Local filmmakers left adrift as film shoots freeze

Katherine Noble, Contributing Writer

Local Richmond businesses have cut down their hours, limited delivery options or shut down completely. Some companies have even moved to teleworking. But for local filmmakers, this typically isn’t an option. Essentially, the industry is frozen as productions come to a grinding halt.

“We probably won’t be back for another few months,” said 2017 VCUarts cinema alum Jesse Hosick in an email.

Hosick works as a grip, a video production technician, as well as an electrician. His work on the Apple streaming show “Swagger” has shut down production until later this month. But he’s not optimistic that things will start up again so soon. 

“The Richmond crew is relatively small and many of our best are 50 and older. We can’t risk getting them sick and depriving their families of a loved one for the sake of a schedule,” Hosick said. “There’s a weird perception that a film crew is a bunch of grungy 20-30 somethings, but a lot of our members … are frequently making AARP-card jokes.”

Hosick’s work is primarily on-site, and if shows aren’t shooting, he isn’t working. He has found, however, that the pandemic has given him the opportunity to catch up on TV. 

This would be the perfect time to get some writing done, he says, but admits that he’s pretty much been spending his time watching Netflix.

“I do frequently reread the Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook because it is the bible for my work and it helps me rationalize my TV intake,” Hosick said.

Film screenwriter Megan Holley, who previously was a visiting faculty member in the cinema department, does remote work with L.A.-based studios, but lives in Richmond.

“Feature writers are still chugging along as usual,” Holley said. “Our work is pretty solitary in general. And TV writers are still working, the rooms have just become virtual rooms held over Zoom.”

But Holley’s work isn’t immune to the effects of the pandemic. She had to cancel a planned trip to pitch a TV project, and one of her other projects has been put on hold. Instead of scheduling meetings, she’s focusing on writing spec scripts, non-commissioned scripts she’ll have to send around to studios to see if they’re interested in purchasing them. 

“There’s a weird perception that a film crew is a bunch of grungy 20-30 somethings, but a lot of our members … are frequently making AARP-card jokes.” — Jesse Hosick

“As a writer, my day-to-day hasn’t really changed that much — I’m still at my computer every day trying to wrestle stories into some kind of entertaining shape,” Holley said. “The big difference is that my two kids — now both out of school — interrupt me every few minutes.”

Anne Chapman, a local casting director and cinema adjunct instructor, said that pretty much all of her work has come to a halt. She was working on 12 short films that are now up in the air.

Chapman worries about people in the film industry who don’t have supplemental incomes. Filmmakers often have other jobs, particularly in Richmond, which is a smaller market than, say, Los Angeles or New York City.

“So a lot of them teach, and so hopefully they’re not going to be let go from their teaching gigs,” Chapman said. “Even if it’s online, they’ll still have a paycheck coming through on that.”

In the meantime, she’s been maintaining her craft through online acting classing via Zoom to look at actors for potential future castings and staying prepared for when things resolve.

Editors generally seem to still be getting work, she said, as their jobs aren’t location dependent. Chapman herself has still been contacted about future work, saying that the collective feeling in the film industry is to stay prepared in order to leap back into action safely as soon as possible.

“I think there’s a feeling that sort of everybody should stay limber,” Chapman said. “Because the minute we get the signal that it’s safe to go back to work, it’s going to be gangbusters and crazytown and everybody doing a lot of projects.”

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