Producer Lucas Foster made the difficult and costly decision to isolate his entire cast and crew in a small Australian town to make a reimagined horror movie based on Stephen King’s short story “Children of the Corn,quot;.
The two filmmakers are among the few who have returned to production amid a pandemic. Armed with expansive medical personnel, strict protocols, and imposing security guards ready to shout “Two meters!” Every time someone gets too close, Kormakur and Foster are unlikely pioneers at the dawn of a new era in film.
Everyone wants to know how they did it. In lengthy telephone interviews, the two explained in detail the steps they took to get the cameras working again.
Color coding in an Icelandic sound studio
Kormakur has spoken through his methods to the London Film Commission, the American Society of Cinematographers, and his former partners in Working Title and Universal Pictures. He is currently making a video for Netflix to share with other eager creators looking for a way back.
“I will probably be better known by Covid than by any of my movies,” said Kormakur with a smile. “That is a little sad.”
In March, Kormakur began filming “Katla,” an eight-episode supernatural drama centered on a subglacial volcano that disturbs a quiet little town. Four days after filming in a 50,000-square-foot sound studio it owns, the government closed production along with the rest of the country. Taking refuge at home with his wife and four children, Kormakur designed a system that he thought would allow the cast and crew to return once the virus had peaked.
His method involved a color-coded armband system: those wearing yellow might be close to the camera; actors and makeup and costume professionals wore black and spent most of their prep time in a cordoned off area of the set; and the producers, script supervisors, and visual effects people wore red and were kidnapped near the monitors. Some lucky people received blue bracelets, which allowed them access to all areas of the set. No group had more than 20 people. “This way we could monitor each other,” he said. “It is difficult with crews. People tend to wander, and it is easy to lose control.”
The Kormakur system was only possible due to Iceland’s rigorous testing policies. Netflix was also heavily involved, and executives tested Kormakur’s methods. The streaming giant funded the additional costs associated with security protocols and paid the salaries of the cast and crew when they closed.
First, under the system, Kormakur and his entire cast and crew of 80 people were tested. Then, every morning, everyone who entered the set had their temperature scanned. The restoration was converted into individual boxed meals. Door knobs, toilets and other surfaces were disinfected every hour. Almost everyone except the actors wore masks, and makeup artists and production designers were gloved. “So much for protecting the environment,” he joked.
Production has been running for four weeks. And while Kormakur and the other directors filming the series have yet to try out a scene involving any close contact or intimacy, it continues without incident. (Kormakur says they will address those scenes once the restrictions are further relaxed. If that doesn’t happen in time, they will re-evaluate the actors before filming them. Iceland is reopening in phases.)
Two crew members who went to the set in high temperatures ended up testing positive for Covid-19. Both were sent home to isolate themselves for two weeks, and no one else became infected.
“Our methods worked,” he added. “We captured two people who otherwise would have been working with this virus without knowing it.” He added: “I think if you can create filters in society, then you can help find the virus and stop it. Whether it’s movie companies or other companies. “
When I spoke to Kormakur, only three Covid-19 patients remained hospitalized in Iceland. Now Kormakur and the Icelandic government are seeking to bring foreign crews into the country to boost production. He says he could isolate them in empty hotels and have them all tested so they can get started, a scenario he believes could help restore Iceland’s struggling economy.
“At a certain point, the financial and support packages will run out,” he said. “I don’t know if the Icelandic government has much more to give.”
Isolation in a small Australian town
Foster, a producer for “Children of the Corn,” had 10 days to finish his movie when we spoke, and in the end, he said he would turn to the mountains of phone messages and emails from eager filmmakers for advice.
In a recent phone interview, he debated whether what he has experienced could translate to other work: “I finished my 24th day of photography, so I have 24 days of experience doing this and learning,” he said. “I think that is the valuable part. But what we did in Australia is not a direct crossover to, for example, shoot in Los Angeles or Vancouver.”
The need for a cornfield in November is what first brought Foster from his Los Angeles home to Richmond in New South Wales. The pandemic is what kept it there. And on May 28, he and writer-director Kurt Wimmer will complete production on his horror movie, shot entirely during the spread of the coronavirus.
Like the Kormakur set, this was divided by the function of work. A nurse, a paramedic and a doctor were present daily. The cast and crew were required to complete wellness questionnaires at the beginning and end of each day. Temperatures were verified. The surfaces were disinfected. During a particularly challenging sequence filmed at night, the actors wore wetsuits to keep them warm and offer them another level of protection when they came into close contact during the scene. (According to Australian policy, the “two meter,quot; rule did not have to be observed when cameras were rolling.) Hand sanitizer was ubiquitous.
It was also crucial that most of the film was shot on an isolated farm in a small town. (The cast and crew have taken over hotels, Airbnbs, and some cottages in and around Richmond.) Australia has also been very successful in flattening the curve and has begun to open up its economy.
But for Foster, who said the extra precautions added at least 20 percent to his independent film’s initial $ 10 million budget, the most crucial decision he made was to gather his entire cast and crew, including the guardians of more than 25 children. Actors He even quarantined an actor’s dog.
“It was an awkward decision, but one that made all of this possible,” said Foster, who has been isolating his family from movies for almost 80 days. “It is not an inexpensive way to operate a movie.”
He also had a shorter shooting schedule due to the usual restrictions placed on minors, navigated the stress levels of a disparate crew, and found replacement actors when some left at the last minute. A 12-year-old boy was too scared to get on a plane from Los Angeles. Another actor, based in Sydney, decided not to make the trip to Richmond.
“There is no cheat sheet for this,” said Foster. “Everything that all departments have to do,quot; needs to be rethought, he added. “Retraining yourself on the job has been the most difficult thing.”
He also said he underestimated the filming of tolls during a pandemic that would face actors, who had to remain present as copious distractions swirled around him. In the first days of production, he admitted, he did not pay enough attention to the mental health of his crew, a situation he rectified with more extensive monitoring and less news observation.
“Everyone was stressed,” he said. “The economic impact of this and the physical cost to people was something that we may not have handled so well at first.”
However, even with all the additional pressures, Foster is comfortable with his plan to proceed.
“We made the decision as a group that it would be better to isolate ourselves in a small town and continue to do our job, keep our jobs alive and our sanity,” he said. “Our creative production is a big part of our identity. I didn’t want to kill that. “