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Film and TV sets in the new world

Andrea O'Connor chats TO Olivia Ryan about returning to a very different film and TV industry post covid-19

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Andrea O’Connor with Mark Ruffalo

Andrea O’Connor with Mark Ruffalo

Andrea O’Connor on set

Andrea O’Connor on set

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Andrea O’Connor with Mark Ruffalo

'Ireland is an exciting place to be for film and television work right now,' says Dundalk producer Andrea O'Connor.

'Shows like Normal People and Game of Thrones, even Star Wars filming here, they've all been game changers for the industry.'

Having spent most of her working life in the US, she made the decision to move back home a few years ago, and has been using her expertise and experience to help the next generation of film makers.

'I had that turning 50 moment, and when you get to this age in New York city, nine million people turns into a lot of people!'

'So I wanted to come back here, and do something a little different. I have a few underlying health conditions too, all the things that come from working in an extremely stressful job for a lot of years, so I was really glad to be out of New York since the Coronavius hit.'

'I've been doing some work with Kerry ETB, they have a phenomenal film course there, and I'm really enjoying working with the students.'

Andrea's career, working behind the scenes on hit shows such as Sex and City, Blue Bloods, and more recently 'Bull' have given her access to some of the top writers, producers and crew in the business

'The shutdown has meant sets closed down so I was able to get a lot of the Blue Bloods writers and the Bull executive producer, and the sound mixer from Devil Wears Prada to lecture for the students over the last few months. These are people who you probably wouldn't get access too in normal times as they're so busy, so it's been great having them give classes via zoom.'

'Film and TV really are an international industry now, it's no longer just the United States, with Netflix and Amazon Prime, some incredible shows are being given a platform now.'

She speaks of the complex 'Post COVID-19 world' which both cast and crews will find themselves going back to over the coming months.

'I know that L.A has opened up again for filming. We all got a lengthy document outlining how things will look, it had to go to the Governors of each of the States.'

She said there is much hesitation to resume filming with a 'who's going to go first' approach.

'We are operating in a pre-vaccinated world, that's the reality of it. I don't think any show is going to do like 22 episodes any more. Three or four hours of every day is going to be spent on Coronavirus issues on set, so that is really going to slow everything down.'

A Coronavirus medic, she added, is going to be on every set, and there will be big changes to where and how scenes are filmed.

'Its going to be extremely difficult to film in big cities, not only with cast and crew, but the public as well.'

She said countries like Ireland, and Iceland, there may be bigger opportunities than ever as companies seek out locations where the virus has been suppressed.

'The big issue too for a lot of shows, especially if they aren't period shows, and are set in modern times, is how to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Will storylines incorporate all that has happened this year? I imagine they will have to.'

Ongoing testing will be the 'new normal' she adds, with crews most likely having to quarantine together when they are on location.

'It's going to be really difficult, social distancing on set. We all work so close together, that I just can't imagine how it is going to work.'

'I think it's going to be a case where a crew member hands over equipment or whatever, and then they just go back to their truck. There'll be no hanging about on set anymore.'

Instead, sets will be designated into different zones, with camera, hair and make up etc all staying within their own sections.

'Everybody will wear masks, including the actors, until its time to shoot. But there is a lot of tricks can be used to, especially with the visual affects, you can film actors who are far apart, but make them look a lot closer together.'

Andrea has worked on a huge variety of television and film over the last few decades, from The Thomas Crown Affair with Pierce Brosnan, to The Adjustment Bureau with Matt Damon, and the cast of CSI-New York.

'Pierce was my all time favourite actor to work with, I was just starting out on my career then, and he was also playing Bond at that time, but he was so incredibly generous with his time. He gave me great advice, and was just so good with the whole crew, I've always remembered that.'

Other actors who made her 'top three' are Mark Ruffalo, who she worked with on the academy award winning movie 'Spotlight.'

'He's an amazing guy, just always willing to take a call, no matter what.'

Having worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Margot Robbie in her first role on American television in 'Pan Am'.

'We all knew from the get go that Margot was going to make it, she had the talent and the beauty. She was really great to hang out with too.'

Other actors weren't though so good to work with, she admits.

'You really see that European actors, Irish and British, they are actors, they're not there to be famous, just to do the job.'

Throughout the COVD pandemic, film and television have never been as important, serving in equal measure as a distraction, and entertainment.

'The streaming platforms really have come into their own in this time, Apple TV, Disney and Netflix and Amazon Prime. I remember a friend who worked on Martin Scorcese's 'The Irishman' (which went to cinema and was available shortly after on Netflix), we all said that was a real sign of changing times.'

'When everyone is down, and depressed and fearful too, the place we go to is TV, and the movies. I found that I just need to turn off the news feed, with the riots as well, it reminded me too much of New York in 9/11, all the sirens going off all the time.'

The pandemic hit home for Andrea, with the loss of several people she knew, or worked with, from the virus over the last few months.

'Our industry was hit hard enough, sets can be a real risk, as we all spend so much time together, eat together, work together, it will be difficult for older crew members, or anyone with underlying health conditions to go back to.'

Andrea's goal now is she says to work on developing some film projects in Ireland, and to continue working with students.

'That's more what I'm interested in now, my body has been beaten up enough by the industry over the years, working nineteen hour shifts.'

She says she feels 'really lucky' to have been living back at home during the shutdown, closer to family and friends.

'It was a perfect time to be here, so I could do things like walk the dog for my mum and dad, and drop in some groceries to them. They're in their 70's now, so I like that I'm nearby, and even for my sister to call, and we can have a chat at a social distance, all those things are great. I would hate to have still been living in New York, away from family over the last few months, worrying the hell out of them.'

As restrictions begin to life post COVID, Andrea adds she is looking forward to 'simple things, such as being able to go down to Tralee and lecture once more, or going over to the west to visit friends.

'I won't be in any rush to get on a plane for the next while. Travelling can wait. I'm excited about working here in Ireland right now.

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