As Major League Baseball's 2022 season heads into the home stretch, let’s look through the COVID lens at this remarkable fantasy/sports film and see how the coronavirus would have affected production on 1989’s “Field of Dreams.”
In our article on “Three Men and a Baby,” we said that you needed to look no further to see how the movie industry has changed. Well, that statement is perhaps even more true with “Field of Dreams.”
There is no chance this movie gets made today. This is a meditative film about a corn farmer, Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), who hears voices and sees visions that tell him to build a baseball field on his property.
If that is not odd enough, the voices and visions continue until the ghosts of former baseball players materialize from his corn fields. Then, Ray travels halfway across America to recruit a retired writer along with the time-traveling ghost of a now-dead, former-baseball-player turned small-town-doctor. After all the travel and fielding and clue solving, it ends with (SPOILER ALERT) Ray playing catch with the twenty-something ghost of his own father.
Field of Dreams
As hard as it might be to believe, a major Hollywood studio greenlit this film back in 1988. Based on the book “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella, “Field of Dreams” stars Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones, and the late Ray Liotta. It was written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson and filmed primarily on location in Dubuque County Iowa during the summer of 1988.
“Field of Dreams” went on to gross $84.4 million (a whopping $211 million today) on a budget of $15 million ($37.5 million in 2022). It was voted one of the most inspiring films ever made and the 6th best fantasy film of all time by AFI. The line “if you build it, he will come” was voted the 39th best line in film history. “Field of Dreams” was included in the National Film Registry in 2017.
Let’s take a closer look at “Field of Dreams” with an eye toward COVID-19 safety. To do so, we will break it down into three sections:
- If You Build It: Elements that are COVID-19 Safe
- Ease His Pain: Elements that are COVID-19 Risks
- Go the Distance: Strategies to Increase Safety
This article is designed to help you better understand COVID-19 safety by illustrating how pandemic guidelines would have affected the filming of “Field of Dreams.” Let’s begin by looking at the ways this film is already safe.
If You Build It: Elements That Are COVID-19 Safe
When Phil Alden Robinson began production in back in 1988, he was not thinking about COVID-19 safety. Yet, some aspects of the film are relatively safe from a pandemic safety perspective.
We want to highlight three areas that will help keep any set safe from COVID-19:
- Small Cast
- Small Scenes
- The Sport of Baseball
Let’s look at each of these and see how they can make things safer.
Despite the large scope of the film – redemption after death and through time – the cast size is relatively small. There are only eight major speaking roles. That is downright tiny for a film with such an outsized cultural legacy.
By choosing such an intimate story to turn into a film, Robinson and company made a movie that decreases the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak. When we limit our major cast members to single digits, we can keep the number of people required on set to a manageable number and limit the ability of COVID-19 to spread.
Not only are there not many major characters, but most of the scenes in the movie are between just 2-4 people. Whether it is Ray and his wife Annie, Ray and Terrance Mann, Ray and Shoeless Joe, or Ray and his family, “Field of Dreams” is a movie with very few large scenes.
This focus on small scenes allows production to go even further in their ability to limit COVID-19’s ability to spread. The smaller the scene, generally, the safer it is in a pandemic.
Even when the scenes get bigger, many of them are still rather safe because of the innate safety of baseball.
The Sport of Baseball
As we covered in our article on “Bull Durham,” baseball is a rather pandemic safe sport. Players are far apart from one another and stay that way for the majority of the game. Baseball’s safety is even greater when it is played on a homemade diamond like the one in “Field of Dreams.”
This is not a stadium with a large seating area or with professional dugouts. The titular field of dreams is small and intimate, like the movie itself. The players can remain distant in the absence of a true dugout and the lack of a crowd keeps the population of the baseball scenes low.
The small cast and small scenes coupled with the considerable safety of a homemade baseball field; “Field of Dreams” established a solid pandemic safety foundation. But there are several aspects that present some risks. Let’s take a look at those.
Ease His Pain: Elements That Are COVID-19 Risks
There are a few aspects to “Field of Dreams” that could be safer. We want to highlight three areas:
- Town Hall Meeting: The town hall meeting where Amy Madigan’s Annie confronts a book-banning local is a large scene in a small space. This creates issues of air flow and ventilation that could lead to a COVID-19 outbreak.
- Fenway Park: Ray takes Terrance Mann to a Red Sox game and sits in a rather crowded section of the stadium. This puts our lead actors in close proximity to extras (two of whom are a young Matt Damon and Ben Affleck). This proximity puts two of our most important actors at a higher risk of infection.
- Scheduling: The town hall meeting was the very first day of shooting. As we have pointed out many times in this series, when large scenes are scheduled first, you run a much greater risk of an outbreak delaying your production.
As risk managers and COVID-19 production safety experts, however, we do have strategies to mitigate these risks.
Go the Distance: Strategies to Increase Safety
At Epitome, we advise our clients to on-board risk managers during pre-production and “Field of Dreams” is a great example why. The decisions of where to shoot and when are usually made long before the production arrives on location. This is especially true on movies, like this one, that are filmed far from the confines of Hollywood.
We begin our risk assessment with a script risk analysis. This allows us to identify the safety issues that are inherent to the story before any major decisions are made. In the case of “Field of Dreams” we would have identified both the town hall scene and the Fenway scene as high risk for COVID-19 transmission.
To help the production avoid unnecessary risks in those scenes, we would ask a few strategic questions. Such as:
- Can Annie read about the Terrance Mann book banning in the paper over breakfast? The important element of this moment in the film is that Ray connects Terrance Mann to the voice he is hearing. By making it an article in the local paper, we can still witness Annie’s gumption and get Ray on the right plot path without exposing our two leads to a large crowd of extras.
- Can Ray and Terrance sit in the nosebleed seats far from everyone else at Fenway? Ray purchases last minute tickets, the likelihood that he would have great seats is slim. By sitting him and Terrance in a sparsely populated section of the stadium, we can keep our leads isolated from the extras.
- Can we schedule the large scenes for the end of the shoot? We would, as always, advise the production team to schedule any large scenes, especially large indoor scenes, for the end of production. This allows the production to get the majority of the film in the can before entering into these riskier scenes.
By opening up a dialog with the creative team, we hope to help them see safer options and keep their production free of an outbreak.
People Will Come: Final Thoughts
Few films have the universal appeal of “Field of Dreams.” Even in countries that don’t play baseball, “Field of Dreams” was a major hit and remains one to this day.
When you look at the story, however, you can see why it is loved by so many. This is a story about second chances and forgiveness and those are universal themes.
It is also a beautifully shot and wonderfully acted fantasy film that tugs at the heart strings without tipping into maudlin or saccharine territory.
If we had to shoot “Field of Dreams” in the middle of the pandemic, we would keep the cast and scenes small and embrace the innate safety of a homemade baseball field. We would also flag a few larger scenes during pre-production and help the creative team devise safe ways to shoot them. With a little imagination, “Field of Dreams” can become even safer.
When Costner signed on to play Ray Kinsella back in 1988, he had no idea – as none of us would – that one day, this intimate film would spark a throwback Major League Baseball game.
But, here were are. It just helps to prove the magic of the movie itself: “If you build it, they will come.”
(Photo Credits: Universal Pictures)
Epitome Risk is a Woman-Owned, Veteran-Run, U.S.-Based risk management company, specializing in risk management and COVID-19 safety support for tv & film productions. Epitome Risk works together with the film unions, insurers, studios, and production companies to make every project as safe as possible.
DISCLAIMER: This information should not be considered comprehensive and is not a substitute for hiring risk management professionals and personnel trained in COVID-19-specific procedures. Please consult with your insurance company, your investors, all applicable union reps, and health and safety professionals before starting production in a pandemic.