Marvelverse Production: A Pandemic Story

Alexis Auditore (CDM ’05), a member of the School of Cinematic Arts’ first graduating class, is director of physical production for streaming at Marvel Studios, where she’s also worked extensively in feature films. We asked her how the studio adapted to producing shows and films during the pandemic and how she thinks those changes may have reshaped the industry.

How long did the COVID-19 pandemic pause production at Marvel Studios?

The industry shut down on March 13, 2020. We were able to start shooting again in September of that same year. We’ve been going full-bore since then in terms of streaming and features.

Were you able to accomplish some work remotely?

We did all of our meetings via Zoom until we were able to go back to the office. But we’ve been able to go on location to our shows since last September. I probably go to Atlanta once every six weeks, for two to three weeks, and then we have a show in Budapest. I went there for three weeks to work with them during their prep period.

“The Falcon and The Winter Soldier”

Marvel and its parent company, Disney, have quite a presence in Atlanta. “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “WandaVision” and “Loki” were filmed there. We have three other shows that have filmed in Atlanta since then—“Hawkeye,” “Ms. Marvel” and “She-Hulk.” We’ve kind of set up shop in Atlanta at this point. It’s nice because the shows are able to rely on one another. Crews can share information and help each other out.

What are the safety protocols Marvel has established for productions?

Disney has its own policies and procedures in place for COVID in terms of testing and zones you’re in, how many times a week you get tested, temperature checks and a very thorough, close-contact vetting process if somebody does end up positive, but it also relies very heavily on what was called the ‘white paper.’ That was a document put together by the unions to stipulate what we needed to do to get their people to come back to work. So, it’s a combination of Disney’s policies and procedures, plus the ones from the white paper, and then obviously the country we’re going into. We wouldn’t go into a country if we didn’t think we could follow their policies and procedures. And honestly, Disney is often more stringent than certain countries.

How has that process reshaped shoots at the studio and on location?

Every show has an entire team of health and safety people, and it’s their sole job to make sure people get tested, social distance and wear their masks, and that the testing sites are set up properly. We limit the people that can be on set. Unless you’re a crew or cast member, no one’s allowed to even come on the lot. You can only have one person for every 154 square feet. That has to be taken into account when designing a set and how many people you need to fit into that set.

When it comes to looking at a country, we factor in how that country is doing in terms of COVID or if there is an outbreak there. How are they doing in their vaccination process? We wouldn’t put ourselves in danger by going to a country that had an outbreak. The countries we have gone to have really strict quarantine and testing protocols in place.

How do you manage interactions between actors and costume and makeup crews?

With hair, makeup, costumes, because you’re in such close proximity with the cast, it’s several different levels of PPE—masks, visors, gloves—to keep the cast as safe as possible. Everybody has adapted very well, but it’s something we have to watch on a daily basis.

When the shutdown happened, it caused a huge surge in the need for content for the streaming service. I hope that people are excited to come back to the theaters and see films on the big screen again.

How many of these changes do you think might remain as we try to move past the pandemic?

I’m sure that they will be lessened at some point. For us, we’re continuing to test people regardless of vaccination status. Masks, for sure, are here to stay for a while on set. And testing for the foreseeable future, just because you never know. The second somebody takes a mask off and maybe are sick, it puts everybody else at risk. Even if you have the vaccination, there’s nothing that’s 100%.

Have supply chain issues affected your work in any way?

On one of our shows, it was hard to get fabric because a lot of stores were closed. For a show in Europe, you go to certain countries—Italy, England—to get fabrics. And that wasn’t possible when Italy shut its borders and the UK had a 10-day quarantine. We’re looking for such specific fabrics for our custom-made costumes.

Has the rise of streaming offset diminished global box office revenue that’s dependent on theatrical exhibition?

Streaming was on the way up to begin with. When the shutdown happened, it caused a huge surge in the need for content for the streaming services, which is great for us. I think that theaters and box office around the world will rebound. It was already showing that in foreign box office where theaters opened again. I hope that people are excited to come back to the theaters and see films on the big screen again. It’s different watching something on a small screen that you know could be appreciated so much better on the big screen. I watched “Nomadland” on my television at home, but I can only imagine how even more beautiful it would be if it was on a big screen.

Do you think the pandemic has opened up more opportunities for independent filmmaking?

I do. I love those kinds of films. I think this has forced us all to look at projects that probably would have been overlooked had we not had the shutdown. Amazon, Netflix and Hulu were all picking up great independent features that ended up being very successful.

Will studios adopt a more versatile approach regarding the balance of theatrical and streaming?

It’s going to be more à la carte. Look, I think every studio wants to get their films into a theater. But obviously they’ve had to adapt and release things on streaming platforms day-in day-out. Warner Brothers has been releasing all of their features on HBO Max at the same time they release them in theaters. It’s great for my friends who have kids and can never get out of the house, but for other people who really enjoy that experience of going to a movie and have the time to do it, it allows them to do that as well. I’m sure the dual system will be in place for a while, if not forever, but I will always opt to see something in the theater if I can.

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