Malcolm & Marie

malcolm and marie photo

And the award goes to … Malcolm & Marie, for being the first known feature film to complete production during the global pandemic.

From Hollywood to Bollywood, most sets have been shut down. And HBO’s show Euphoria was no exception, closing up shop in March 2020. So filmmaker Sam Levinson pivoted to develop a secret film project. After penning the script in six days, he cast Zendaya and John David Washington as lead actors. Levinson, his production partners and the actors bankrolled the film, which was shot in just over two weeks: from 17 June to 2 July.

Before production could even begin, though, the team needed a solid plan to mitigate and manage the risks. First, Levinson had to find a shooting location compliant with COVID-19 safety protocols required by entertainment unions. Enter Caterpillar House: a 2,800-square-meter (30,139 square feet) home designed by Feldman Architecture on 33 acres (13.4 hectares) in Carmel, California, USA. The structure provided ample room for social distancing, and its open-air design allowed the team to filter in fresh air and reduce the need for air conditioning.

Producers consulted with physicians, lawyers and union representatives to identify coronavirus-related hazards. To start, the entire team agreed to two weeks of quarantine on location in separate accommodations. No one was allowed to leave the property, and everyone received frequent COVID-19 testing.

During filming, no more than 12 people were allowed on set at a time. Each day’s shoot began with temperature checks as well as set and equipment sanitization. Cast members attached their own mic units, handled their own costumes and waited in separate areas between takes to minimize virus exposure.

Completing the project on a tight schedule hinged on a lean and adaptable team, with each person taking on multiple responsibilities to reduce the number of crew members needed. At any given moment, a co-executive producer could’ve been stocking craft services or standing in for lighting.

One last challenge remains: Distributing the movie to theaters or via streaming service. Malcolm & Marie may be getting some competition as major studios head back to work. In Europe, for example, Warner Bros. is expected to pick up the action on highly anticipated, big-budget blockbusters like The Matrix 4, Mission: Impossible 7 and The Batman—but only after unveiling new COVID-19 protocols. And the studio has launched a reporting system that lets cast and crew members anonymously report anyone on set violating those safety codes.