Chicago film and television industry embraces COVID-19 reality

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Courtesy of Craig J. Harris

Craig J. Harris. He is a freelance television producer in Chicago.

Rayna Song, Reporter

After almost a year of staying home and social distancing, the film and television industry has adapted to the consequences of COVID-19. Although the future still remains unclear, professionals are optimistic about a prompt return to filming.

“COVID-19 effectively stopped a majority of productions immediately, which caused a cascading effect, shutting down businesses that depend on the film and TV industry, like caterers, production equipment rental businesses, post production houses,” Chicago freelance television producer Craig J. Harris said.

Harris, who has won local Emmy awards for his previous works, said COVID-19 disrupted his filming process as a producer, as some workers didn’t want to risk their health, making it difficult to hire people.

The return to production has been slow, as film companies must carefully adhere to national and local COVID-19 guidelines. Maintaining a COVID-safe environment can be costly, and even unaffordable, for some companies.

When it comes to the film and TV industry in Illinois, the opportunities for work during the pandemic are few and competitive, Harris said. But he is hopeful about the job prospects to come.

“I do believe that once the pandemic is under control — some scientists are predicting by perhaps early 2022 — the jobs will be plentiful because the demand for new content hasn’t subsided, just the ability to create it,” Harris said.

Many organizations continue to offer support to industry members, such as The Kaufherr Resource Center in Chicago, which assists union performers and other media professionals by building community, providing resources and offering opportunities for career growth.

“The products of our mission look very different these days, but the need has never been greater,” Center director Jess Jones said. “When the pandemic forced many spaces to close in March of last year, we immediately began to reimagine how to create opportunities for community, education and career cultivation.”

Oriana Oppice, a Chicago-based director, producer, actor and writer, said the city’s film and television industry was hit hard because it is home to many large productions. One popular show, NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” paused filming its ninth season for two weeks in November due to several positive COVID-19 tests on the production team.

Oppice added many people in the industry learned to pivot quickly, setting up remote recording or learning a new skill they could do from home such as editing.

“It’s going to take a bit of time for the vaccinations to reach many of our industry workers, and it remains to be seen how quickly work will come back to Chicago,” Oppice said. “But this city is pretty resilient and always welcoming, so I believe as soon as the world can open again, Chicago film and TV will be back at full force.”

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