Reopening Hollywood: How Zendaya, John David Washington & ‘Euphoria’ Creator Sam Levinson Started & Finished A Secret Movie During The Pandemic
Editors Note: Deadline’s Reopening Hollywood series focuses on the complicated effort to get the industry back on its feet while ensuring the safety of everyone involved. Our goal is to examine numerous sides of the business and provide a forum for leaders in Hollywood who have a vision for how production could safely restart in the era of coronavirus.
EXCLUSIVE: Even though there’s been a couple of notable film productions recently jockeying for the distinction of being the first in the U.S. to go before the cameras following the COVID-19 shutdown, we can tell you first that a brand new Zendaya–John David Washington movie from Euphoria creator Sam Levinson, Malcolm & Marie, has been shooting quietly all along during the pandemic. It has already completed production — arguably the first to do so on the feature film side.
Filming for Malcolm & Marie took place between June 17-July 2 at the Caterpillar House, an environmentally conscious glass architectural marvel in Carmel, CA – all compliant with WGA, DGA and SAG-AFTRA approvals and COVID-19 safety protocols.
While the pic’s logline is largely under wraps, I hear the movie has some echoes of Netflix’s Marriage Story, while resonating a number of social themes that the world is experiencing right now.
On Monday, March 16, Levinson received the call from HBO that Euphoria’s Season 2 had to shut down. I understand that one night during quarantine, Zendaya phoned him and asked if he could write and direct a movie during quarantine. Within six days, Levinson had cracked Malcolm & Marie. When it came to thinking about who could spar with Zendaya, Levinson kept seeing and hearing in his head BlacKkKlansman Golden Globe nominee and Tenet star Washington.
Given the filmmaker and the cast’s focus to tell stories in a safe way during uncertain times, Levinson, his production partner and wife Ashley Levinson (producer of Bombshell, EP of Green Knight, co-EP of Queen & Slim), longtime producer Kevin Turen, Washington and Zendaya took it upon themselves to bankroll Malcolm & Marie during pre-production and production.
Before shooting, Sam Levinson was writing a script for New Regency when Yariv Milchan and Michael Schafer said they wanted to support the financing of Malcolm & Marie and donate their proceeds to charity. Both are EPs on the movie along with Aaron L. Gilbert, Will Greenfield, Washington, Zendaya and Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) the latter of whom is also an investor in Malcolm & Marie. Co-EPs are Katia Washington, Harrison Kreiss, Stuart Manashil and Kenneth Yu.
Turen and Ashley Levinson worked with doctors, lawyers, WGA, DGA and SAG to meet the requirements necessary to go into production. They called a few of their creative collaborators such as Euphoria DP Marcell Rév to shoot, and production designer Michael Grasley.
The production employed a lean crew who wore multiple hats with everyone looking out for each other, i.e., co-EP Kreiss became the default for everything from tracking scripts, stocking craft services and standing in for lighting.
Malcolm & Marie found an ideal location in Feldman Architecture’s Caterpillar House. Not only was it legal to shoot on private property in Monterey County, but the Caterpillar House, on 33 acres of land, I hear, accentuated the emotion and choreography of Levinson’s screenplay while providing privacy for the production and distance from anyone outside the quarantine group.