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Private jet trip takes off in Hollywood amid pandemic




When veteran producer Bill Mechanic begins filming his latest film, The Divide, in Australia later this year, he knows he’ll have to charter a private jet to fly his lead actor.

Under normal circumstances, that would be out of the question. Typically, for a budget standalone feature, all of the cast and crew, even the stars, run ads, which is significantly cheaper.

But the Oscar-nominated producer is willing to pay the extra cost to fly the actor (whom he refused to identify) from Los Angeles to Australia to reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak on the tray.

It becomes, even on a tight budget, something you don’t fight because if your stars test positive you will be shut down, said Mechanic, a former Fox and Disney executive who produced the Hacksaw Ridge and Coraline movies. . There is more money lost … not being smart. Some kind of crazy thing.

It’s not just celebrities asking for private flights. Increasingly, requests to use these benefits are coming from a larger group of actors and crews worried about being infected with COVID-19 while traveling on commercial flights, or because the routes Direct have been suspended due to the travel collapse linked to the pandemic. .

Some studios and producers have hesitated over requests for private jet travel at a time when many face additional financial pressure brought on by new security measures designed to prevent outbreaks of the coronavirus.

But, like Mechanic, many are willing to compromise due to the extraordinary circumstances caused by the health crisis.

If a studio allows a star or makeup artist to go to a certain location that requires air travel and the person wants to go, the financier-producer will do whatever they see fit. Then it becomes a negotiation, said Larry Thompson, a veteran Los Angeles-based talent manager, whose clients include William Shatner.

The willingness of studios to make accommodations is a notable change, he said.

There isn’t enough money to hear that on every movie, he says. You don’t hear it now.

Private jets aren’t just used to transport actors and crew.

In August, just months after LA County health officials approved a restart of filming in the area, producers of CBS Network’s procedural SWAT faced a deadline to have the cast tested. and the COVID-19 crew over a weekend to meet their filming schedule.

With only a 48-hour window to get the results and only a lab in Austin, Texas, available to process them on time, the only option was to use a private jet to transport the samples thousands of miles, according to one. person close to the production who was not authorized to comment. None of the cast and crew travel privately for the show, and no one has been transported as part of this unique event, said the person.

Producers are required to have the cast and crew tested under a back-to-work agreement with the entertainment industry unions. Some shows like CBS The Bold and the Beautiful, one of the first major series to resume filming, initially struggled to get reliable processing for hundreds of tests, but more and more labs opened up. since then to offer producers a better choice of services.

Some companies have taken advantage of the growing popularity of private jet travel.

We initially lost a lot of business due to cancellations, but ended up booking more than twice as many flights in 2020, said Richard Zaher, CEO and founder of Paramount Business Jets, a charter broker based in Leesburg, in Virginie, which organizes private jet flights. , including from Los Angeles.

Zaher, 46, estimates that sales have more than doubled in the past year, reaching more than $ 25.5 million in 2020.

He attributes at least part of that to entrepreneurs, businesses and wealthy people who have never robbed privately before, but are now doing so because of the pandemic.

Zaher says the entertainment industry accounts for a small but growing portion of its sales.

In late December, a production company filming a Super Bowl commercial decided to charter a private plane to transport the crew and stars from Los Angeles to Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wisconsin, Zaher said.

People in production houses also think about the safety of their staff, just like everyone else, so yes, we are certainly seeing an increase in demand for this, Zaher said.

A client from the studio wanted to hire a private jet to transport COVID-19 test samples, while another famous client used private jets so his assistant could travel from Los Angeles to visit family in December, a- he added, without naming his clients.

The hourly cost of renting a private jet ranges from $ 2,000 to $ 10,000, Zaher said.

Flying from Van Nuys to Teterboro, NJ, one of the most popular routes costs from $ 26,000 to $ 32,000 one way, depending on the plane, Zaher said. Private flight can cost at least five times as much as commercial flight, he added.

Studios are already suffering billions of dollars in losses due to pandemic-related shutdowns in 2020. COVID-19 means productions may take longer, as working hours are now limited on set under new measures. security agreed with the unions. These also force productions to pay the additional costs for testing and disinfecting assemblies and equipment. This can add $ 1 million to a regular movie budget.

While flying in private may seem like an extravaganza, the downside for a key team member like a director or actor getting COVID-19 is an extremely costly production shutdown, which can result in losses exceeding $ 100,000 per person. day.

Some Hollywood studios own or rent their own jets, which are also used by executives. Stars like Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carrey and John Travolta have theirs.

With big budget movies, requests for private flights are not unusual. Warner Bros. flew Keanu Reeves in a private jet for the filming of Matrix 4 in Berlin last summer, according to a person familiar with the situation who was not authorized to comment. A representative for Reeves declined to comment.

Instead, some producers offer benefits such as the LAX private terminal service. The terminal, on the outskirts of the airport, allows VIPs to check-in for their flight, relax in their own room with access to refreshments and showers, go through security and get to their plane without set foot in a LAX terminal.

An increase in demand from the entertainment industry has created a new layer of revenue for LAX’s Private Suite, frequented by stars such as Gabrielle Union and Jamie Foxx.

Big studios and even the smallest production companies demand purchase of terminals for their production trip, said Amina Belouizdad, co-managing director of PS to LAX. This allows all the talent on the team, film crews, etc. to have our private terminal completely to themselves during commercial flights.

Times editor-in-chief Wendy Lee contributed to this report.

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