07 February 2021 Posted By : Eli Glasner

Burnt out but booming: Canada's TV and film sector plows ahead during the pandemic

For Debi Drennan, the film business is a family affair. The Toronto-based makeup artist has been working in the industry before the days of The Littlest Hobo. Her sons, Christian and Tyler, followed her into the business, and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, they're all as busy as ever.

Christian, a key grip, just wrapped The Man from Toronto starring Kevin Hart. Key rigger Tyler recently jumped from working on Netflix's Sex and Lies and is now on Station Eleven.

Drennan herself was one of the first to return to work after Ontario's first coronavirus lockdown, as part of CBC's Murdoch Mysteries.

She says that with all of the precautions in place, she wasn't worried about safety.

"We're not allowed on the property until we have a correct temperature and we've done a screening. We all had apps on our phone, and we would have to answer those apps every morning."

With surging coronavirus rates shutting down production in parts of California, Canadian crews such as the ones the Drennans worked on are competing with an influx of American productions. In both British Columbia and Ontario, the industry isn't just busy — it's booming.

Switching face shields for safety glasses

Virus or not, Drennan and her colleagues in the makeup trailer still had to make the cast look picture perfect. For starters, she procured a high-end UV sterilization machine to prevent cross-contamination.

But applying makeup while wearing masks and face shields turned out to be a challenge. The solution was safety glasses with prescription lenses, which became standard on set.

As both the face of and a director on the 14th season of Murdoch Mysteries, Yannick Bisson says he was all too cognizant of the risks.

"There was pressure, we were going to be one of the first shows out of the gate," he said. "So the potential for failure was there." 

Drennan says the cast and crew quickly became accustomed to the new rhythms of work, but what she didn't anticipate was how worn out she would become.

"It's exhausting.... I just felt like halfway through the day, they couldn't call lunch fast enough. I just needed to get in my car, pull my mask off, take my goggles off and just sit."

Headaches were common, and Drennan says she thinks dehydration may have played a role: Taking off all the layers of personal protective equipment for a sip of water or a snack was such an ordeal that the temptation was just to tough it out.

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