Pausing Production to Create Hope in a Pandemic

In light of the pandemic crisis we’re in, we are supporting organizations that support womxn in film during these difficult times. Mezcla Media Collective is an organization that supports over 500 women and non-binary filmmakers of color in Chicago by building community, increasing skill capacity, and advancing careers. They are currently raising money for a relief fund for womxn filmmakers of color. Read this heartfelt piece by one of their members, Ramona Pozek, and consider donating to their fund.

Pausing Production to Create Hope in a Pandemic 

by Ramona Pozek 

On the weekend of April 13th, 2018, I found myself producing a short film that took place almost entirely in a 6 by 9 foot Chicago bathroom. Our lead actress frantically spoke her dramatic lines to her reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. The DP hovered over her head with his camera on a handheld gimbal while perched vicariously atop the toilet. Our light person, sound tech, and script supervisor all huddled shoulder to shoulder in the bathtub, discreetly out of view behind the shower curtain. And the director, she was firmly planted in the center of this very tightly packed, very warm room orchestrating the planned chaos like a maestro conducting a great symphony. At the time, we thought our location, while convenient because it was in the director’s house, was a brilliantly insane idea. We also thought that it would be nearly impossible to get winning results that we achieved cinematically in such cramped conditions. We had no clue that, two short years later, filming in that 6 by 9 bathroom would actually become impossible, literally, thanks to the COVID-19 6-feet apart social distancing order. 

In response to the pandemic shutdown, the Chicago Film Office currently has it posted on their website that production will cease until May 30th, 2020. We all know that depending on the curve regarding cases and deaths in Illinois, this date could very well change. It could be the end of June or later before we are back to work. By that time, the trajectory of the media industry could be starkly different from what it was a few months ago. Inevitably, some projects will have missed their production window and will need to be rescheduled. Unfortunately, due to timing, the season, or funders backing out, some projects just won’t happen at all. It’s no secret that media making, for the most part, is not a one-person operation. It cannot be created in a vacuum all alone, like some other industries. 

Big studio productions like Chicago Fire or Chicago Med can easily have a cast and crew of 50 people jammed into one room with little ventilation working together to create a realistic scene. Smaller productions can employ just as many craftspeople over the course of a production when it’s all said and done. However, we, like the rest of the country, are sheltering-in-place anxious to get back to work. Even when production resumes, there will inevitably be challenges to figure out. How do we work on set and stay 6-feet apart? How do we safely interview subjects for intimate documentaries? And what about actors touching one another or kissing? What happens if someone involved in the production gets sick? How will that affect budgets and insurance? 

These are all scenarios that we are left to ponder while we try to keep ourselves safe and financially afloat in the interim. Mezcla Media Collective, a network of Chicago female and non- binary filmmakers of color, recently conducted a survey to determine the current climate in our community. Of those surveyed, 64% are presently out of work, with 24% having been laid off and 40% are freelancers who are unable to find work. 25% of those folks also have dependents to support. Some of us have been fortunate enough to collect unemployment. But with the backlog of unemployment filings and lack of staffing by the State, a good number of us are left without income. 

Indie media makers and freelancers have additional hurdles. Fortunately, the PUA set up by the Federal government will finally allow the State to process unemployment claims for the “gig” community. Yet, we are still faced with a confusing procedure for applying for those benefits. Indie media filmmaking isn’t exactly the same as being an Uber driver who receives steady payouts on a single platform. Our income is likely to be sporadic and come from a variety of sources. Will the folks at the unemployment office understand a filmmaker having to deplete grant funds in order to pay for food and rent for the past two months? How do we show documentation for that? What if last year’s tax returns are irrelevant to this year’s income? What then can effectively be submitted as proof of lack of income, film budgets and production schedules, text messages and emails about planned productions? 

I suspect that many in our industry will be forced to wait impatiently while unemployment tries to decipher our claims. Subsequently, we will have to continue depleting our emergency funds (if there are any left), trying to feed our families and pay our household and childcare expenses. Daily news reports confirm that people of color have been disproportionately affected by both the Coronavirus and unemployment. Women in marginalized communities have the most at stake, especially as they are more likely to bear the responsibility of balancing caregiving amongst the countless other obligations they find themselves in. Considering the pay gap that exists for both women and for minorities, far too many women of color are finding themselves to be hit the the most by the financial burden this current loss in income is causing. 

In light of these challenges, Mezcla’s Leadership Circle, of which I am a part, has created a temporary relief fund to assist eligible members of the community with meeting these critical needs. We are asking those who can afford it to help us meet our projected goal of $15,000 by contributing our campaign. Our intention is to provide $500 micro-grants to applicants who require it most. Since the need is so great and very immediate, we are setting a deadline of June 5, 2020 to raise the capital for these grants. There are likely to continue to be challenges for the media making community both locally and globally in the months ahead. Fortunately we are creative and resilient and we will figure things out together. As film and media makers, we are accustomed to creating action, suspense, and drama for our audiences, however, in these uncertain times, the most important thing we can create is hope as we support one another with optimism for the “new normal”. 

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