By Elaine Grey
When the major Covid Pandemic took hold, a shutdown took place, across the United States, and in most other Countries.
The shutdowns of schools, businesses, and government facilities created challenging times for everyone. People began to work from home, and parents began to home-tutor their children. Everyone was affected by this pandemic. Individuals now had to wear masks and keep social distancing. Everyone was encouraged to begin taking vaccines and regular Covid testing programs began. Supplies on store shelves began to dwindle. Tough times were ahead. Take, for instance, the film and entertainment industry, where my colleagues and I experienced shutdowns, and mandates. Strict guidelines were being developed, and put in place, before anyone could return to work. This affected all of us who work in the business because in most cases production basically shut down.
It was almost a year before production opened again. So, when it did, I knew that we would need to learn to cope with the new, and necessary changes. As an actor, my return to the business came, only when I felt it was safe enough for me to get back to work. As soon as that happened, I began to confirm “Yes” to my availability requests that came in from Casting Departments. During the hiatus, I honed my acting skills, getting myself into shape, painting, and creating personal vision boards, which became packed full of ideas. Visions of home-improvement projects began to float in my head.
Coping with all the changes became necessary. There was less time for socializing. So, basically, most of us spent more time at home with family. We worked on a myriad of projects around the house. We now had the time to do an array of domestic projects, which included inside/outside repairs to the house, and tons of purging, donating, and organizing household items. Perfect projects to tackle while we were housebound. We used some of our pent-up energy setting up a new Gazebo, doing yard work, planting flowers in the gardens. It kept us busy and supplied well-needed exercise. Our outings were basically for food shopping, stocking the shelves, so we could cook meals and eat together. This became our new norm. That is, until the mandates were lifted.
I remember how excited I was when I was able to begin booking work on several new productions. It happened for me during the last quarter of 2019, and beginning of 2020. when CHILI and the TV Series Julia came online. By then I had updated my resume and my photo galleries for casting. I took lots of selfies, bought a new computer, turned in my old cell phone, and managed to get everything up and running. I discovered that during Covid, it was necessary for me to cut back on social events and on travel plans. Reinventing myself has always been a way of life for me.
So, here’s what I did during Covid, in terms of work. I authored articles for IMAGINE Magazine. One of the articles I wrote was about Lau Lapidus, and her workshops on voice-overs and book narration. That was an exciting project. Before Covid, I was a guest on many television shows, including Messier’s Mantra, in Seekonk, MA, the Charlie Flannery Show, in Taunton, MA, and the Boston based, John F. Fahey Show. After several Shows with John Fahey, John, and I began to appear together on many Local Access TV Shows, as guests, where we would promote former Mayor Ray Flynn’s book/screenplay, “The Accidental Pope.” We would also have discussions about the film industry, and the benefits of the film tax credits.
Then Covid hit and our television appearances came to a halt. So, John Fahey and I turned to radio where we become guests. Aside from promoting the book, Evelyn encouraged me to tell her audiences about my experiences in the industry, and how I have managed to reinvent myself, throughout the years. Voice Overs, Book Narrations, Radio Podcasts, and Zoom Workshops/Performances became more relevant than ever before. They served us well during the Pandemic. They supplied us an exciting and necessary means of communication.
Director-Actor Sharon Squires contacted me about a new Shakespeare Zoom Performance project. I had worked on her Julius Caesar project as an actor playing a small but significant role as the SoothSayer. The project was successful. Sharon was ready to develop a performance of MacBeth. She was familiar with my artwork and was interested in having me create innovative sketches that would be introduced as background throughout the Zoom performances and keep the attention on each of the actors, as they spoke. Imagine, a Zoom performance of a Shakespeare play. How wonderful!
I also belong to a group called Actors Unite. We’ve been working together in person for several years on creating, reading, and filming content for ourselves that included script writing/reading, filming, and working to improve our auditioning techniques. Then the Covid pandemic made it necessary to discover another venue. Charlotte Dore and Doug Weeks created an effective Zoom platform. Both are very gifted people. Charlotte is a remarkably successful actor and puppeteer. Doug is also a talented actor and manages communications for the group. Doug and I were featured background on a small Globe Lobby scene in the award- winning film SPOTLIGHT. The participants of Actors Unite concentrate on helping each other to improve upon their skills. I love the positive and creative Zoom concepts that resulted from Covid. I believe Zoom is a great solution for those not able to gather in person. I hope we never lose concepts such as Zoom, and we continue to develop them. The Summer of 2019, before production came to a halt, I worked on FREE GUY starring Ryan Reynolds, and in Summer of 2020, Ryan returned to Boston again, this time, with Will Ferrell, when the Musical film, CHILI, was filmed.
And finally, Adam Sandler’s HUBIE HALLOWERN movie was released in October of 2020. Again, production became scarce and with Covid on the rise I personally was not yet prepared to accept work. So, I missed the opportunity to work on several 2021 award- winning films projects CODA, DON’T LOOK UP, and THE GILDED AGE. By the time Season two of the TV Series Julia came along (late 2021) I felt comfortable returning to work, particularly since production standards were in place. That’s when I began submitting again to casting directors. I was chosen to work on a number of TV and film productions, which included Julia 2, I WANNA DANCE WITH SOMEBODY, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, and Stephen King’s film SALEM’S LOT.
More recently, in 2022, there was more work that included THE HOLDOVERS, and CHALLENGERS. When I returned to work, The first thing I noticed was the “New Norms” that were needed to work and to be on set. PCR Covid tests, and in some cases daily Covid tests became necessary. A requirement on set is that everyone, including Cast and Crew, wears a mask. You wear your mask for every minute you are at home base. The only times you can take your mask off is when you’re eating, or filming. It’s always “mask off” while filming, “mask on,” while not. It’s the policy, and everyone is required to follow the rules.
I spent an entire year pretty much isolated from my friends. So, having work again is wonderful. I’m so happy to be back at work. I love the industry and always wanted to be an actor since I was twelve. I knew that I wanted to work in the film industry, and I’ve been in the industry since 2006. I’ve been a SAG Member for ten years and I sat on the board of directors up until the end of 2018 when I decided to retire from the Board. I served from 2018 to 2019. The fear of coming down with Covid kept us wanting to stay sheltered.
What I was able to do was concentrate on building upon my attributes. I now have, what I call, Covid hair. As I mentioned earlier, in the article, the pandemic inspired me to grow my hair out, from brunette, to natural Gray and silver. The change would require less maintenance. It also gave me the advantage of applying for a variety of roles that I would not normally audition for as a brunette. I’ve also been working on my wardrobe, as I’m organizing my closet and storage space to accommodate my needs. I have been donating and getting rid of clothes that I do not need to the shelters, throwing away clothes that I’ll never wear. When I work on productions, I usually get my booking text and call time, between 8:00 and 10:00 pm the night before I am supposed to arrive on set. That is when I put my wardrobe together with care. I begin to select my clothes, hats, jewelry, and shoes and whatever else is requested by the wardrobe Department. I wash and clean everything and place it in a carry bag, including my makeup along with personal needs. I would need to have my hair washed and set so that the Hair and Make Up Departments can help me develop my “look,” my character. That is the way I do it.
During Covid, I gave thought to my routine, and to some of the guidelines that I usually pass along to the young actors and new people on set when they ask for advice. I have always enjoyed mentoring others. It’s something I have done consistently for many years. It’s my way of giving back and being grateful for all the opportunities that I have been given during my lifetime. I decided to jot down what I have learned from my experience and pass them along, in this article. These are the rules I try to follow: Booking calls/texts usually arrive between. 8:00 pm and 10:00 pm. I may not not get to bed until after midnight. I set my alarm according to my expected call time. If it’s a very early call time I may set my alarm for 3:00 am or 4:00 am, so I can take a shower, wash and set my hair, make sure my clothes are clean and the bags, Passport and SAG card are all in order. That way, I can be on the road in time for the 6:00 am call time. This routine usually works out for me. When you love your work it makes it all worthwhile.
These are some of the guidelines that I follow, while on set. I would like to pass them along to the reader. The professional way to behave will be noticed. It is important to keep your eyes and ears open, and to follow instructions from the Director and the Production Assistants. And, for goodness’s sake, never look at the camera, unless told otherwise. Always pay attention to consistency. When they cut and reset you must always go back to your mark, stay on your mark, unless told otherwise. Never try creeping up to the camera. It makes sense. If you are not on your mark, when the camera rolls, it is difficult for the editor to connect the shots. Remember, time is money.
Finally, I would like to close with a comment about the ever so important Massachusetts Film Tax Credits, which have drawn so many new and returning productions to film in Massachusetts and other New England communities, including Rhode Island. Massachusetts is extremely fortunate that the Sunset Provision was recently eliminated. Thanks to so many people who have worked hard to make it happen. Carol Patton, Publisher, and Editor of IMAGINE Magazine, is one of those people. Bravo, Carol Patton for your insight and vigilant promotion of our Film and Entertainment Industry.
May we get safely through this Pandemic now that the Mandates are lifted.
Elaine Grey is a SAG Actor, Director, Producer, and guest writer for IMAGINE Magazine. Ms. Grey is also an avid Artist and Photographer. She and her family are longtime residents of Watertown, MA. Elaine can be reached on her Facebook page, as Elaine Grey or via email at [email protected].