Effect of the pandemic on a screenwriters career

The Effect of the Pandemic on a Screenwriter’s Career in Hollywood

It’s been almost a year and a half since the first time that lockdowns and social distancing policies were enforced by governments to curb the spreading of the coronavirus.

Now, many countries have learned how to manage and deal with the outbreak. 

While some parts of the globe are still struggling, vaccine developments offer a light at the end of this tunnel.

When the pandemic first hit, rarely anyone imagined it would change lives in the way that it did.

Many jobs were lost as companies had to cut costs. The fortunate ones among the workforce were able to continue working from home while others were furloughed until further notice.

It is common knowledge that the pandemic also damaged the economy and created a lot of food shortages and a lack of home security for those under the poverty line.

Just like all the industries in the world, Hollywood and European cinema were no exception to being affected by the pandemic.

The Effect of the Pandemic on Hollywood

The film industry was stumped when movie theatres shut down. But after a few months, Hollywood began to tread on a path that would change the nature of its operation forever.

There is no hard data or common trend that can indicate how writers were affected as a whole. Different writers reacted to the pandemic in their own ways. 

However, writers working on titles that were in production have experienced a paradigm shift that is likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

The Effect of the Pandemic on a Screenwriter's Career in Hollywood

Photo by Anastasiia Chepinska on Unsplash

Starting from somewhere in the middle of March 2020, all Hollywood productions were shut down. This included all movies and TV shows that were shooting at different locations around the globe.

The productions were shut down because the studios and producers could not obtain production insurance to cover a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

This did not change anything for movie writers. When a film is shooting, the writer has very little involvement in the process (unless the writer is also producing the movie).

Hence, all the movie productions that were shut down resulted in delayed-release dates of those movies in order to accommodate additional time for filming and editing/post-production work.

The Effect of the Pandemic on Feature Film & TV Writers

However, things were very different for TV writers. A lot of shows that run an approximately twenty-episode long season had to stop production in the middle of their season.

This meant a reduced number of episodes for that particular season.

What also changed is that writers who were probably working on the last few episodes of the season from the writer’s room had to now work remotely with each other over zoom and online platform.

TV writers who were in the middle of writing their season or had been renewed for another season continued working on zoom.

This was detailed in an episode of the Scriptnotes podcast with the writers behind Queen of South and NCIS: New Orleans (Dailyn Rodriguez and Chad Gomez Creasey respectively).

The Effect of the Pandemic on a Screenwriter's Career in Hollywood

By the way, Scriptnotes is one of the best screenwriting podcasts for beginners and professionals.

One major casualty of shutting down productions during the March-April period was the pilot season.

Pilot season is the term used to describe the time early in the year where hundreds of new shows that are successfully pitched to networks get an opportunity to shoot their pilot.

The shows that pass the pilot stage are then picked up for a fall season that year from where the show can further grow.

While not all pilots get picked up, a considerable amount of them still do.

With halted productions, the year 2020 has almost no new series that were picked up during the pilot season. All the new shows were either part of a straight series pick-up or shot during 2019.

Another change faced by TV writers was in deciding the upcoming storylines for the next season. Shows like This Is Us, Grey’s Anatomy, The Morning Show, etc had to make changes to their storylines to incorporate the real-life inspired storylines that deal with the pandemic.

Even for shows that did not address the pandemic, they had to reconsider their stories to accommodate for new production guidelines.

When production started five months after its suspension, the budget was already increased due to the cost of regular testing of each crew member and added sanitization of the sets, trailers, etc.

The Effect of the Pandemic on a Screenwriter's Career in Hollywood

<a href=’https://www.freepik.com/photos/health’>Health photo created by aleksandarlittlewolf – www.freepik.com</a>

The new guidelines also made it difficult for writers to include scenes that take place in clubs or crowded bars.

Writers also reduced the number of intimate scenes between on-screen couples and had to reduce or reuse the background extras that would appear in the show.

This is why shows look a little different now as compared to before. Directors are asked to always film scenes in a way that allows the cast members to remain six feet apart.

The six feet apart rule is cleverly hidden/toned down by some shows now but was more apparent in episodes shot when production just recently resumed.

How Did Writers Cope of with this Pandemic

As for how writers coped with the pandemic varies on a case-to-case basis.

Some writers found it difficult to work and struggled to get back on track and meet deadlines.

Considering the traumatic circumstances around them, it was difficult for a few writers to be creative and focus on their work when processing the tragic loss of lives around them and the world in general.

Some screenwriters took the lockdown as an opportunity.

Many amateur screenwriters used this time to learn and improve their skills or finish old projects that were incomplete.

Professional writers used the lockdown to start pitching and developing new projects. An example is James Gunn, who wrote and successfully pitched a spin-off show based on the DC character Peacemaker for HBOMax.

In 2021, vaccination drives have certainly improved circumstances.

Hollywood is now back to releasing movies as some countries open their movie theatres.

Blockbusters like F9 and Quiet Place 2 are earning the same kind of money that they would have pre-pandemic.

Production may still progress at a slower rate, and some movies will be moved to a later release date.

The film and TV industry is slowly starting to rebound from the effects of the pandemic. 

While studios have significantly changed their outlook on the business due to various streaming services, screenwriters are starting to get back the sense of normalcy that they lost a little over a year ago. 

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