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How Will Art Portray the Coronavirus in the Years to Come? – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

How Will Art Portray the Coronavirus in the Years to Come?


The Impact of COVID-19 on Fictional Portrayals

The emergence of COVID-19 has brought about a significant change in our everyday lives, but how will it affect the way we depict fictional scenarios? As a screenwriter, I recently encountered a dilemma while writing a scene in which one character offered another a sip from their hip flask. However, I couldn’t help but feel disgusted by the thought of sharing a drink with a stranger in light of the current situation. This got me thinking about whether or not to reference the coronavirus in my writing. Some writers have advised against mentioning it, arguing that people are tired of living through it and would rather escape through entertainment.

Undoubtedly, COVID-19 is altering the way we write films. I was recently asked to revise a script to account for filming under coronavirus restrictions, which include social distancing requirements that rule out crowd scenes. A studio executive aptly suggested that if a script cannot be filmed, it should not be written. This presents a challenge for writers who want their work to be feasible and budget-friendly. For instance, a Hallmark movie may not accommodate a storyline featuring a global pandemic.

However, suppose you intend to write a film that mirrors reality. In that case, it may be easier to include a pandemic storyline to explain why characters are no longer sitting next to each other at the pub. On the other hand, imitating reality may not stand the test of time, especially since the pandemic’s outcome is uncertain. Novelists share a similar predicament, as scenes that felt commonplace a few months ago now pose potential problems. For example, should a restaurant scene feature hand sanitizer and limited patrons, or would it appear odd when the movie is released?

This pandemic is an unprecedented experience shared by everyone worldwide. It will continue to be a collective and shared experience long after it’s over, with a clear demarcation between the “before” and the “after.” While other major events are typically limited to a single location, this pandemic’s scope is global. Therefore, if the characters are meant to be realistic, it’s only natural for them to reference the pandemic in their conversations.

As a screenwriter, I’m currently working on a script about a woman who goes to stay with her brother, who has moved off the grid and adopted a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle. When I started writing this film, the main character found it hard to understand her brother’s choice. However, after the pandemic, the idea of escaping a disease hotspot and growing one’s organic vegetables seems like the smartest decision. While the film isn’t about the pandemic, it’s challenging to ignore the pandemic’s impact on the story.

The pandemic has undoubtedly changed the way we view our world, and it will continue to affect how we depict fictional scenarios. As writers, we must navigate these challenges creatively while ensuring that our scripts remain feasible and relevant.

While COVID-19 has indelibly changed our reality, I’m wondering how it will influence our fictional portrayal of it.

I just wrote a scene in a screenplay where one character offered another a sip from their hip flask. I then had a visceral reaction: “Gross.” Who these days would ever casually share a drink with a stranger?

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Which brings me to my current writing dilemma: to reference or not to reference the coronavirus? Other writers have told me not to mention it at all. People have been through enough. They’re exhausted. They’re already living it, why would they want to see it on their screens as well? The reason they need entertainment is to escape, not to re-play the nightly news.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 is changing the way we write films. I was recently asked to do a major rewrite of a commissioned script to take into account the fact that we may need to shoot it among coronavirus restrictions — for example, social distancing requirements essentially rule out crowd scenes.

As one studio executive has said, “We’re not going to be able to shoot it, so, don’t write it.” This may be true for a very long time to come. If we want a script to be filmed, it’s up to the screenwriter to make sure that it’s feasible (especially within the budget). That film was a Hallmark movie so there’s no such thing as a global pandemic in its fictional world … and I certainly couldn’t have the characters mention it.

But what if you want to write a film that is closer to reality? I read with interest the news that long-running soap opera Neighbours has gone back into production with strict rules in place. As actors must be physically distanced from each other, there is no possibility of intimacy — they are relying on camera trickery and the audience’s imagination to fill in the gaps.

Which made me wonder, would it be easier to just write a pandemic storyline to explain why characters are no longer sitting next to each other at the pub? Or maybe they won’t know how to write themselves out of a pandemic storyline? Or, because we don’t know how this story ends, any attempts to imitate reality may not age well and seem rather tasteless in retrospect?

I have been interested, too, in hearing novelists talk about a similar dilemma to what I’m experiencing with my screenplay. Scenes that would have seemed commonplace a few months ago are now fraught with problems — will they seem anachronistic to audiences or readers in a year’s time?

Scenes that would have seemed commonplace a few months ago are now fraught with problems — will they seem anachronistic to audiences or readers in a year’s time?

If characters go to a restaurant, should there be plenty of hand sanitizer and only x amount of other patrons inside? Will this look odd when the movie is released? Or would it look stranger to have them attend a packed venue — will they feel the involuntary shudder I have now when I see people in movies standing shoulder to shoulder, without a care for all the germs flying between them?

This situation is so unusual in that it is something that every person in the world has experienced to some extent. When — if? — this is all over, no doubt we will still be talking about it for a long time to come as a collective and shared experience. There will be the “before” and the “after.” This is, of course, true of other major events, but typically limited to a single locale — a city or region ravaged by a natural disaster, for example.

So, if my characters are supposed to be real people, shouldn’t it at least come up in conversation for them as well? Didn’t they have the same dumpster-fire of 2020 that the rest of us had — and won’t they still be referring to it in a movie (or book) that comes out in 2021?

The current screenplay I’m working on is about a woman who goes to stay with her brother and his family who have moved off the grid and taken up a sustainable and self-sufficient lifestyle. When I started writing this film, the main character, being from the city, found this choice hard to fathom.

But after a global pandemic, the idea of escaping a city (that is a disease hotspot) and growing your own organic vegetables actually seems like the smartest thing you could possibly do. So, while the screenplay is definitely not a “pandemic movie,” it doesn’t seem like COVID-19 is something that can just be ignored either.

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