The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award has been a major part of the Academy Awards glitz and glamor since the 1950s. Though it is only given out periodically, it will be given out for the 2021 Oscars and this year longtime business mogul, movie and TV creator and studio owner Tyler Perry is a recipient. Ahead of the major awards ceremony, the longtime producer talked getting back to work in the middle of a pandemic year and how he and institutions like BET made sure families got fed and more.
Tyler Perry notably opened a new studio lot in Atlanta, Georgia in 2019 where both movie and TV productions, including a portion of Black Panther, have found a home. At the time he talked about building practical sets, including real buildings, and having a love for “putting in floor joists” and more. But during the pandemic for a time his new Tyler Perry Studios sat empty until Perry himself figured out ways for his employees to safely get back to work.
It was early in the process of production resuming, and we were without an official blueprint. So with the help of a village of studio staff, medical doctors, epidemiologists, lawyers, union reps, talent and their reps, crew members, insurers, and a lot of other great thinkers, we came up with a comprehensive plan. We called it “Camp Quarantine.” The measures included flying in cast privately, having them test before the flight and upon arrival, testing and quarantining cast and crew upon arrival, and then testing regularly while on set. We also created enough housing on the lot, had a food safety team, a housekeeping staff, and extensive personal protective equipment for everyone in the quarantine bubble.
Speaking with East West Bank ahead of this year’s Oscars ceremony, Tyler Perry detailed the safety plan he and his team worked out in order to begin filming once more in 2020. He said that he personally could have held off on reopening Tyler Perry Studios until a vaccine was available to everyone, but that would have left a lot of his employees out of work. It was incumbent upon the actor and producer, he felt, to figure out a solution.
What ultimately happened was that Tyler Perry Studios reopened. Shows got back to work. But that came at a cost: a monetary cost. Perry admitted that he and BET had to take out additional financing and spent $18 million to make sure that people could get back to work. That’s $18 million in addition to the normal production costs, so keeping the entertainment wheel moving didn't come cheaply.
After speaking with a wide variety of experts, we knew that these extensive measures were what it would take. And yes, it was costly. For our first few productions, it added about $18 million in costs, which BET and I covered. Ultimately you can’t put a price on everyone’s safety, health and wellbeing, so it was worth it.
Tyler Perry has quietly amassed a 330-acre filming location in Atlanta, where, during the pandemic, shows like Sistas, The Oval, Bruh and Ruthless were able to resume production over a period of months. His methods helped to land him front and center as the entertainment industry got back to work, and he's being honored at the 2021 Oscars for that work, as well as for philanthropy work that includes bringing awareness to homeless issues (Perry himself was homeless before he became famous) and donating money to varying organizations, including the NAACP and disaster relief.
The 93rd Academy Awards will air Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET, only on ABC. Ahead of that, be sure to check out the full list of nominees for Best Picture and more.