When it comes to getting Hollywood back into production, few industry leaders have been as proactive as Tyler Perry.
Back in May, when much of the country was still under stay-at-home orders, the Atlanta-based mogul announced that he planned to re-start filming on two of his BET series, Sistas and The Oval, in July. Unlike other major studios who’ve pushed back their tentative start dates, Perry stuck with his — and now he’s just wrapped the first season of production on a TV show in the U.S. during the pandemic.
That show was his ensemble dramedy Sistas, which kicked off filming on July 15, one day behind schedule due to delays getting tests back from the lab. Following the safety protocols he laid out in a 30-page document and remaining quarantined on his sprawling studio lot in Atlanta, the cast and crew managed to film all 22 episodes within 11 days, officially wrapping production a day ahead of schedule on July 25. (Perry often films entire seasons of shows within two-and-a-half-weeks time.)
Now, with one quarantine production under his belt, he’s getting ready to start his next show, political drama The Oval, tomorrow, July 30. Ahead of that, The Hollywood Reporter checked in with Perry to hear about what went right and what went wrong on the set of Sistas, how he dealt with positive tests and people falling ill (“those moments were pretty scary,” he says) and advice he has for other productions trying to get up and running. “I don’t know how anybody in Hollywood is going to be able to shoot without daily testing or quarantine bubbles,” adds Perry. “I just don’t know how you do that.”
You’ve been out in front when it comes to getting production going again. What made you want to lead that charge?
Clearly looking at my people, some of whom are former prisoners, some of whom have bought houses and cars and have kids in college. They were so proud walking up to me telling me how they’ve been able to change their lives and how their lives are better from working here. It’s easy for me — I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position that I could have sat this thing out until there’s a vaccine next year or whenever. But thinking about them and their lives and what it takes for them to maintain their lives, I had to come up with the plan.
And that plan was, of course, “Camp Quarantine.” When you relayed it all to cast and crew, were you met with any resistance? Did you have any elderly or immunocompromised folks who opted out?
I’ll tell you, I’ve had a couple of reoccurring actors who just said that they couldn’t do it because of their immune health. But I also have several people who I know for fact are cancer survivors, they have preexisting conditions and I really, really stressed to them in a meeting publicly with all the crew without [revealing]their names, “You know, it’s ok to sit this one out. You can come back to work after this is over.” I have someone who has stage four cancer who said, “It’s my lifeline to just work. I just need to work.” So hearing all those voices and letting them know that I was going to do everything I could to keep them safe, most of them came to work. And it’s also understanding that we have had one crew member that worked with us a lot, who was on another show at the beginning of COVID, who passed away. And that was Charles Gregory Ross.
See more at THR.