Why Some Hollywood Events Haven't Been Canceled: "We're Not There Yet"

Despite the worsening coronavirus outbreak, some high-profile organizers are reluctant to postpone events as Dr. Barbara Ferrer predicts how bad it could get.
ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
Los Angeles County Public Health director Barbara Ferrer speaks as Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, right, looks on at a press conference.

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, opened Wednesday afternoon’s press conference about the coronavirus outbreak with a disclaimer: “I want to thank everyone for being here today, and I also want to let people know I have very bad allergies — so I’m sniffing, but I’m not sick.” 

The reveal was yet another sign of these current times during which any display of illness or sickness from an individual while at a gathering or event — even a high-ranking public health official at a coronavirus press conference — can spark questions or concerns amid what has now been qualified a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. The novel coronavirus has spread to 100 countries and Ferrer announced Wednesday morning that L.A. County currently has 27 cases as well as its first death.

The woman, in her 60s with underlying health issues, did not live locally but was visiting friends following an extensive travel schedule that included a long layover in South Korea, Ferrer detailed. The 24 cases include seven new infections since Ferrer’s last update Tuesday, and among them is a second case of community acquired infection. Despite that case, Ferrer said at the time that officials haven’t made the decision to join San Francisco and Washington state in limiting or outright banning public gatherings and events, but she suggested it is coming. Officials in San Francisco instituted a ban on events with more than 1,000 people while Washington governor Jay Inslee prohibits gatherings of 250 people in several counties that have been hit by the coronavirus, including King County which includes Seattle.

“We will get to a point, unfortunately, here in L.A. County where we will be asking for events to close, but we are not there yet,” Ferrer said, adding that until then, they are advising “everyone be cautious and take as many actions as they can to protect themselves. This is a risk-benefit analysis.”

However, by late Wednesday night, California Gov. Gavin Newsom recommended cancellation or postponement of gatherings of 250 or more — that would include sporting events, movie premieres and concerts — “at least through March” he said, adding, "changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know."

Organizers from many high-profile events have already opted to do just that. So many so that there’s now a website — the tongue-in-cheek Is It Canceled Yet? from Verge executive editor T.C. Sottek — to keep track. SXSW, Coachella, DragCon, E3, NAB Show, GLAAD Media Awards New York, PaleyFest, Facebook F8, a Quibi launch event, a Disney+ launch event and dozens of others are off for now. Major sporting events such as the NCAA March Madness men’s basketball tournament just announced they would go spectator free as did all New York-based talk shows. The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills made “the difficult but important decision” to cancel or postpone all productions, presentations, public gatherings and educational programs through March 31. Meanwhile, insiders are awaiting word on other major events such as the Cannes Film Festival, still on the calendar for May 13-23, and CinemaCon — the largest gathering of movie theater owners and studios, scheduled for March 30-April 2 in Las Vegas. The latter event is moving ahead with enhanced health and sanitation measures including an abundance of hand sanitizer, efforts to reduce crowding around buffets, increased cleaning efforts by the hotel, medical assistance teams and extra trash bins.

But while it may seem like all doom and gloom, it has been business almost as usual at many recent Hollywood events — but with sanitizer, hand wipes, awkward greetings and more social distancing. The Hollywood Reporter polled more than a dozen event organizers in charge of events this week or in coming weeks who’ve yet to cancel. While many declined comment or did not reply to requests, those who did said they were taking direction from Ferrer’s team at the L.A. County Department of Public Health. Other events insiders explained the list of questions that must be answered before making a final decision: Where is the event being held? How many guests are expected? Are guests traveling in for the event by plane? Internationally? What will be the financial hit of rescheduling?

As of Wednesday, Pasadena Playhouse was moving forward with plans for a benefit this Saturday — Playhouse Celebrity Game Night: Speed Charades — that is expected to draw John C. Reilly, Simon Helberg, Alfred Molina, Jason Alexander, Amber Riley, Jane Kaczmarek and Amy Brenneman, among others. Producing artistic director Danny Feldman tells THR that his team is working “very closely” with the L.A. County Department of Public Health. “We take this very seriously and we are taking exact precautions that they recommend at this time. We’ve completely stepped up our cleaning procedures — it’s normal cleaning of a theater times 10 — and everything in general is being overly cleaned,” he explained. “Obviously, it's a vulnerable time and people are nervous and scared but we haven’t seen any impact yet on our event. So far, so good. We’re feeling OK but we’re aware that can change. The message, loud and clear, is: Be prepared to cancel at any minute.”

Meanwhile, in the beauty and fashion world, January Jones was all smiles when she teamed with designer Jonathan Simkhai to host an L.A. fundraiser for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Tuesday night, while over in Santa Monica, YouTuber Gigi Gorgeous celebrated at a party with Ipsy. A rep for the cosmetics company says it complied with CDC guidelines and noted it took place at “an intimate setting in their office, not a large-scale event.” The spokesperson adds, “There is no higher priority than the safety and wellbeing of our community. We are closely monitoring the situation.”

Earlier this month, on March 5, Tyra Banks turned up to a party in West Hollywood to fete her collection with Nine West footwear, but organizer Authentic Brands Group tried to stay hygienic by informing guests and select editors that “as a precaution, for this event, they wouldn’t be shaking hands.” Banks still posed for plenty of photos with attendees, who included The Circle’s Joey Sasso and The Bachelor's Danielle Lombard.

Other recent L.A. events to proceed in the midst of the official pandemic include: the Christian Cowan x Powerpuff Girls fashion show on March 8 at Neuehouse Hollywood; Olivia Munn’s makeup artist Patrick Ta hosting a Brunch-and-Learn on March 10 in Burbank; a Playboy x Missguided collab party on March 12 at H Club; a Billabong x Sincerely Jules collaboration launch on March 12 at Bend Goods; Anthropologie hosting an Artist Studio Series with the creative director of Clare V on March 13 at Westfield Century City; and a Sol de Janeiro perfume debut at Avenue on March 16. Rael skincare's launch event, originally slated for March 12 at Unplug, was postponed on Wednesday night due to the coronavirus: "It is our utmost priority to ensure the health and safety of our guests and team." (Update: On Friday March 13, the Sol de Janeiro event was cancelled and the Playboy x Missguided party was postponed).

The Style Studio at ABG West — a showcase March 11-13 on Sunset Boulevard for fashion insiders, press and influencers for designer styles from Prince, Frye, Forever 21, Nine West, Tretorn, Frederick’s of Hollywood, Hervé Léger and Aeropostale — switched gears from a more open event to private appointments only “to prevent a congregation of people.” Other invites are rolling in: Amazon Studios is hosting a tastemaker screening March 18 in New York for it’s Tales From the Loop while The Chainsmokers and Jaja Tequila will be featured at the grand opening of Sugar Factory American Brasserie at Westfield Century City on March 19 in L.A.

The minute-by-minute updates and checking the news alerts, both about latest impacts of the virus or postponed events, is proving to be all-consuming for some, which is another consideration events organizers must take into account. Do you have an event and risk the news getting buried by coronavirus reports or have journalists only focused on virus reporting while on the red carpet? On Wednesday, Echo hosted “And Still We Rise! Survivors Becoming Empowered," a conference focused on survivor resilience and empowerment attended by THR. Echo executive director Louise Godbold said her organization took “every precaution to provide a safe and healthy environment at all of our upcoming programs, including the annual conference,” and it seemed to go off without a mention of the pandemic but was dominated by talk of Harvey Weinstein’s sentencing.

On Tuesday night, Vin Diesel, Eiza Gonzalez, Sam Heughan, Michelle Rodriguez and hundreds of others turned out for Sony’s Bloodshot premiere in Westwood, the second major Hollywood premiere after Monday's Mulan debut from Disney. One attendee noted that adjustments included servers wearing black latex gloves, trays filled with disinfecting wipes and guests doing a delicate dance to figure out what level of social interaction was comfortable. The environment was still festive with not one but two post-premiere parties being thrown.

One veteran talent publicist who runs a top PR firm in town with dozens of employees tells THR that they’ve fielded a number of phone calls from executives at networks and studios inquiring as to whether clients are comfortable showing up to premieres, panels and events. In response, they are leaving the decision to individual clients on a case-by-case basis. “I really feel its best to let the client make the decision on whether they feel comfortable showing up. I feel very strongly about that.” She added that it has been “devastating” to witness the number of cancellations and postponements. “It’s like a domino effect,” the rep said. “Financially, it’s terrible for so many people.”

UCLA’s Dr. Emanuel Maidenberg, a clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine with a specialty in anxiety disorders, tells THR that people should start thinking about healthy activities that can be done at home in case events are canceled city-wide, there is a mandated quarantine or employers issue work-from-home directives. "Social isolation itself can be quite unpleasant," he said. "One suggestion we give is to have a plan of what you can do instead. What are activities of self care that can be helpful? It's good to prepare and experiment with new things because a new environment requires a mindful and systematic effort to sustain healthy habits. The goal is to find activities that are pleasurable or stress reducing."

That can mean walking, reading, working out at home or meditating. Maidenberg also suggested minimizing exposure to media and news. "Staying home can be correlated to watching more TV and being on social media but those things, if excessive, don't provide relief. It leads to a perception of doom due to constant flow of negative news. My suggestion is to minimize exposure to as little as possible. Once, twice or three times a day is enough and the rest is unnecessary and, in fact, harmful."

Speaking of gloom, the last question Ferrer fielded at the outdoor press conference was this: How bad is it going to get? "If we look around the globe, we’re certainly going to see a lot more cases and more community transmission. That's bad," she said. "We’re likely to see more deaths. For me, personally, that makes this a bad situation."

Lindsay Weinberg contributed to this report.

Updated March 13 at 8:50 a.m. to include two events being postponed or cancelled.