Safe and sound stage
LOS ANGELES • Tyler Perry wants you to wear your mask.
After successfully completing production on his BET series Sistas without a single case of COVID-19 during the two-week shoot, work on The Oval is up next, with cast and select crew beginning to arrive at Tyler Perry Studios for their stint in “Camp Quarantine” recently.
And Perry says there’s not much he plans to do differently this time around, especially when it comes to having everyone wear masks both on-set and around the 330-acre campus.
“I made sure that the cast and crew and everybody wore their masks when they weren’t on set because I do know for a fact that masks help stop the spread — scientifically, I know that,” Perry says. “And everybody adhered to that, even though we were all testing negative. I just didn’t want someone to be incubating with for three to 12 days, and we not know it.”Perry and the Sistas crew wore their masks between 12 and 14 hours while shooting the 22-episode season, with an hour and a half lunch break as a chance to catch their breath.
“Listen, I was the mask police. Every time I saw something, I was screaming about it,” Perry says. “It’s summer in Georgia so credit to the crew — it’s burning up here and they were still doing the right thing. So, I gave a lot more breaks for people to have water because we had a couple people that got dehydrated from all the heat, and the water breaks were actually the ‘breath break’ where you can pull your mask down, drink some water and get some fresh air.”
To perfect their method of working in the quarantine bubble, Perry’s team worked with Emory University’s Dr. Carlos del Rio, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Colleen Kraft to execute a rigorous testing schedule with a nasal swab test administered upon arrival at Tyler Perry Studios and follow up tonsil tests every four days on site.
After the first 160 cast and crew moved into Tyler Perry Studios, two people tested positive during the initial sequestering period. When the next 200 people arrived a few days later, two more people tested positive during their initial test. Those four never worked on set and were sent to get medical attention.
“I felt this wave of relief after the last test results, where everybody was negative, I was like, ‘OK, we pulled it off,’ so I’m so proud of my crew,” Perry says.
Though Perry took extra care to address COVID-19 behind the scenes, he says that his shows will not reference the pandemic in any upcoming storylines.
“All these scripts were finished right at the time that COVID started to show up,” Perry explains. “And also, what I know about COVID is people are tired of hearing of it, and entertainment is escape ... All of my work has been about escapism, so I’m just going to hold to escapism.”