Dinosaurs Were the Easy Part: How The Producers of 'Jurassic World: Domininon' Made a Movie During the Pandemic
“Jurassic World: Dominion” is on track to gross $143 million in its opening weekend despite largely brutal reviews. But the real miracle is that the sequel itself was made — smack dab in the middle of the pandemic.
COVID-19 shut down tens of thousands of businesses, and Hollywood production was not spared.
Film sets in the pandemic ran the risk of becoming super-spreader gatherings; just like a cruise ship, hundreds of people in close contact. Yet the producers of “Jurassic World” not only made their movie just before the apex of the pandemic (from July to October of 2020) but also did so without a production outbreak.
“Jurassic World’ started filming in February 2020 in British Columbia, and the production then moved to England. But nearly as soon as they unpacked their equipment in London, Universal Pictures called. “They just said, “Shut it down,’' producer Frank Marshall recalled. Everyone was told to go home, with no plans to return anytime soon.
Marshall and fellow producer Pat Crowley could have waited for more than a year for infection and death rates to fall. Instead, they challenged the basic premise of the shutdown. Why not try to pull it off? We’ve created dinosaurs, so why not create a COVID-proof set? And isn’t that what producers do each and every day--solve the unsolvable?
“Producing a movie is a constant process of overcoming unforeseen problems,” Crowley said. “You go to a country and they have a revolution. An airline that you had planned on transporting all your crew goes bankrupt. So the first thing we did is we said, ‘OK. So how are we going to address this?’”
Producing a movie is a constant process of overcoming unforeseen problems.
The answer, formed with communicable disease experts, was a pandemic plan that set the standard for safe shooting, but at no small cost. Crowley estimates the additional protocols (and the loss of one location in Malta) added about $25 million to the film’s budget.
- The producers installed whole-body thermal scanners that all cast and crew passed through every day (imagine an airport’s TSA machine that looks for fevers.
- They hired about 100 people charged with wiping down surfaces with disinfectant and deploying hand sanitizer.
- Most remarkably, at a time when procuring kits was nearly impossible, they administered 40,000 PCR tests. “We built our own lab,” Crowley explained.
That said, establishing protocols to keep people safe isn’t the same as making those people feel safe. And that was a particular concern of the cast of “Jurassic World: Dominion,” which includes Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, BD Wong and Sam Neill.
“Actors can't have the mask on when they're doing their job. So their anxiety level is really, really high,” Crowley said. “And actors just inherently are very, very cautious.”
Actors are also spoiled, or, put more politely, used to certain luxuries. To think of not having their own home or large apartment on a location is, well, unthinkable. Fortunately, there was a five-star hotel just a few minutes away from the film’s set in London, so “Jurassic World” took over the entire hotel, retaining some of its staff to keep its restaurants and housekeeping operational.
One of the unexpected consequences of putting the film’s cast in a bubble was a greater sense of esprit de corps and preparedness.
“Usually, when you get on set, the actors come from home and the director comes from somewhere and they rehearse the scene, and then there's all this discussion about. ‘Well, is this the right way to do this scene?’” Crowley said.
“But these guys had so much time on their hands at the hotel, they would devote Saturdays and Sundays to sit around and work through the scenes. So when they came on set, things were smooth and the crew was having to go faster just in order to keep up.”