COVID-19 put a halt on most normal aspects of American life in March, with the majority of jobs and schools going remote. While restrictions have now been lifted to some degree, many in the entertainment industry are unable to work while following COVID-19 guidelines. Despite the pandemic, however, Kenyon’s own Associate Professor of Film Jonathan Sherman was able to produce a feature film, “ They/Them/US.” It was approved by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), making it one of the only films to be shot in the U.S. during the pandemic.
The movie, “They/Them/Us,” is loosely based on events from Sherman’s life. Sherman wrote the film while on sabbatical several years ago and it takes place in Columbus, Ohio, where the set was located and where Sherman resides. The film follows two people who meet in their 40s and have to combine a family of four teenagers, with a focus on themes of acceptance and inclusion. It stars Joey Slotnick and Amy Hargreaves, accompanied by a cast and crew from New York, Cleveland and Cincinnati. In total, the film consisted of 56 crew members and 30 actors. “It was a joy to watch them bring this script to life,” Sherman said.
All of the film’s actors are members of the Screen Actors Guild, which only permitted filming so long as the actors and crew were tested for COVID-19 every 72 hours. Testing result s needed to be returned within 48 hours, a process that, according to Sherman, was “almost impossible to do at the beginning of August.” However, Sherman and his team hired a “testing guru” who helped them navigate the process and find a lab willing to work with them.
“It was very tense right before we started and we didn’t think we would get approved by SAG, but they did it on a Friday evening before the Monday of our first day of shooting,” Sherman said.
Sherman has taught film at Kenyon for 10 years. Before teaching, he worked exclusively as a writer and director. He produced a $10 million film called “I’m With Lucy,” which is available to rent on Amazon. He loves teaching and bonding with his students. “That’s really all I can do as a teacher, to help students find their artistic voice.”
Production of “They/Them/Us” began on Aug. 3 and finished on Aug. 30. Sherman wanted to film in summer so he hired as many current film students as possible to work on the project, as well as finish in time to go back to teaching in the fall. Along with Kenyon film students, students from the Ohio State University, the Columbus College of Art and Design and Otterbein University also worked on the product ion. “I wanted to give local students an opportunity to get some experience,” he said. He even wanted to hire more students as interns, but doing so would have been out side their budget .
The added expenses of frequent testing put a strain on the film’s budget, increasing costs by 20 percent. “I was very worried about the actors because they don’t put their masks back on once they’ve gone through hair and makeup,” Sherman said. However, no one tested positive for t he whole shoot, which spanned approximately 20 days.
Despite the struggles COVI D-19 has presented the entertainment industry, Sherman believes there’s no reason not to be creative during the pandemic. “Creativity is all about limitations. I think the pandemic will be a seismic event in the film industry and I’m excited to see how our students can take advantage of disruption and chart their own path,” he said .