How To Cope Through COVID-19 As A Filmmaker

I think it’s safe to say that no one truly predicted the impact that coronavirus would have on our daily lives. I remember being part of the crowd who laughed it off, wondered why everyone was freaking out about a little cold and then received that cold slap in the face when we realised that life was truly about to change.

The biggest area that I could see effected by all of this was the arts. As cinemas and galleries started to shut their doors, festivals and events continued to be cancelled, the uncertainty of the future of creatives across the globe was apparent. Seeing as a big part of this blog is supporting women who work tirelessly to create amazing projects I even doubted the future of this blog. But then I realised the importance of having a platform during this pandemic and so this week I spoke to some of those amazing women I’ve featured in the past to get a real world view of just how to cope through COVID-19 as a filmmaker.

The making of film has been cancelled. Proximity on a film set has become too much of a risk during the pandemic, which means a lot of projects are either postponed or gone completely. This includes our wonderful featured filmmakers like Shaun Rylee who was about to hit production in May on her film Better. “Not that a pandemic ever has good timing, but the timing was especially distressing for Better. because we were about to enter the final stretch of pre-production before going into production.” she explained, “The situation of the whole industry (and world, really) shutting down has a ripple effect in filmmaking for me, from funding/investors becoming nervous about their own situation to securing locations and scheduling… I have had to reformulate my whole timeline strategy without an actual definitive calendar timeline and find the positive aspects amidst all this.”

It’s a similar story for Playing With Beethoven director Jenn Page. “My projects have all been affected. A film that took us three years to finish finally got accepted into a big festival. A few weeks before our premiere that festival and all the others we were in were postponed with an uncertain future,” she said. “I should currently be on set directing my 7th feature film, but not only did it get pushed to a future shoot date, many investors lost money in the stock market and no one wants to invest right now.”

And it’s happening all across the world. “No one is making any deals at the moment and no one is shooting.” says British filmmaker and director of Seechers Natalie Kavanaugh. “My advice to those who are hitting financial hardship is to do something about it immediately- sign up to universal tax credit – sign up for the freelancers proof of earnings – see what local jobs you can get, even if you do deliveries or work in a supermarket for a few months – at least you are taking action to help yourself.” For those in Australia the governments JobSeeker and upcoming small business JobKeeper payments may be worth looking into if you are are freelance filmmaker suddenly out of work due to coronavirus.

COVID-19 has effectively shut down production for the television series that I currently work on.” said Alone Together director Katie Sponseller, “Things that can be completed at home have moved in that direction, however prepping for something you can’t physically film doesn’t really work. Right now, everyone is on “hiatus,” but the longer we have to shelter in place, the more likely it is that even more filmmakers, myself included, will be laid off.

Katie Sponseller – On set shooting her film Alone Together

And this is one of the biggest things many of us filmmakers are wondering. How do you continue growing your career when no one is getting together to make things anymore? Jenn Page suggests however that this is actually a great time to work on your career. “We have time to do the things we usually don’t have time for like updating our reels and researching shows.” she said, “It’s really important to reach out to your network. Set up video calls just to say hi or to brainstorm. Set up video meetings with people who normally don’t have time to meet with you because right now they are probably at home bored.  Even if you only accomplish one thing a day, doing something toward your career will not only help your sanity; it will help your career.”

Our most recently featured director Hannah Brooke also agrees and has been working over Zoom developing a new script with two other creatives. “Working with others during this time has really helped me mentally because, as creatives…we can get lost in our own minds a little and the current lack of human contact can be difficult to manage” she said, “It’s also a great driver as the uncertainty of the current situation can diminish motivation a little (if I’m being honest, a lot). I think now is a great time to be working with others, of course within the capacity in which we are able to do so.”

The evidence of creative innovation has already started to emerge online and for some their projects would’ve required a majority of stay-at-home work to complete regardless. Like Natalie Kavanaugh who has been busy finishing up a companion novel component to her film. “I’m just finishing a novel, Beyond the Mirrror, which is based on the same characters and world of my short film SEECHERS.” she said, “It will be available on amazon and kindle on 5th April in paperback and ebook.” Also busy working on innovative projects at home is Jenn Page who as part of the Blackmagic Collective has launched a Safer At Home Film Festival. “We are encouraging filmmakers to make a 3 minute or less narrative film at their home and submit for prizes. We are even making it a rule they have to be low budget (ie no outside help) to level the playing field.” If you are interested in joining in with the festival you can do so HERE.

Still from Playing With Beethoven – Directed by Jenn Page

It just goes to highlight how important the arts are to getting everyone through this difficult time even if you aren’t a creative yourself. “It’s both a good time and a bad time for artists and filmmakers right now.” says Katie Sponseller, “For many, all attention will need to be refocused into other avenues of income. However, with the isolation factor here, people en masse will be turning to art, film, literature and more for comfort and healing in this time. The demand and expectation for what we do will still remain. So if we are able to shine a light on something good in all this madness, I think it is that this can also be viewed as an opportunity for new, adaptive, or innovative art forms. Artists as a whole, carry the responsibility of moving the spirits of everyone through this pandemic.

It is important however to check in with yourself mentally as well during this time and make sure you are leaving space to adjust and accept that maybe you’re not feeling okay in this new world. “There is a lot of pressure online to be staying fit and active, learning new things, taking on DIY projects and I find the pressure, whilst it’s coming from the best place, can make you feel like you’re failing this self-isolation thing.” Day Forty Five director Hannah Brooke explains, “But the truth is that this is new to everyone and we are all going to react differently to it and it’s a lot to take in. I think the best way to come out of this mentally is to take the pressure off ourselves that we HAVE to achieve something worthwhile during this time. If we can think of it more so as a bonus it might make the things we had on our to-do list feel less like a chore and more like a treat to be able to get done. Write that book, if you want to, finish that script, if you feel like it, take some online courses, if that’s what interests you, take the time to paint, play/create music for you and not for anyone else.”

And so I checked in with the filmmakers I’ve featured to see what they were filling their bonus time with. “My sweetheart and I have found new shows to binge (currently enjoying Locke & Key)  and started our own little book club (first book is Artemis Fowl). Our dog is thrilled to be getting a ton of walks. But mostly, I am playing way too much Realm Royale on PS4 (Luminave if anyone wants to squad up)!” said Jenn. “I have picked the guitar back up again!” Excalims Shaun Rylee,”I realised that is the one thing I am slow at re-learning but had a Zoom session with a guitar-playing filmmaker friend who was patient enough to help give me the basics to learn a favourite song of mine.  Fender is now offering 3 free months of lessons too, so I have no excuse!”

I have been binging content online, catching up on the books that have lined my shelves for far too long, developing my own content, and currently playing Sim City” Katie Sponseller laughed. “Completely off the topic of filmmaking – the other love of my life (apart from my partner haha) are the aerial arts!” said Hannah, “I have been training aerial silks and aerial hoop for several years and have been very lucky to be able to borrow an aerial rig from a friend so I am able to train aerial hoop from my own back garden! I’m not sure what my neighbours think of it given they must see a pair of legs spinning around in the air every afternoon but we are all doing what we need to do to get through this.”

We can all agree it’s a very weird time for everyone, but if you can take anything away from this post it’s that you are not alone, even if you may be physically, and we can all use this extra time we’ve been given to do something that makes us feel good. And remember; wash your hands and don’t touch your face!


Shaun Rylee – FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM @better.thefilm | TWITTER @thisenvy

Jenn Page – FACEBOOK | WEBSITE | TWITTER @aJennPageFilm

Natalie Kavanaugh – FACEBOOK | WEBSITE

Katie Sponseller – WEBSITE

Hannah Brooke – FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM @dayfortyfivefilm

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