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Michael Bay on His New Pandemic Movie: "We'll Literally Be the First Film to Shoot in L.A."

Though 'Songbird' was hit by a SAG-AFTRA stop-work order, the union quickly reversed course, and now, says producer Bay, he and his team are moving ahead.
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Though 'Songbird' was hit by a SAG-AFTRA stop-work order, the union quickly reversed course, and now, says producer Bay, he and his team are moving ahead.

One way to overcome novel coronavirus production hurdles is to make a movie set during a pandemic: protective gear and lockdown play into the narrative itself.

The Michael Bay-produced thriller Songbird — set two years in the future, when a virus vaccine remains elusive — is poised to be the first movie to shoot in L.A. since the global pandemic brought production to a halt. The film, which was slapped with a "Do Not Work" notice by SAG-AFTRA on July 2 that was immediately rescinded, has been capturing footage in the weeks before shooting began July 6 with the cast, which includes Demi Moore, Craig Robinson and Peter Stormare. 

"We worked out the safety issues months ago, and we resolved [the latest issue with the unions] over the weekend," says Bay, who is producing alongside Adam Goodman. "I don't even think it was a safety issue. It was a money thing," he says, referring to actor compensation. "But we are literally going to be the first film shooting in L.A. And we have a kind of special sauce with how we're doing it where there's zero contact."

The Adam Mason-helmed film was presented to buyers at the virtual Cannes market in June as a package that featured a few minutes of footage including L.A.'s empty streets at the height of the lockdown.

"It is very much actors on their own — nobody is interacting quite in the same manner in which a normal production would function," says ICM's Jessica Lacy, who is selling the film alongside Endeavor Content. "It's obviously timely and also terrifying."

Songbird is one of several projects that weave a pandemic into the plot. On the small screen, Freeform's Love in the Time of Corona, starring Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson, is a four-part limited series that is using remote technologies and being shot in the actors' homes (production started June 29). But a pair of China-shot films about the pandemic are raising eyebrows given that they are China-U.S. co-productions (any film shooting in China must be vetted and approved by the government, which heavily censors content critical of the regime). The first, from Oscar-winning producer Donna Gigliotti, is the documentary Wuhan! Wuhan!, which the filmmakers say will be "told through unprecedented access" to the titular Chinese city that was the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. The second is an untitled narrative feature directed by Bombshell writer Charles Randolph (it, too, will cover the virus' Wuhan origins and chronicle the "heroic" medical community's efforts).

Other filmmakers are simply incorporating COVID-19 plots in order to make the masks and social distancing make sense.

Writer-director Terracino (who goes by a single name) tweaked the script of his microbudget sex comedy Waking Up Dead, which begins production in early August in Los Angeles, to incorporate the pandemic. "Hollywood has a tendency to jump on trends, and that desperate trendiness can look comically dated by the time a film hits the multiplexes," he says. "But I decided to shoot our three sex scenes with face masks, latex gloves and hand sanitizer. Welcome to safe sex, 2020-style."

This story appears in the July 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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