International Insider: Film & TV Production Ramps Up; Box Office Optimism; Fremantle Interview

Happy Friday everyone. Tom Grater here with the rundown of this week’s biggest international headlines from the worlds of film and TV. We’ve got Keanu Reeves shooting his new Matrix movie, an insightful Fremantle interview, and George Clooney fighting North Korean corruption in the DR Congo. Enjoy!

Back To (Show) Business

On track: How about some good news to kick off your weekend? This was a positive week for major international film production, with several high-profile titles either gearing up or already back filming.

Action! Deadline brought you the news that Sony’s Camila Cabello-starring Cinderella movie is returning to production after a shutdown, with a small unit resuming this week, and filming set to continue through September. Also this week, The Matrix 4 got back shooting in Berlin after a five-month hiatus. Star Keanu Reeves said it was “a great honor” and that he was “grateful to be working”. In Ireland, Robert Eggers’ The Northman quietly began filming at a purpose-built Viking village set, and Icelandic singer Björk joined the cast. Over in the Dominican Republic, cameras rolled on Geechee, the supernatural thriller starring Andrea Riseborough.

Ongoing challenges: Production in this era isn’t without its challenges of course, as Universal found this week when it had to scale down its Jurassic World: Dominion shoot in Malta due to the rising number of COVID-19 infections on the island. Stars Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Sam Neill will be among those no longer traveling to the country. Andreas Wiseman had the scoop.

That’s Entertainment!

Studios open doors: After more than four months of Zoom retrofits and tumbleweed studios, UK entertainment shows are finally returning to some sort of normality in the pandemic era. The government has thrown the doors open again to indoor performances, sparking a wave of activity among producers who are now putting dates in the diary for studio records in front of live audiences.

Mask on: One of the first shows out of the traps was QI, BBC Two’s 17-year-old panel show. Episodes have been filmed in front of audiences of 40 socially distanced fans (see pictured), who literally had to disguise their glee at watching their favorite show behind the safety of a mask. Coming soon to a studio near you will be The Masked Singer (as first revealed by Deadline), Britain’s Got Talent, Family Fortunes and Jonathan Ross’ Comedy Club.

What next: Among the studio facilities opening their doors is BBC Studioworks, which has been home to QI recordings this week. That’s good news for shows like Strictly Come Dancing and The Graham Norton Show, which could tap into Studioworks’ protocols and also welcome back audiences. This all seemed unthinkable even a few weeks ago, when The Late Late Show With James Corden producer Fulwell 73 predicted that it could be 2022 before we see the meaningful return of live audiences. As with everything in the coronavirus age, however, progress could yet be checked by fresh outbreaks.

Box Office Bubbling

China leads the way: The international box office continues to gradually return to life. China is leading the charge right now, with the world’s second largest box office market delivering some impressive recent numbers. War epic The Eight Hundred, the most high-profile new release since theaters re-opened, has grossed $33M in previews ahead of its official release this weekend.

IMAX CEO bullish: The Eight Hundred is the first Asian release entirely shot with IMAX cameras, and the large-format exhibitor is confident about cinema’s recovery, with Warner Bros’ Tenet now just around the corner (roll out begins on Wednesday, August 26). Nancy Tartaglione sat down with IMAX CEO Rich Gelfond this week to chat talk through the current situation, he praised Warner for being “unique and gutsy” with the Nolan pic, predicting it would pay off for the studio. Full interview here.

4K Magic: Back on release in China, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone became the second film in the franchise to cross $1BN worldwide. First released in 2001, the remastered 4K 3D version debuted in the Middle Kingdom this past weekend. The entire series has now grossed $7.74B.

Going Quicker In Coronavirus

Beating the second wave: Ask most producers how coronavirus is impacting their shoots and many will tell you that they are moving slower. That’s not the case for Fremantle, which offered an alternative point of view in an interview with Deadline today. COO Andrea Scrosati said some of its shows are actually quickening following lockdown, as it moves to get things wrapped before the winter and a potential second wave.

A good example: Scrosati pointed to Anna, Sky’s apocalyptic drama from The New Pope (pictured) producer Wildside. Filming was halted in March but is now back underway. To speed things up, Wildside is cutting two episodes from the eight-part series in a way that won’t impact the narrative. Scrosati gave an honest appraisal of the thinking: “You do realize that sometimes you do not need all of that material, but sometimes you have a deal and there is a cost per episode, you tend to go the other way around [and make things longer.] This has focused us on the right thing to do for the show.”

A growing trend: Wildside is far from alone in snipping episodes. The BBC revealed this week that Season 10 of Call The Midwife will be truncated to ensure production can be completed in a timely manner, while Jane Tranter has revealed that Bad Wolf was forced to cut an episode from Season 2 of His Dark Materials because of the pandemic.

The bottom line: On the face of it, this looks like less of the programs you love, but we all know series can become baggy in places. If coronavirus does away with bum notes in big shows, that will be a good outcome for all.

Edinburgh TV Festival Goes Virtual

Remotes at the ready: The British TV industry’s annual jaunt to Scotland may have been scotched by coronavirus, but the Edinburgh TV Festival organizers are promising a virtual event that will look more like a popup television channel than a series of Zoom calls. COVID-19 and diversity will loom large over proceedings, with historian David Olusoga recording centerpiece address, the MacTaggart Lecture, using “high-end” cameras. Advisory chair Patrick Holland said he was “blown away” by the speech, which he thinks will help “reframe the debate about diversity.” Go deeper here.

Best Of The Rest

Mea culpa: Netflix was quick to apologize this week after its marketing campaign for upcoming movie Cuties sparked a furious backlash, with the streamer getting it in the ear for a poster which many thought sexualized children. Netflix quickly removed the offending artwork, but the torrent of upset continued over the French-language film and its subject matter, which follows an 11-year-old girl who forms a dance troupe called ‘The Cuties’. The truth is, however, that the movie was well received when it premiered at Sundance this year, even picking up an award, and it has been widely praised for its handling of its topics. Ultimately, the service will be hoping what appears to be a marketing faux pas doesn’t derail the release on September 9. Full article here.

RIP Ben Cross: The Chariots Of Fire and Star Trek actor died this week at the age of 72. Read our obituary.

Clooney’s campaign: It’s not enough just being an A-list movie star and director as well as arguably the world’s most handsome man, George Clooney continues to fight for social justice by exposing corruption in African nations. Through investigative team The Sentry, which he co-founded and also donated $1M towards, a report was published this week that said it exposed North Korea’s exploitation of vulnerabilities in the DR Congo banking system to escape sanctions and access the global financial system. Read the full report here.

Getting intimate: How do you shoot a sex scene on a COVID-safe set? According to UK filmmakers body Directors UK’s new guidelines, you might be better off re-writing and not doing it, or employing an actors’ real-life partner as a body double.

Big screen debut: Los Angeles-based Swedish singer songwriter Tove Lo has been something of a musical sensation these last few years with her upbeat, wickedly-worded pop tracks racking up hundreds of millions of listens online. She’s now switching the mic for the camera and is set to make her acting debut in $10 Scandi epic The Emigrants. Here’s our scoop.

One To Watch

Nolan’s arrival: Time to get your tickets booked for Tenet, if you’re lucky enough to live in a country where the film is rolling out first. The hotly-anticipated sci-fi pic begins its international release from next Wednesday (August 26) in territories including the UK and France, and will be open in 40+ countries by the weekend. Will it live up to the hype?

Hacking the system: Netflix has found some real success in Germany in recent years, with shows including Dark and How To Sell Drugs Online (Fast) finding sizeable audiences not just in their home country but also abroad. The latest one is Biohackers, which comes from creator Christian Ditter, the German-born filmmaker who has made a name for himself in Hollywood directing pics including How To Be Single and Love, Rosie. The show follows a medical student who discovers the use of highly advanced biohacking technology in her university town. Early word is positive, all six episodes are streaming now.

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