DCS > Essays > Getting Back To Work — The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Getting Back To Work — The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

JM Headshot2014Med
by James Mathers
Cinematographer and Founder of the Digital Cinema Society
(Excerpted from the June 2020 Digital Cinema Society eNewsletter)

WaitingHardestPartEssayTitleAs I sat down to write my essay this month, I wanted to cover any subject that would not require mention of Coronavirus, COVID-19, the Pandemic, or Getting Back to Work, but I just couldn’t do it.   Just when we thought we were starting to see light at the end of the tunnel, cases are spiking again around the US.  This catastrophe is profoundly affecting us all and it is hard to keep it out of my thoughts for any length of time.  I don’t really have any new insights to share, but even the experts are floundering to provide answers.  It seems that nobody really knows anything, and if they do purport to have all the answers, you can bet their proclamations will be amended or reversed in fairly short order.  So allow me a few minutes to share some thoughts.  A little venting could be therapeutic for me, and might be for you as well.

As humans, I believe we seek order, and not knowing what lies ahead is uncomfortable to say the least.  In business, as in life, making rational decisions is based on predicting the future and the outcomes of any actions we decide to take.  If we step in front of a fast-moving train we are likely to get crushed, and if we need to get to the other side of the tracks, we reason that it is best to wait for the train to pass.   The quarterback throws the football not to where the receiver is, but to where they will be.  However, this whole scenario is a moving target, and trying to make rational decisions when we don’t know how long it might persist is what can be really unnerving.

SpanishInquisition2I try to keep some sense of sanity by reminding myself that we never really know what is coming next.  Like the famous Monty Python line, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!”  Even before COVID-19, there has always been the chance for unexpected events to interfere with our best laid plans.  Will the sun come up tomorrow?  Probably, and we base our plans on it, even though we can never be 100% sure of that, or anything else for that matter.  Regardless, we still need to take our best guess and conduct ourselves accordingly.

The options for the entertainment industry, however, are none too appealing right now.  Although you have to be somewhat of a risk taker to even be a Producer, they are in a very difficult spot.  Even if they wanted to get back into production now, they can’t secure the insurance they need to hire cast and crew or get financing.  If they move forward and there is an outbreak that shuts down operations in the middle of a project, it only compounds everyone’s problems.

NotYetExhibitors are another group without good choices; they can only open now with physical alterations to their theaters and severe restrictions on audience capacity and food service that would likely have them operating at a huge loss.  There is also no compelling content to screen.  Distributors don’t want to release major features if only a few theaters are open with those that are, limited to small audiences.  That spells box office disaster, and explains why Christopher Nolan’s much anticipated “ Tenet“ and Disney’s tentpole “Mulan” have both had their release dates pushed back yet again; (August 12th for “Tenent” and August 21st for “Mulan” as of this writing.)

Like the Tom Petty song says, “The Waiting Is the Hardest Part.”  However, Producers, Distributors, and Exhibitors have no other choice, even knowing that if this goes on much longer, their projects and businesses might not be viable when this scenario is finally over.  In fact, many are already filing for bankruptcy.  And this sad state of affairs leaves a lot of us sitting on our hands.  Except for a very few short term projects, without major talent, and following strict safety protocols, most equipment and service providers, crew and support staff are all at a near standstill.

While government, industry unions, and organizations are coming up with intelligent protocols to get us safely back to work, our only real option is to wait.  But we must ask ourselves how we wait.  Do we curl into a proverbial ball and just sit it out, or do we constantly seek to make the best of a bad situation, ever on the lookout for the next best move forward?  For me it is the latter, and although I have had quite enough of all this, I’m not yet ready to throw in the towel, either for my career as a DP or for the Digital Cinema Society.  So, I’ll continue to do my best to keep up with the latest techniques and technologies, and try to stay open to new ways of working.

My essay is short this month, because I think everyone is getting pretty tired of hearing about this subject, and it’s not like I have much to add to the conversation.  Although feeling frustrated, we’ve managed to avoid getting sick around here, so I guess there really is not that much to complain about.  I do feel better for getting some things off my chest, and hope others will be able to relate and be encouraged knowing they are not the only ones feeling these same frustrations.  We’re all in this together, so stay strong, be safe, and keep healthy.  That way we can all be ready when the time comes that this nightmare is finally over.  I don’t know when that will be, but I guess I just have to get used to that.