Despite COVID-19, film permits return to Miami (includes video story)

The film industry in Miami has been no exception to the list of business sectors hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Although some may consider continuing to be creative a tough task, South Florida native and film producer Cristy Trabada has chosen to see this period as a time of growth. 

“The creative solutions have been more so on kind of redirecting what we’re focusing on as a team,” said Trabada. “I feel like it kind of gets the creative juices going in the brain a little bit. What is the new normal now? You know, how do we tell stories with these stipulations?”

The Miami-Dade County Office of Film and Entertainment resumed giving film permits in May after months of being on halt due to the pandemic. 

If film crews aren’t able to abide by the new normal rules in the county and nationwide, the office is still encouraging filmmakers to stay active creatively. 

“I’ve encouraged filmmakers to continue the process, especially creating content and writing during this time, as well as, you know, talking to them on the best way to move forward with their projects with the information I’ve received,” said Film and Entertainment Commissioner, Sandy Lighterman.

That’s exactly what Trabada’s team has done in the past couple of months. 

“We’ve been in the dark about when we’re going to start production, [or when] we’re going to officially start pre-production,” said Trabada.  “So in the meantime, we’ve just been focused more on the development of future projects.”

Lighterman believes that being creative in a time like this can be daunting and all elements of the film industry in Miami are still moving pieces due to restrictions.

“But those rules, you know, make it challenging for filmmakers to be able to accomplish their tasks and in a timely way,” said Lighterman. “It’s a puzzle to try to figure out how to do it the right way, as well as the safe way, as well as be able to get everybody to get their shots.”

The restrictions and changes aren’t only affecting the minds behind the scenes. Actors are also trying to readjust. 

According to South Florida-based actress Nelisa Nieto, there are now two new normal ways to audition for roles. Actors can choose to send in their taped auditions, or hop on a Zoom call to meet with casting directors. 

“So that completely changes with new difficulties,” she said. “You have to get backdrops, you have to get a better camera because the iPhone is not going to cut it.”

Nieto encourages actors and models to be hesitant about the jobs they take and to take their health seriously, now more than ever. 

“I’d say don’t accept every single opportunity, because of the fact that you don’t know who could be in that room,” said Nieto. “You don’t know their ethics. So just be weary of the stuff that you decide to either audition for or accept. And always stay safe. Your health is the main priority, jobs will come and go. But you know you only have one life.”

In terms of the industry’s future, the three creatives have different perspectives. 

Nieto believes that romance scenes might be far and few in between in order to avoid close contact between actors. 

“A lot of things won’t be written in anymore,” she said. “There will be very sparse romance scenes. . . I’m going to safely assume. When it comes to intimacy and romance scenes, I think that they’re going to try really hard to not have that.”

Trabada is hopeful.

“I feel like the South Florida film community just wants to get back to work,” said Trabada. “So we’re all trying to do the best that we can in order to make sure that we’re as safe as possible.”

Lighterman thinks the industry will change for the better and will teach filmmakers to be more resourceful in the future.

“That is smartly working with less spending, for example, on craft service and other things that everybody’s been used to for a long time,” she said. “Less spending on things like that, more safety and cleaner film sets. Those are the positives.”

Victor Jorges is a broadcast journalist specialized in covering stories about culture, arts and human interaction. His work includes documentaries, feature packages and written profiles. He currently works at CNN en Español as an associate producer. He hopes to cover Miami's Hispanic American culture for a local network upon graduation. Jorges was born in Caracas, Venezuela and moved to Miami in 2007.