COVID-19 James Kicklighter
Director James Kicklighter on the set of The American Question

COVID-19 has made this month a little different for us all.

For me, we were preparing to roll out The Sound of Identity, with a fresh trailer for the public crafted by Ben Jendras, along with some debut preparations.

After three and a half years, we wrapped filming on The American Question, fulfilling a massive narrative arc about American polarization.

We had begun to engage casting discussions on my next narrative film (yes, I haven't quit making scripted films, I just happened to finish two documentaries back-to-back).

Then, COVID-19 became an international pandemic.

It is amazing how trite and trivial these things that are important become in a time of crisis. At risk people are dying, healthy people are carrying the illness to them, and no one knows how this is going to end.

COVID-19 Jonathan Pope
Director of Photography Jonathan Pope on the set of The American Question

In film, when we start a take, we slate and call action. When we finish, we cut. There's a certainty to filmmaking, a rhythm with definable starts and ends. In a crisis, however, we don't know how we'll get through to that completion mark. It just festers, like a scab that's there waiting to be picked.

Yes, that's gross, but we're in gross times.

I am lucky, because we have a complete product on The Sound of Identity and we wrapped filming on The American Question.

But now, we enter the height of uncertainty, as major films start shifting their release windows, film festivals are cancelled, theaters are closed, and the independent distribution market vanishes.

Additionally, my work is completely dependent on their being work to do. When everyone is in quarantine and work shutters, so do my paychecks and my livelihood. Essentially, all of us who work in film are permanent freelancers. While some people make a lot of money doing it, many of us are sometimes middle class, and that can spiral fast.

It is in these moments that we worry about slipping into a hole we cannot escape.

COVID-19 Guy Seemann
Guy Seemann on the set of The American Question

When projects were planned and budgeted, and now they're delayed or cancelled, upending our entire financial outlook for an indeterminate time.

That creates a different kind of virus, one that infects us with self-doubt, depression and despair.

I think of the assistants, the people who aren't department heads, who are in a much worse position than I am right now.

How many aspiring filmmakers will not be able to live through this moment to get to the other side? How many must abandon their years of hard work and dreams to do something else?

If I was just starting out right now, it would be much harder for me to move forward. And yet, if we're not sick, we have time. All the time in the world, to work on that script, to edit that project, to do that creative thing that has been nagging at us, but we haven't had time to touch.

But that doesn't pay the bills, it doesn't keep my lights on.

I'm scared, and I know a lot of you are too.

When we emerge from COVID-19, the world will be a different place. It feels to me like an old world is dying and another one is springing forth. None of us know what that looks like, and so the plans we have made, the plans we have delayed, may become something entirely different.

Change is eternal. The question becomes, how will we react to it?

This is the power that we as filmmakers have.

We tell stories, tales about struggle and triumph, hope and fear, dreams and destiny.

We find ways to be creative and shine light into the world, when sometimes, it feels like there is a perpetual darkness.

Today, we have phones to tell our stories, we have cameras we can hold in our hands. As we quarantine at home, we see millions of people watching content generated by thousands of creators. Some of it is multi-million dollar stuff, but sometimes its that thing that made us laugh on TikTok.

We may not know where that paycheck will come from tomorrow, but we do have the power to decide what we do with our time today.

We may not know what waits for us on the other side, but together, I hope we can all find solutions in the world that awaits.

Stay healthy, everyone.

I'd love to hear stories from freelancers who are also going through this. What are you doing to respond in this time?