Pandemic Production, One Year Later: Meredith Johns, Hawgfly Studios

Then: "'Grab what you need from the trailer, we don't know when we're coming back.'"
Now: "We're definitely never going to be the same as we were before."

Hawgfly founder Meredith Johns (left) on set with makeup artist Anna Fugate-Downs (right) and Juan Cernada (in the kaiju suit) in a commercial for Brilliant supplements by Two Shot West. (Photo by Jeff Wilson)

Then: "'Grab what you need from the trailer, we don't know when we're coming back.'" Now: "We're definitely never going to be the same as we were before."

In March 2020, reality came to a halt, and so did fiction. Film and television sets had to abruptly shut down production, leaving the people behind the facade wondering when they could press "play" again. At the time, Meredith Johns, an FX makeup artist and founder of Austin's Hawgfly Studios, described the whiplash and uncertainty she felt when all 10 projects she was working on were paused indefinitely. Now, a year later, Johns reported that she is actually twice as busy now as she was pre-pandemic.

"It's slightly problematic because now everyone wants to shoot at the same time," she said, "but it's a good problem to have as opposed to this time last year."

Johns knocked on wood for good measure. You can't blame her, given that a year ago she was wondering how she could afford the rental payments on Hawgfly's studio space. She had to get creative with her revenue stream, like using her laser cutter to make a device for opening doors that she called "Doorasaurus." Now, despite an increase in the building's property tax, in part due to its proximity to the recently opened Q2 Stadium, the studio's business has been steadily rising since fall 2020.

Although production has kicked into overdrive, safety regulations are still stringent. TV and film shoots require frequent testing, PPE, and social distancing even for fully vaccinated crew. "I think I lost track at over 100 COVID tests," Johns said.

The Screen Actors Guild, in collaboration with other entertainment industry unions, promised members that these rigorous preventive measures would be standard practice in their return-to-work agreement, which expired June 30. Johns doesn't expect these new safety protocols to go away anytime soon. "With the full fear that we could get shut down again I think everyone is being extra cautious. We're definitely never going to be the same as we were before."

Hawgfly has a wide range of clients, including Amazon's Panic and AMC's Fear the Walking Dead, and some have been slower to return to work than others, but Johns said she felt hopeful about the near future for the industry as a whole. More established shows were looking to make up for the time they lost last spring, with many of their stalled projects resuming production last fall. Even the Austin indie film scene, which had struggled to find its footing, has experienced a significant uptick in the past few months. "I feel like we're on the rise," Johns said, "I don't know how long it's going to take to get to quote-unquote normal, but I feel like we're moving in the right direction."

Read our original 2020 interview with Meredith Johns here.

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Pandemic Production: One Year Later, Meredith Johns, FX Artist, Hawgfly Studios, Pandemic Production

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