(Left to Right) John David Washington, Zendaya, and Sam Levinson.
EXCLUSIVE: Even though there’s been a couple of notable film productions recently jockeying for the distinction of being the first in the US to go before the cameras following the COVID-19 shutdown, we can tell you first that a brand new Zendaya and John David Washington movie from "Euphoria" creator Sam Levinson, “Malcolm & Marie,” has been shooting quietly all along during the pandemic. It has already completed production — arguably the first to do so on the feature film side.
Filming for “Malcolm & Marie” took place between June 17-July 2 at the Caterpillar House, an environmentally conscious glass architectural marvel in Carmel, CA – all compliant with WGA, DGA and SAG-AFTRA approvals and COVID-19 safety protocols.
While the pic’s logline is largely under wraps, I hear the movie has some echoes of Netflix’s “Marriage Story,” while resonating a number of social themes that the world is experiencing right now.
How exactly did “Malcolm & Marie” spring so quickly into production?
On Monday, March 16, Levinson received the call from HBO that “Euphoria’s” Season 2 had to shut down. I understand that one night during quarantine, Zendaya phoned him and asked if he could write and direct a movie during quarantine. Within six days, Levinson had cracked “Malcolm & Marie.” When it came to thinking about who could spar with Zendaya, Levinson kept seeing and hearing in his head “BlacKkKlansman” Golden Globe nominee and "Tenet" star Washington.
Given the filmmaker and the cast’s focus to tell stories in a safe way during uncertain times, Levinson, his production partner and wife Ashley Levinson (producer of “Bombshell,” EP of “Green Knight,” co-EP of Queen & Slim), longtime producer Kevin Turen, Washington and Zendaya took it upon themselves to bankroll “Malcolm & Marie” during pre-production and production.
Before shooting, Sam Levinson was writing a script for New Regency when Yariv Milchan and Michael Schafer said they wanted to support the financing of “Malcolm & Marie” and donate their proceeds to charity. Both are EPs on the movie along with Aaron L. Gilbert, Will Greenfield, Washington, Zendaya and Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) the latter of whom is also an investor in “Malcolm & Marie.” Co-EPs are Katia Washington, Harrison Kreiss, Stuart Manashil and Kenneth Yu.
Turen and Ashley Levinson worked with doctors, lawyers, WGA, DGA and SAG to meet the requirements necessary to go into production. They called a few of their creative collaborators such as “Euphoria” DP Marcell Rév to shoot, and production designer Michael Grasley.
The production employed a lean crew who wore multiple hats with everyone looking out for each other, i.e., co-EP Kreiss became the default for everything from tracking scripts, stocking craft services and standing in for lighting.
“Malcolm & Marie” found an ideal location in Feldman Architecture’s Caterpillar House. Not only was it legal to shoot on private property in Monterey County, but the Caterpillar House, on 33 acres of land, I hear, accentuated the emotion and choreography of Levinson’s screenplay while providing privacy for the production and distance from anyone outside the quarantine group.
The Caterpillar House is the first LEED Platinum Custom Home on California’s Central Coast and allowed the production to use very little A/C or heat, with the home’s glass doors providing fresh air.
Co-EP Katia Washington spearheaded all the health and safety protocols and created the guidelines that were presented to the production’s doctors, unions, crew and cast. After consulting with the unions and with the oversight of their doctor, a plan was hammered out. The entire team would take multiple COVID tests and head up to Monterey for a two-week quarantine before filming began.
For two weeks, cast and crew wore masks, social distanced had their own separate dwellings with individual HVAC units, took hikes, rehearsed in the parking lot, and ate in designated spots food prepared by a chef who had been quarantined with the group. No one was allowed to leave the property.
While the set crew and actors were quarantined, there was a separate pod that included the production designer, set dresser and grips who worked together to prep the house for production. I’m told that this group were held to a similar protocol; they were tested for COVID before working, wore protective gear, and stayed on a separate property to maintain the healthiest working environment possible. While in Carmel, there was another pod that oversaw the logistical and administrative duties. The production had runners who helped with shipping costumes, transporting film and assisting with other needs.
Once cleared, production began with no more than 12 people on set at any given moment. Some of the precautions taken included temperature checks at the beginning and end of every day. Extra time was always allowed for the crew to sanitize the set and gear. No crew member could be in close contact with the actors without the proper personal protective equipment. Sets were pre-dressed well in advance to limit crews, and the director would check in on a video call in advance.
The cast and crew were shuttled in each day in large SUVs from the quarantine location, with cast in a separate car with the same driver to minimize exposure. Cast members would be in charge of handling their own costumes and mic-ing themselves. Actors would be held in a separate holding area while waiting on set, maintaining distance from the crew. As for food, it was always individually wrapped (no cafeteria style), with boxed water available, disposable plates and cutlery, and coffee served on set by one designated person in disposable cups.
Those curious how this nimble production pulled this off and followed thorough safety protocols can read through the detailed guidelines below. There are takeaways here for film and TV productions both big and small: [guidelines used to shoot Malcom & Marie can be found at this site].
Article by: Anthony D'Alessandro for the New York Post.