Netflix’s Katla quietly resumes production during coronavirus pandemic
Staff Reporter | On 03, May 2020Reading time: 6 mins
The wheels on the film and TV industry have largely ground to a halt during the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdown. One series, however, has quietly resumed production: Katla, the sci-fi thriller from Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur.
The series is set one year after the violent eruption of the subglacial volcano Katla, with the peace and tranquility of the small town of Vik dramatically disturbed. As people evacuate the area, the ice near the volcano starts to melt. The few remaining people manage to provide necessary community service but strange things start to emerge from the glacier.
The somewhat apocalyptic and sparsely populated setting are all too apt for the current climate, as people socially isolate or socially distance themselves to prevent the coronavirus from being spread. Along with the remote location, though, the nature of the series has actually proven favourable for the production to restart under strict safety measures.
The show has resumed production, after a few weeks’ work pre-shutdown, with a reduced crew that are all socially distancing. The 45,200 square-foot studio being used is in an isolated area that allows people to stay far away from each other inside, with colour-coding used to group teams into specific areas. By having no more than 20 people with the same colour wristband, the team can be segregated into four zones, within which the two-metre distancing is enforced as much as possible.
Testing has been carried out for each person, using a private company that also checks crew temperatures every morning. If a person is caught with a fever, they are tested for the virus. Any cast or crew members who have tested positive have been paid and quarantined for two weeks so they can eventually return to work.
Sanitisation is regularly carried out, and there has reportedly been no transmission of the virus on set so far. Doctors, meanwhile, are on standby for anyone who might need medical attention.
“We’ve caught cases which wouldn’t have been caught,” the director told Deadline in an exclusive interview. “And they didn’t get onto the set so there has been no transmission on set. I better knock on wood now (laughs). But these people would have been walking around and wouldn’t have known, because they didn’t have any symptoms. We quarantined a few people, but they could work from home.”
When it comes to filming scenes, they’ve avoided any containing intimacy and, where actors are required to break the two-metre rule, they do it quickly and – again – under strict testing.
“They’ve all been tested, so it’s very unlikely they are carrying it and as the situation is in the country — it’s less than 135 people with it and new cases are one or two a day — it’s not like we are at a high risk,” he explained. “We do all this and the make-up artist is wearing a mask and gloves and they are tested regularly. It’s done very carefully.”
He added that there was “actually a lot of will” among the team to go back to work.
“We made it clear that if someone wouldn’t want to come back we wouldn’t hold it against them,” he continued.
There is a tough line being taken, though, in the event of people not being cautious enough. Staff have had to sign a waiver that they will follow the quarantine rules put in place – and, if they break them, can be dismissed.
It helps that Iceland is a small place and more controllable than larger countries, with only one major border (the airport), while the nation as a whole has also been testing aggressively. On Monday 4th May, the national guidelines restricting groups to a maximum of 20 people are expected to ease to 50 people.
Either way, Baltasar is confident that the situation that’s been carefully set up is working.
“I honestly believe that you are probably more safe on that set than anywhere else,” he added. “I live with four children so we vary from six to eight at home and you can’t keep them in the house. I think that because of the quarantine and the measures we did on set, it actually became a very safe spot.”
The result is an unusual, perhaps unique, example of how to respond to the current crisis, although is joins a long line of challenging environments in which Baltasar has worked.
“When I was making Everest, I remember saying, let’s bow our head to the mountain and accept what it gives you,” he commented. “You can’t fight nature, you have to respect it and work with it, unafraid.”
Katla: Netflix orders sci-fi thriller from Baltasar Kormákur
10th October 2019
Netflix has ordered Katla, a new sci-fi thriller from award winning Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur.
The beautiful scenery of Iceland is the backdrop of the eight-part series. One year after the violent eruption of the subglacial volcano Katla, the peace and tranquility in the small town of Vik is dramatically disturbed. As people evacuate the area, the ice near the volcano starts to melt. The few remaining people manage to provide necessary community service and despite its grand location the area turns out somewhat apocalyptic. Mysterious elements, that have been deeply frozen into the glacier from prehistoric times, start to emerge from the melting ice and cause consequences no one could have ever foreseen.
“It‘s an exciting challenge to embark on this journey on Katla with Netflix and we‘re honored to be the first Icelandic production team to be commissioned to deliver a full series,” says Kormákur.
“Katla is a unique and ambitious sci-fi project that has been in development within my company, RVK Studios for a few years and we‘re delighted that it now has been picked up by Netflix.”
Tesha Crawford, Director Netflix International Originals Northern Europe, adds: “Iceland has been the home for so many series and films over the years. We are excited to be able to feature its breathtaking surroundings in a story that is so grounded in Icelandic themes. Working with such an acclaimed talent like Baltasar Kormákur makes this project a perfect set up for us.“
Katla is created by Kormákur and writer Sigurjón Kjartansson. The series is written by Sigurjón Kjartansson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Davíð Már Stefánsson and will be produced by RVK Studios. In the last decade, the company has had great success with titles such as Jar City, The Deep, Virgin Mountain and The Oath. The company were also associate producers on Kormákur’s adventure film Everest.
Production on the series will begin next year.