Throughout the coming weeks, NYWIFT will sit down with members of the film and television community for a look at how the global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting the industry, particularly those who work in the indie and art house world. And how women are adapting, evolving, and growing creatively. If you would like to share your story please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are compiling a NYWIFT Emergency Resource Directory on our homepage – please continue to check back as we update it with the latest information.
By Heidi Philipsen
We first introduced NYWIFT blog readers to assistant director Isabella Olaguera, one of our youngest NYWIFT members, in April 2018 to talk about the film she worked on that was premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival. What a difference two years makes. In 2020, of course, Tribeca, along with countless other events, has been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus, and the production world has halted to a standstill as we shelter in place and practice social distancing.
Isabella sat down with us last week to offer insight into the new day-to-day of a production freelancer in the time of COVID-19. In the few days since this original interview (below), Isabella has been named Director of Feed the Freelancers, an initiative backed by F.E.E.L. (Film & Entertainment Emergency Logistics). Her mission as part of this organization is to use film industry labor and resources to distribute groceries to freelancers of all industries. You can learn more at feelusa.org, and donate to Isabella’s GoFundME for the project here.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your industry?
Assistant Directors start feature films in pre-production, several weeks ahead of shooting, then continue working through principal photography until wrap. As a 1st A.D., I usually get contacted around now for spring and summer work. These past few years, I’ve been contracted full-time by March. This year, I had several narrative and commercial gigs either postpone indefinitely or cancel altogether. I have no offers for work in the coming months. This is the first time I am facing my busiest work season without a single job offer lined up. After speaking to other always-busy A.D.’s, I discovered that this is the new norm.
How are people in your field reacting to the social distancing?
For some industries, work stays at work. Employees go to the office, clock their 9-5 time, and then go home to spend time with their families, socialize with friends, and engage in hobbies. In the film industry, freelance workers practically dedicate weeks of their lives to a production. I personally give 12-16 hours a day working and commuting, then come home to recharge before doing it again. My social life revolves around a film’s schedule, and my crew members become my best friends. I’m used to having jobs that fulfill my mental, social, and physical needs all in one. Without that for the first time in years, I feel lost. I imagine that other crew members like me are also struggling to feel fulfilled due to social distancing.
Are you able to work at all? From home?
As a 1st A.D., I rely on upcoming physical film shoots. Since we don’t know when it will be safe to start shooting again, productions aren’t setting dates. Without a clear shooting timeline, there’s no way or even a real reason to start scheduling a hypothetical.
I’m used to having jobs that fulfill my mental, social, and physical needs all in one. Without that for the first time in years, I feel lost. I imagine that other crew members like me are also struggling to feel fulfilled due to social distancing.
What would be of help?
I’ve been talking to a few friends about how we can help each other and the entire NY-based freelance film industry, but it’s really hard to do on such a large scale. Virtually my entire network is unemployed for the foreseeable future. We’ve thought about finding a group of professionals to focus on – for us, women in NYC film – and start making a list of names. Larger organizations could use that list to help come up with aid programs. Getting money to people who need it is the ultimate goal, but without an organized system or a source of funding we have hit a wall.
Whether you’re a seasoned film professional constantly working, or a newcomer just starting to make connections, [the] coronavirus puts us all in the same boat trying to make ends meet. Without support from full-time employers, freelancers (from all industries) are banding together so the people with resources can see we need help. Hopefully, legislators will come up with solutions to our unemployment. Until then, we’ll raise our voices and support each other as much as we can.
Additional reporting by Katie Chambers.
Each and every individual whom I’ve mentored has been special—and I’m proud of them all in what they have achieved; however, one mentee and her achievement in particular stands out for me. Her name is Sophie Meissner and her achievement is a short film called, Keep Your Head Up, Sweet Pea!READ MORE
This October, six to eight emerging TV writers — selected out of hundreds of expected applicants — will have the opportunity to pitch to studios and production companies including HBO, HBO Max, Warner Horizon Television, Jax Media, Berlanti Productions, Broadway Video, Element Pictures, Fabel Entertainment, Tornante and more as part of Women's Weekend Film Challenge’s (WWFC) inaugural pilot accelerator program.READ MORE
Maria Finitzo's film "The Dilemma of Desire," a documentary about female sexual desire, was difficult to pitch and sell because, according to Finitzo, “People were afraid of it, they think it's about porn or are worried they're going to see people having sex." Instead, the film delves into the essential, surprising, and often sad truth about most women’s understanding of their own sexual desires and their own bodies.READ MORE
NYWIFT Board Member S. Casper Wong is an award-winning New York-based filmmaker, technology lawyer, social entrepreneur, activist, and Founder of OO Media. She is also the founding chair of Asian American Women Media Makers and is on the board of directors at NYWIFT, leading the innovation initiative. She recently spoke to Global Peace Film Festival about her 20-year journey in filmmaking.READ MORE