While COVID-19 has sidetracked many an enterprise around the world, the film and television industry has continued to evolve and thrive – thus creating career opportunities for some young aspiring filmmakers.
Just ask Toronto Film School graduate Andrew Di Pardo, for whom the pandemic recently opened up a professional door.
“I was hired during pre-production in September, so I’ve been a full-time Set Monitor for a few months now,” Di Pardo said of working on the Atlanta set of The Resident, whose fourth season is set to premiere on Jan. 12, 2021.
“It’s a brand-new department. Basically, it’s under the health and safety bracket for COVID prevention. There are 10 of us, and it’s our job to make sure everyone’s following all the proper guidelines from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).”
While the Toronto native is a prolific filmmaker with no less than 24 indie directing credits to his name, Di Pardo said The Resident is by far the largest set he’s ever worked on – an experience he’s taking advantage of by soaking up as much knowledge as he can.
“Right now, I’m just taking everything in. No role on a set is ever too small,” he said of the experience.
“Even though I’ve directed, I would be perfectly okay with doing Production Assistant work or any of that sort of thing, because you could always learn a lot from it.”
Working on The Resident, Di Pardo routinely works 12-hour days, five days a week to help ensure the health and safety of everyone on set – from the director, to the actors, to the crew.
“COVID has changed things on set a lot. Everyone who’s around the actors has to wear a mask and face shield, and every 15 minutes we have to do a deep clean of the set,” he explained, noting that everything and everyone has to stop every time that 15-minute buzzer goes off.
Many of those on set – himself included – also have to be tested for COVID-19 as often as three times a week to ensure the set remains coronavirus-free.
Despite the long days and extra precautions, Di Pardo said the experience has been both an enjoyable and an educational one.
“It’s a lot of fun. I like the job and I’m okay with long hours,” he said. “The people are great and everyone been really welcoming to the set. Even some of the actors have taken the time to remember our names…It’s a really good experience.”
An aspiring filmmaker since the tender age of 12, when he wrote his first screenplay, Di Pardo was still a teen when he pitched his first series idea to the studio behind the ’80s police drama, Cagney & Lacey, in 2012.
While the deal ultimately fell through, it sparked in Di Pardo and his cousin a desire to start making short films – and over the following few years, the pair wrote, directed and starred in 14 short indie films.
The most successful of those films was Deep Trouble, which was accepted into two film festivals in 2015 and nominated for three awards – one of them being the Best Director nod for Di Pardo from the North Carolina Film Awards.
It was following that experience, during his last year of high school, that Di Pardo decided to hone his screenwriting skills even further at Toronto Film School.
“I was in Grade 12 and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. I just knew I didn’t really want to do a four-year program,” he explained.
“I wanted to do something that was quick and would give me the opportunity to move to the States with something that would boost my resume a little bit.”
That’s when Di Pardo came across the Toronto Film School website and discovered the 18-month School’s Writing for Film & Television program.
Designed to replicate writing rooms, Toronto Film School’s screenwriting classes are taught by a faculty of renowned industry professionals who guide students in the art of how to pitch, write, produce and edit for all formats of film and television.
Di Pardo said he learned the most in classes that were taught by Program Director Adam Till – the Canadian Comedy Award-winning writer of Leo and creator and writer of the Gemini Award-winning comedy series, Billable Hours.
It was also at Toronto Film School that Di Pardo made connections with classmate collaborators – namely fellow Writing grad Gilbert Laberge, with whom he co-wrote and co-produced two of his latest short films, Violators and Decades Apart.
Considered by Di Pardo to be his best film to date, Decades Apart tells the tale of Diane and Nathan, who build a connection that transcends the laws of time and space, thanks to a temporal anomaly.
The film was selected for both the Social Distance Film Festival and North Carolina Film Award, where it was nominated for Best Short Film and Best Director in a Short Narrative. Its upcoming theatrical release in Las Vegas, Nevada was delayed due to COVID-19.
Di Pardo also has another new project – a three-minute short entitled Flavio that he wrote, directed, acted in and produced alongside his father during their early COVID-19 quarantine days. He plans to release it on YouTube in January 2021.
In the meantime, Di Pardo said he’s happy to be working on the set of The Resident while working towards his ultimate goal of joining the Directors Guild.
“I’m looking at the next few years as an opportunity to build more experience on the union side of things,” he said.
“In the next five years, I wouldn’t mind working as an Assistant Director on a TV show or movie. I’m trying to stay within the directing department long-term, but for the short term, I’m okay with working in any aspect of the film industry.”