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Yes: Producing a Film During a Global Pandemic is Complicated

Cast members Mac Brandt, Eoin Macken, Jill Flint, JR Lemon, and Brendan Fehr on the set of Grey Elephant.
The cast of Grey Elephant rehearses on a quarantined set on the first day of production.

It was early September, 2020, when Allusionist Pictures founder, Meriam Alrashid, emailed co-founder Ammar Ramzi Mahmood with a crazy idea. "Im tired of being cooped up and isolated in this pandemic with nothing to say about it. Let's make a movie," she stammered with eager resolve.

Ammar responded with a hyper articulate, "Okay."

Enter Eoin Macken. The Night Shift and Nightflyers actor had been in touch with Allusionist Pictures regarding a project that aligned with Allusionist's socially-conscious mission, but was perhaps too ambitious for a pandemic-era production. Turned out, though, he had a dynamic and intimate marriage drama set in the midst of COVID lockdown, with a small cast, and single location - Grey Elephant.

"Perfect!" we thought. But there were a couple unusual catches. production had to meet COVID compliance standards and we had to wrap the film before losing key cast in the third week of October.

The camera crew of Grey Elephant prep a take while dawning protective face masks.

If you've never made a film, just know that prepping a feature length shoot in 4 weeks is crazy in normal circumstances. Budgeting, negotiating contracts, jumping through hoops with unions for production approval, location scouting, arranging key cast and crew travel and lodging, arranging equipment rental, hiring below the line crew, costuming, set design, location permits, equipment rental, insurance, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on.

Now add to that: hiring a permitted COVID Compliance Officer, developing a COVID health and safety action plan for the production, budgeting and scheduling regular rapid tests for the whole cast and crew every 2-3 days, partnering with a reliable lab to turn results around quickly, managing space and traffic patterns on set to keep people safe, managing meals without the usual buffet or snack (craft) table style of nourishment we used to use for large production crews, locking down the set, and minimizing people on location at all times. Oh, and quarantining any team members who flew in for 2 weeks before the shoot, cleaning the set regularly after each shoot day, and keeping everyone protected from unexpected personnel who approached the space.

"So, we're going to make a low-budget film with night shoots, in record time, in the midst of a pandemic?"


And we dove right in.

Shooting long sleepless nights, our tireless and committed team managed the unthinkable. They shot a movie on schedule, with zero incidences of COVID infection, and only one catastrophic plumbing emergency (something's always got to go wrong).

As we enter post production, the entire process will be handled with remote teams in three different countries, so we're out of the Corona woods and settling nicely into a steady (non-insane) pace. We look forward to sharing this once-in-a-lifetime (we hope) filmmaking experience with the world soon. Stay tuned.

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