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 email@example.com. 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.
NYWIFT member Caitlin Gold is the Co-Founder and Co-Head of Film, a private equity fund dedicated to financing narrative and documentary films directed by women. The fund’s tagline is “Films by women make more money, but Hollywood isn’t making them….” Thanks to Gold and her colleagues, that very well may change! Their most recent feature is the Australian film Shayda, which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in the World Dramatic Competition and won that category’s Audience Award. Gold spoke to us about Shayda’s path to the screen, funding work by women, and what’s next on her horizon.READ MORE
Developed in partnership with Sundance Institute and Founded by Hartbeat CEO Thai Randolph and Head of Film Candice Wilson Cherry, WOMEN WRITE NOW is a comedic writing fellowship designed to champion the next generation of Black women in comedy through mentorship, advocacy, production, and exhibition. Now in its second year, this year’s fellowship brought in three emerging writers, Mayanna Berrin, Kianna Butler Jabangwe, and Danielle Solomon to develop and produce their comedic short scripts under the guidance of some of the most influential Black women in comedy. The resulting projects were then brought into production by Hartbeat studios. Cherry and the writers spoke to us about their experience.READ MORE
Ericka Nicole Malone Entertainment presents the “Indie Director’s and Creator’s Spotlight” in celebration of diversity in filmmaking at the Sundance Film Festival 2023. Featuring a day of education, industry networking and panels, its evening activation will transform into a Neo Soul lounge with the sultry sounds of 3x Grammy Award-nominated R&B/Neo Soul Singer Angie Stone as the headliner.READ MORE
NYWIFT Advisory Board Member Annetta Marion produced Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie that is premiering at Sundance this month. The film incorporates documentary, archival and scripted elements to recount Fox’s story of personal and professional triumphs and travails in his own words. Annetta and Kathryn O'Kane spoke about the film that explores what happens when an incurable optimist confronts an incurable disease.READ MORE