EDITOR NOTE: You can see the old ship anchored in the water, every time you drive by Rosarito. Originally built for the filming of the Titanic, it was used again for the filming of Pearl Harbor and Tomorrow Never Dies, the Walking Dead and the first season of the Netflix series Selena. No longer open to the general public for tours, the production lot sits silent in wait of the next big production.
Something attacked us suddenly, punched hard and changed everything in our lives.
It’s something that we can’t see, but it’s defeated some of the most powerful economies, some of the biggest companies and some of the most important industries, including television and film. Ironically, it was almost as if the story of coronavirus was a thriller television series, or movie, except this virus is real, and unfortunately it’s taking many lives on both sides of the border.
After the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we were forced to become antisocial and distant. Now the protocols are clear: look to avoid, to the maximum extent possible, human contact and meetings, especially indoors, one of the main sources of the virus spreading.
As Mexicans, living under those conditions has been really hard. Our people are sociable and warm by nature and usually our co-workers become family. Social gatherings, parties and carnitas asadas (barbecues), almost every weekend, are part of our lives. The pat on the shoulder as support is common and it seems to be nothing, but is not easy to avoid. How do we prohibit this contact when it is an important part of our culture? How do we suppress the urge to hug on birthdays, special moments and goodbyes? Even something as trivial as a morning greeting is usually accompanied with a gentle kiss on the cheek. Believe me, for many in Mexico, holding back the human contact and enduring the confinement has been torture.
Only three things have saved people from the unbearable quarantine: Some people have been lucky enough to work from home. Others have been lucky enough to entertain themselves and spend time on social networks and the internet. But for most, film and television streaming platforms have been lifelines.
It is inevitable. Every day more cinema and television content is required to deal with these long days of confinement, and the industry understands it perfectly: The show must go on. With different rules and more precautions, bigger expenses, and everyone with face masks and soaked in disinfectant, the filming must continue. That’s where we find ourselves today — a cast and crew of 400 of us working in Baja Studios for the past year on a soon-to-be-released Netflix series.
As I write these lines, the project is in its final days of shooting. We have had to work under the threat of the coronavirus. This is certainly an unfortunate threat, but we are doing the best we can under the circumstances. It is not easy, but it is possible.
As the former film commissioner of Baja California and now as a producer, my concern is safety. Since this pandemic began, I have been genuinely interested in knowing how this virus is affecting our industry and trying to look into how we are going to deal with this serious problem in the future.
Weeks of research about the topic and my friendship with producer Luisa Gomes De Silva led me to take charge of the health and safety department of this project in Baja Studios in Rosarito. It’s a completely new department with a team that never existed before: COVID-19 officers.
This pandemic brought problems but opportunities as well. Our team consists of 18 people in charge of supervising the COVID-19 protocols. Our job is to protect the health and safety of everybody on the project. The team includes a doctor, a paramedic, two administrators, two ventilation technicians and people working in maintenance and cleaning. Ironically, without the pandemic, some of them might be out of work.
Information about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is available everywhere. It’s a requirement for anyone in the film industry to take a course called Safe Sets International, and there are three courses on COVID-19 available on the website of Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS). They are useful and free of charge. The Mexican Film Commission and the Association of Film Commissioners International also provide protocols.
For us, besides our 70-page COVID-19 filming protocol, created by our team, the three most valuable tools we provide are: face masks and face shields, PCR tests and constant supervision. Working with 400 people on a large project can be stressful and difficult. But we have had less than 2 percent of cases in four months.
Obviously working on a set during a pandemic is not easy. We find the most dangerous enemy in this battle is human nature. Nevertheless, if we want the product, we have no choice. We must cope with the challenges. One stupid mistake can be costly. Everyone knows it’s not worth taking any chances. People are following the protocols. Every once in a while, it’s easy to forget our new life, which is the main reason for the constant supervision. For the most part, we have cooperation from everyone on staff. But the real problem is there are still people out there who don’t believe the disease is real. We won’t fight their beliefs, but if they want to be part of this production or any other, they have to stick to the rules.
Fear of the virus is part of the new normality, especially because it is a new disease about which little is known yet. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was hard to convince some actors and other important persons in the United States that it was possible to film a TV series in Mexico with the health and safety needed. It was necessary to work hard on developing our specific protocols to be safe and obviously to spend more money on security and prevention. Producers made the effort and gave us a vote of confidence and we did it. Until now, everyone involved at the project has been able to participate and do their job with confidence. Unfortunately, for now, I can’t say the name of this wonderful production, but you will hear about it soon, and I think you will love it.
Originally Posted on: The San Diego Union Tribune