It has been three months and counting of film and TV production shutdowns in Los Angeles due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the end might be in sight as the state of California and Los Angeles County lifted restrictions on shooting on June 11. Jonathan Dolgen, former chairman of Viacom Entertainment Group, currently serves on the board of the city’s Homeland Security Advisory Council, a nonprofit housed at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy that was created before COVID-19 to help support efforts to prepare for and respond to a crisis — whether man-made, pandemic or natural disaster. But given the pandemic’s devastating impact, the HSAC board, which also includes Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD chief Michel Moore, is liaising with the city’s business community to get key industries like entertainment back up and running. Dolgen spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about why this struggle is unique and what he is hearing from Hollywood executives.
What will need to happen before production in Los Angeles can resume?
While I am no longer directly involved, I feel it will take a while for us to find a way back to production. Ultimately, all players are confronting problems unlike those they faced decades before. All of the players — guilds, studios, agents — are struggling to find a way to safely bring the elements together in a cohesive manner.
What will be the biggest challenges?
I believe the biggest challenge that is going to be faced in the “new world” is safety. How can we safely create entertainment for our audiences? When will audiences feel safe enough to come back to theaters and what kind of entertainment experience will be there? Over the years, the industry has faced a variety of problems, some of which threatened its existence. There was the advent of sound, color, television and a variety of others, each one having its own set of fundamental issues. However, with COVID-19, one difference in all this is “When can we feel comfortable going back? What will the theater experience feel like? Can we feel comfortable sitting in a large room with others being entertained?” None of the other issues have threatened our personal sense of safety. These problems are in many ways different and more difficult than the ones that came before. I don’t believe that it will be easy to determine when we will be willing to come back.
Is there any sense of a timeline?
My thought is that in general, audiences don’t seem to know enough about what their lives are going to be and what role entertainment will play.
What kinds of calls are you receiving from Hollywood executives?
The conversations I have had, mostly with former executives, are largely revolving around when the problem will end. The people I have spoken to mostly believe that at some point the business will find its way back to an environment much like the one we had prior to this problem. That may be a case of wishful thinking.
From your former chairman POV, do you see the pandemic sparking major acquisitions or mergers?
I don’t believe that the pandemic has yet sparked thoughts on sales or mergers. It is just too early.
How are you personally coping with the lockdowns and uncertainty?
We are coping as best we can. We have been focused on home and rest and are taking things day by day.