Movie stars quarantined in their hotels for weeks at a time. Technicians no longer able to hang around the craft services table during breaks. Dozens of extras, all of whom must be virus-free before they arrive on set.
Even as COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed in Massachusetts, movies and TV shows are continuing to film across the state. Already this fall, the state has hosted production of the sci-fi movie “Mother/Android” starring Chloe Grace Moretz (“Carrie”); the AMC comedy “Kevin Can F*** Himself” starring Emmy winner Annie Murphy (“Schitt’s Creek”); an HBO Max pilot about the life of Julia Child called “Julia”; and the horror movie “Shrine.”
Amid warnings from local authorities and the CDC about large gatherings, the biggest movie to film in the Boston area this year, the Netflix comedy “Don’t Look Up,” officially kicked off production in late November, with a set photo showing off the movie’s silhouetted logo.
Directed by Adam McKay (“The Big Short,” “Anchorman”) and starring Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“Titanic”) and seemingly half of Hollywood, “Don’t Look Up” was originally set to begin filming in Boston back in April, but is now attempting to make movie magic during the fall and winter months.
Though details about the movie have been kept very hush-hush, each day of filming brings new information about the big-budget satire, including new stars, new filming locations, and new COVID-19 protocols.
Here’s everything we know so far about “Don’t Look Up.”
What is the plot of “Don’t Look Up”?
Lawrence and DiCaprio play a pair of astronomers who discover that an asteroid is on a collision course for earth. When they begin to speak publicly about the imminent danger, they find that no one will take their dire warnings of impending doom seriously.
In an interview with Stephen Colbert conducted from her home in the Berkshires, Streep revealed that she will play the president in the movie, with Hill playing both her son and her chief of staff.
Streep described the film as “about a global catastrophe, but it’s sort of funny, like ‘Dr. Strangelove’ for 2020.”
McKay acknowledged the timeliness of the film’s end-of-days plot in a March interview with Rolling Stone.
“We were scouting a new movie in Boston when this whole coronavirus thing hit,” McKay said. “And the movie is about an asteroid that’s gonna hit Earth and destroy the Earth, and the two scientists who discovered it. … The whole idea is that the President doesn’t understand the science and kind of soft-sells it and the urgency is kind of lost. And so these two scientists have to go on a media tour and kind of get caught up in the social media vortex and TV shows, and they’re just trying to say that, ‘Hey, we’re all gonna die.’”
What stars will be in the movie?
Saying that half of Hollywood is in “Don’t Look Up” is only half exaggeration. Along with Lawrence and DiCaprio, “Don’t Look Up” will also star Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Rob Morgan (“Mudbound”), Meryl Streep (“The Iron Lady”), Jonah Hill (“The Wolf of Wall Street”), Himesh Patel (“Yesterday”), and Timothée Chalamet (“Little Women”). Singer Ariana Grande, rapper Kid Cudi, and actors Matthew Perry (“Friends”) and Tomer Sisley (“We’re the Millers”) will also be making appearances in the comedy.
After the start of production, additional stars were added to the cast, including Sudbury native Chris Evans (“Captain America”), Tyler Perry (“Gone Girl”), Melanie Lynskey (“Togetherness”), and Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy”).
Lawrence has sported a dramatic hairdo for the film, with the actress spotted on set at Wheaton College in Norton and at South Station in Boston, where she filmed scenes with DiCaprio on an Acela train not far from dozens of adoring fans.
Prior to the start of filming, Lawrence took to the streets of Boston after the election, tweeting a video after she decided to “throw a party for 1” in the streets celebrating Joe Biden’s victory.
— Jennifer Lawrence – Represent.Us (@JLawrence_RepUs) November 7, 2020
Morgan, who first arrived in Boston more than a month ago, has been using fitness equipment in his hotel room. The actor said on Instagram that he was arriving for day one of filming with “a lil extra quarantine weight”.
In her interview with Colbert, Streep discussed how “eerie” and “disconcerting” it was to film a scene at the DCU Center in Worcester, where she was supposed to enter an arena of 20,000 cheering fans in her role as the president. Even during normal times, the movie wouldn’t have used 20,000 extras, but due to COVID protocols, there were way fewer than normal.
“There were extras all around the stadium,” Streep said. “Lonely people separated by 20 feet of air, wearing masks and visors that are clear.”
Where is “Don’t Look Up” being filmed?
Producers are keeping filming locations as secret as possible amid COVID concerns, but crews have been spotted in multiple municipalities already, with production expected to continue through at least February 2021.
Since kicking off production in late November, “Don’t Look Up” has filmed all over Massachusetts, most notably on Dec. 1 at South Station, when stars Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio filmed scenes on an Acela train.
“Don’t Look Up” has also filmed in other areas of Boston, including scenes near the Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday. Crews have also filmed exteriors in a Framingham neighborhood, at Wheaton College in Norton, at Salisbury Becach, and at the DCU Center in Worcester. Filmmakers are also set to film at Battleship Cove in Fall River and Union Point in Weymouth (the former site of South Weymouth Naval Air Station) sometime this month.
How is the film set staying COVID-safe?
A film set for a major motion picture usually requires hundreds of people. With a rumored budget of around $75 million, “Don’t Look Up” is no different. Even with crews working in shifts to keep the set less crowded, a source involved in the production said there are easily more than 100 people on set at any given moment. Prospective extras, meanwhile, will not be approved to participate in the film until they have received multiple COVID tests, according to the source.
To avoid any outbreaks from happening, films like “Don’t Look Up” rely on a COVID compliance consultants, a new role that has sprung up on sets as Hollywood resumes work worldwide.
The safety protocols were evident when crews filmed at South Station on Dec. 1. Sanitation stations were set up in multiple locations, most crew members wore face shields, and there were separate bathrooms for what Netflix calls Red Zone personnel — actors who would be unmasked on set and the crew members who had to be near them.
Jamieson Shea, a New England film professional who is also a firefighter and paramedic, is working as a health and safety consultant on “Don’t Look Up.” While he is not involved with the COVID compliance team on the film, he helped to develop and initiate the COVID compliance plan for Netflix’s “The Cape House,” a small-budget movie that filmed in October and November and worked as a consultant on Miramax’s “Mother/Android,” which started production in September and wrapped in November.
“It’s almost like the bubbles that they’ve created for these productions, it doesn’t matter what’s going on really in the outside world outside of that bubble, because we’re so isolated and so protected,” Shea said. “It’s kind of a great thing to see happen.”
The safety protocols are laid out in a white paper created in conjunction with multiple film industry unions, with regulations calling for “zones” that restrict movement of certain personnel on set.
Instead of using lettered zones (Zone A, Zone B) as outlined in the white paper, Netflix’s zones resemble a stoplight.
“Netflix is using color-coded zones. Zone A, or the Red Zone, is where the actual talent will be,” Shea said on the podcast. “And a skeleton crew of maybe [Director of Photography], [Assistant Camera], that sort of thing, and a script supervisor.
“Beyond that, B, or the Yellow Zone, is where all of the other production is happening — staging of props, craft service, everything else,” Shea continued. “And Zone C, or the Green Zone, is everything outside of our production, whether it’s vendors bringing things in, or hotels, or transportation, that sort of thing.”
Can I still audition for a role in the movie?
Earlier this fall, casting director Judy Bouley put out a call for extras for a Netflix film, seeking “people of all ages, sizes, and ethnicities to potentially work as paid background actors.”
Even during a pandemic, the response was immediate, with tens of thousands of aspiring actors applying.
Bouley, who could not confirm that the name of the project she was casting for was “Don’t Look Up,” said she and her casting team are “thrilled” with the 28,000 submissions they received for the film.
“Everything is going wonderfully on the movie, and I’m so grateful to be filming in Boston,” Bouley said. “We are at full capacity now with our applications. For those of you who have applied, please be patient. The casting department will be casting throughout the middle of February.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to add context clarifying Jamieson Shea’s comments regarding safety protocols during the filming of Netflix productions.
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