughout the process of re-opening the industry has been inspiring to see.
By how much do you anticipate health safety requirements to increase your production costs?
Like seatbelts, the safety requirements will be things we all just need to get used to. There will indeed be a cost to finding a routine and system to keep everyone safe, but in the end it will become a line item in the budget. I’ve heard producers say they expect budgets to add about 20% to accommodate safety guidelines.
Filmmaking is a collaborative effort and filmmakers are used to collaborative problem solving. Because the system is primarily made of artists who receive guidance from their respective unions, it will be all hands on deck to keep people safe. When people work so closely together for such long hours, it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the person next to you healthy.
We’ve heard that independent films are in high demand right now because of the content squeeze. Have you heard that buyers are paying a premium for finished films now?
We actually just sold a film to a distributor for a premium higher than what we would normally. The timing seemed to line up just right and the market place is certainly needing content. I’m not sure how long it might last with so many productions racing back to camera, but in the short term at least, there’s a premium on commercially viable content.
What advice do you have for producers and crew heading back to restart production soon?
First of all, because there’s a 14-day quarantine, get to Vancouver as soon as you can if you intend to start working.
CreativeBC has a ton of great resources for safety guidance. So far British Columbia has had very low rates of transmission of COVID19. WorkSafeBC has a list of protocols here. Also, there’s a website that everyone is talking about that helps you find Canadian directors: www.directors.ca
And in general, read the tea leaves. Some jobs will certainly change and some may not come back, but finding new ways to tell stories can make all the difference. On Friday the 13th of March, I was in the back of a scout van in Abbotsford when we got the call to come back to the office because we were shutting down. A day later I was on a flight back to Santa Monica to shelter in place for three months.
Be nimble and don’t be afraid to pivot. If you can’t make a living being a camera operator right now, then find a small group of collaborators and start creating content at home. I think of young writer-filmmakers like Sean and Sinead Persaud who run a small filmmaker group ShipWrecked Comedy that I helped last year with a project. There are so many buyers right now – from Amazon to Quibi – and they all need content. The new digital generation of filmmakers must continue to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of tomorrow. Our job security must rest in our own ability to change with the times that we are living in. I feel extremely fortunate and grateful to be back on set so soon, but also feel the responsibility as a producer to keep everyone there safe and healthy.
My advice to filmmakers who are still self-isolating: develop material. The industry needs great stories. If you’re looking for talented emerging writers, check out Coverfly, which has a huge database of screenplays and talented emerging writers, both union and nonunion. Also, The Black List is a great resource for finding projects.
What are you working on next?
After I finish these two back-to-back films in Vancouver this summer I hopefully will be going into production on a bigger budget movie that’s currently casting. I found a great screenplay on Coverfly last year and set it up with a major streamer which will be going into production hopefully later this year. I’ll be able to share more details on that soon.