Looking back at his experience on the remake of Children of the Corn — Andrew Rowlands’ first feature film assignment as principal director of photography — the veteran camera operator is astounded by the biblical challenges the crew survived while shooting in Australia for 34 days earlier this year.
“Australia had just gone through massive fires and while we were shooting, this massive flood nearly wiped out our set,” said Rowlands, a Local 600 member since 1997 and a member of the National Executive Board (NEB). “The only thing we didn’t get were locusts.” Nor did anyone on set get the “plague,” which was significant since they were shooting during a worldwide pandemic.
By most accounts, the ability of Children of the Corn to successfully finish production was no small feat. Rowlands chalks it up to the extensive safety protocols in place in Australia and the cooperation of the Screen NSW (New South Wales) and SafeWork NSW agencies. So much of what made Corn work was the buy-in from the cast and crew and their determination to see it through, he noted.
“We had the COVID lockdown happening in Sydney and we had to make the collective decision whether or not to proceed,” said Rowlands. “Everybody wanted to proceed. A few people pulled out because of family situations, but 95% wanted to go ahead.”
How did they make it work?
In the small town of Richmond, where most of the shooting took place, the grips, electric and camera crews (including two DITs) were housed in isolation in one hotel while the production staff and cast were in another. Masks, sanitizers and gloves were everywhere with crew members wearing gloves and masks nearly the entire time they were working. Crew members had to fill out a daily questionnaire each morning asking how they were feeling, where they had been and who they had seen. Starting April 1, everyone underwent daily temperature checks.
On set, all equipment was wiped down throughout the day. In addition to three safety officers, production employed health and safety assistant Dean Povic. “Clean Dean,” as he came to be known, was a constant presence, wiping down any equipment that anyone had touched or dispensing extra gloves and wipes.
“Once we moved out to this country town, we had written up some protocols of our own on what we could do to make the cameras safe and how we would handle them in conjunction with the grips,” Rowlands said. “Everyone had to adjust their working style and some people took to it a little easier than others, but everyone was good natured about it.”
With film industries shut down worldwide, Children of the Corn crew members were conscious that they were defying some significant odds. As they learned of COVID-19 case numbers and fatalities ramping up around the world, they realized that their production might not continue.
“Every three weeks there was some major catastrophe about to happen that would shut us down,” he marveled. “At first, we thought we might only get to shoot for three weeks before the New South Wales government would close the shoot down,” said Rowlands. The production survived, he believed, because they had a bit of luck combined with good safety protocols from the outset.
With doctors, nurses and paramedics at the ready on set, they felt prepared. There was a momentary scare when a crew member suffered from a respiratory illness that he developed from a previous sickness. When the crew member’s COVID-19 test came back negative, production resumed.
Children of the Corn. Photo courtesy of ANVL Entertainment.
A veteran of more than 60 films and TV shows as a camera operator and second unit DP, Rowlands understood the uniqueness of shooting Children of the Corn during the pandemic.
Safety measures, he said, will have to continue to evolve as Hollywood productions moves into the post COVID-19 landscape. “Our union, along with the other craft guilds, is going to have to sit down at a big table and work out how we can do this,” Rowlands said. “It’s going to take a couple of weeks for people to get used to it. It’s a big responsibility for us all to take on.”