Production could have fewer crowd scenes, make actors appear closer than they are

Filming of The Handmaid's Tale was set to continue in Toronto this year. The show is one of about 100 productions on hold as city officials as well as film unions and guilds scramble to come up with safe ways restart the city's film and television production industry. (Hulu)

Although many Toronto businesses have been given the green light to start reopening, film, television and digital productions set to shoot in the city this year are still shut down — with no plans in place to resume in the near future.

So, as sets sit idle due to COVID-19, unions, guilds and city officials are exploring safe ways to kick-start Toronto’s film industry, which has brought in nearly $2 billion annually for the city’s economy in past years.

“We’re very much focused on finding ways to reopen, finding ways to make production happen again,” Marguerite Pigott, the city’s film commissioner, told CBC Toronto.

But to do that, she says, casts and crews will have to get creative.

Ideas being considered to cut the risk of infection include rewriting large crowd scenes and action sequences, and finding ways during filming or post-production to make actors appear closer to each other than they actually are.

“This is an industry that sleight-of-hand is not a new thing to any of us, so this is just a new level,” Pigott said.

“Do you need all these crowd scenes? Does the action scene need to unfold in that particular way? Are there ways scenes that are not yet in final draft … can they be re-written and reconsidered so that they’re more shootable in these COVID times?”

Industry employs 30,000 people in Toronto

The Australian soap opera Neighbours resumed filming with strict rules of its own, which include no hand-holding or kissing allowed during the filming of scenes.

Manitoba, meanwhile, is poised to allow film and TV production to start  as of June 1 if physical distancing and travel restrictions are followed, making it a potential movie hotspot over the summer as one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to reopen its shuttered studio doors.

But with cast and crew in close proximity during shoots — and both crowd sequences and intimate scenes posing health concerns — Pigott says it’s impossible to say when reopening would become a reality for actors and filmmakers in Toronto.