From ‘Red Rocket’ to ‘Spencer,’ New York Indie Film Is Thriving During the Pandemic

·3 min read

I spent last week in New York having face-to-face business meetings with entertainment executives after not being able to make direct contact over the past 15 months. Last time I was in Manhattan was February 2020, right before COVID-19 began wreaking havoc on my favorite city away from home, and of course on the entire country.

There were residual signs of pandemic fallout: A number of restaurants long favored by industry folks had shuttered for good. But New Yorkers were nonetheless out in force, and it was heartening to hear those whom I and New York bureau chief Brent Lang met with talk about just how resilient their companies were during the height of the health crisis.

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“At the start of the pandemic, we knew we needed to do everything possible to accelerate, rather than halt, production,” FilmNation founder Glen Basner told us.

“We collaborated with an amazing group of filmmakers to produce solutions that allowed each film to be cash flowed and to safely get through production,” he said, noting that directors “refused to compromise their vision” despite having to work within COVID protocols. Among the nine films that the indie company worked on during those trying months in various capacities (financier, producer and/or handling global or international sales) were “Red Rocket,” which received a strong reception in Cannes; the upcoming Princess Diana film “Spencer”; and “Dog,” a comedy co-directed by Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin, set for release in February.

Sony Pictures Classics’ leaders Michael Barker and Tom Bernard were equally busy over the past year and a half. “The Sony hack prepared us for adapting to a situation when systems are down, and so we were ready to adapt to working from home,” said Barker. SPE set more than a dozen movie productions in motion that included “Mothering Sunday”; the upcoming Venice Film Festival opener, Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers,” starring Penélope Cruz; and Almodóvar’s short with Tilda Swinton, “The Human Voice.” The indie studio also made, finished and/or bought another eight movies during the pandemic, including Cannes Grand Prize winner “Compartment No. 6”; “The Duke,” starring Helen Mirren and Jim Broadbent; Frank Marshall’s “Jazzfest”; the SXSW Audience Award winner “Who We Are: A Chronicle About Racism in America”; and Luca Guadagnino’s doc about Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo, “Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams.”

It’s so great to know that the New York indies are thriving.

That said, there is serious concern that the delta variant that’s causing a surge of new COVID cases in Los Angeles could be equally problematic in New York, sending more people to the hospital and potentially interrupting production and delaying live events like the highly anticipated reopening of Broadway. People were rattled by news that the variant in London had shut down Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella” just before its world premiere. And there are a slew of Broadway shows gearing up to return to the New York stage beginning this September, including “The Lion King,” “Hamilton,” “Wicked,” “Hadestown” and “The Lehman Trilogy.”

Here’s hoping the show goes on and everyone stays healthy!

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