With L.A. Shut Down, Productions Find Safe Spots to Shoot Globally

Andrea Riseborough - Getty H - 2018
Credit: Tara Ziemba / Getty

Andrea Riseborough is shooting supernatural thriller 'Geechee' in the Dominican Republic, Keanu Reeves has restarted 'Matrix 4' in Germany and studios in Bulgaria and U.K. have also reopened for business.

Los Angeles and much of the U.S. still remains in coronavirus lockdown but, globally, film projects big and small are finding safe spots to shoot.

Production started this week on Geechee, a supernatural thriller starring Andrea Riseborough, at Lantica Pinewood studios in the Dominican Republic. Robert Eggers’ The Northman has begun filming at a purpose-built set in Ireland, with Icelandic singer Björk joining a cast that includes Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Alexander Skarsgard and Willem Dafoe. Miss Willoughby and the Haunted Bookshop, another indie production, starring Nathalie Cox and Kelsey Grammer, just wrapped production in York, in the U.K.. In Bulgaria, Millennium Films recently resumed shooting on the high-concept thriller Till Death, starring Megan Fox, at its Nu Boyana studios.

The studios have several tentpoles back up and running: Disney's Avatar sequels are shooting in New Zealand and Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is back on set in Australia. Universal has been rolling on Jurassic World: Dominion in the UK since July 6 and both Sony Pictures' Uncharted, a video-game adaptation, and Warner Bros.' mega franchise reboot Matrix 4, are currently shooting in Germany.

The large number of new coronavirus cases in Los Angeles county, and the relative poor access to testing, makes it impossible to mount large-scale productions there at the moment. The same is broadly true in the rest of the U.S.. Hence the increased push to produce abroad.

The majority of the productions that were ready-to-go when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Geechee was deep into pre-production in March when it was forced to shut down. Babelsberg had Matrix 4 sets built and the entire cast and crew in Berlin when coronavirus shut things down. In a video interview with AP this week (see below) Keanu Reeves said the studio and producers Warner Bros / Village Roadshow had put "thoughtful, effective" safety protocols in place that "have not really interrupted or impacted" the rhythm of filmmaking. Lana Wachowski is helming the fourth entry in the sci-fi franchise, some 17 years after the release of the third film, The Matrix Revolutions, in 2003. Warner Bros. pushed the release of Matrix 4 back from its original May 21, 2021 date to April 1, 2022, after the COVID-19 delay.

Universal successfully worked out new safety measures with the unions and with the UK's British Film Commission to get the cameras rolling again on Jurassic World: Dominion. The next entry in the dinosaur action franchise, starring Chris Pratt, is currently filming at Pinewood Studios in London and has a bow planned for June 11, 2021. Sony’s Cinderella has also restarted production in the U.K. and Warner Bros.' The Batman and Fantastic Beasts 3, have been given the go-head.

But with coronavirus cases rising again in several countries, producers are proceeding with caution.

The New York Times reported last week that four Jurassic World crew members in Britain have tested positive for the coronavirus since early July. All four were isolated and two, after subsequent negative tests, have returned to work. No one has become seriously ill, the studio said.

Universal, however, has scaled back its second unit shoot in Malta for Jurassic World after a spike in COVID-19 cases on the island. The UK last week added Malta to its list of countries from which arrivals must quarantine for 14 days.

But the film industry is still cautiously optimistic that, after months of lockdown, it can restart the business

For the independents, the success of the Virtual Cannes Film Market in June —international buyers pounced on several big in-development projects—has helped convince financiers to greenlight scripts and start shooting. AGC Studios and Ingenious Media are bankrolling Geechee, which AGC handling international sales. York-based shingle MSR Media are backing Miss Willoughby and the Haunted Bookshop and are shopping it to buyers worldwide.

Production worldwide is still nowhere near the level it was before corona hit. But, Reeves notes in his AP interview, the crisis has brought out the best in the industry. "We're scrappy, we know how to get stuff done. We’re inventive, we think on our feet."

If nothing else, the global restarts show that, despite the ongoing pandemic, the film industry still knows how to put on a show.

You can watch Keanu Reeves' interview below.