As film and TV production starts to ramp back up across the industry, “Ozark” has planned a start date for shooting its final season.
“We’re going to start November 9,” Jason Bateman said in an interview with IndieWire. “Everything is moving well toward that, and we’re very confident in the guidelines and protocols we’re going to be following. We’ve got tons of consultants, [and] we’re learning a lot from other productions.”
Netflix first announced plans for “Ozark” Season 4 when the streaming giant renewed its hit drama at the end of June. Produced by MRC, the final season will consist of 14 episodes, which Netflix will release in two, seven-episode parts.
“The health and safety of our ‘Ozark’ family is our first priority,” an MRC spokesperson said in a statement. “Our team has approached return to production with a mandate of exceeding guidelines outlined by the CDC, government officials and others; and we expect our protocols to evolve as we learn from the industry and our own productions. As we aim toward a return, we are working with the unions, health officials, our consultants, and Netflix on our COVID safety guidelines and protocols. Upon approvals from our partners and the implementation of safety required in this new environment, we are targeting a November start date.”
Multiple guilds, unions, and experts have offered materials and guidelines meant to help production resume safely, and productions need to submit their own set of safety protocols for approval before shooting resumes. “Ozark” is based outside of Atlanta and, based on the surge in infection rates, Bateman said the team is preparing for the worst case scenario, including positive test results during production.
“I’ll bet you we get a positive [test result] every week down there, so it’s going to be challenging,” he said. “You’re effectively starting up a school, and look at the infections that are starting up at schools down there — they just had to shut a bunch down. [Sometimes] we’ve got 60 or 70 people on stage, [and] sometimes [we’re] in a very small location. You’ve got ad hoc air conditioning tubes and vents going in there, pushing air. Every one of those crew members is going home every night to families that are not having to follow a strict quarantine. […] So chances are high that we’re going to have some virus come through our set — often.”
Film and TV work has been slow to start back up following an industry-wide shutdown earlier this year, and nationwide surges in cases have only further complicated Hollywood’s plans to restart.
“We’re prepared for all of that. It will be disruptive, but these people, we’ve got to get back to work,” Bateman said. “We’re getting it as safe as we possibly can. I want to prepare for the worst but expect the best.”
In the interest of safety, Bateman has decided not to direct the first two episodes of “Ozark” Season 4. Bateman won an Emmy Award in 2019 for his Season 2 direction, and his passion for getting behind the camera helped lead him to “Ozark” in the first place. (He originally wanted to direct every episode of the first season.) He’s directed the initial two entries of every previous season, as well as the final two episodes of Season 1, but it appears unlikely he’ll be able to direct any episodes of “Ozark’s” final run.
“As normal, I was going to do the first two episodes, but as we were looking through the protocols, the guidelines, all the complications with COVID, [and] the producer side of me made me think it’s just not responsible to have one of the actors direct the first two, given that we’re still going to be getting our perimeter safe,” Bateman said. “Because if one of the actors gets sick, we all have to go home for weeks. If one of the crew members gets sick — while I’m making sure their salary is protected while they’re in quarantine — we can hire a replacement. So it just didn’t seem smart for me to [direct] the first two [episodes].”
If Bateman or any of “Ozark’s” series regulars were to get infected, production would come to a standstill until they recovered, which could result in sizable losses for everyone involved. But if he limits his role to acting, he can minimize the risk of a shutdown.
“As an actor, you just sit in your trailer until they’re ready for you, then you come on out, say your words, and go back to your trailer,” he said. “As a director, you’re out there all the time: in pre-production, on location scouts, in production meetings, there are so many more opportunities to get infected. And, obviously, Atlanta is just raging with the virus right now.”
Bateman said similar problems would keep him from directing episodes later in the season, including the series finale.
“We’d have to shut down for me to prep an episode in-season — that’s why I’ve only ever done the first two, with the exception of that first season,” he said. “That’s disruptive for the crew. It’s tough for them. They have to take no salary while I’m prepping and then come back for two episodes, so they potentially miss out on work that might have a longer life.”
“It’s breaking my heart. I love directing that show, but it just didn’t make any sense to start out the season like that,” Bateman said.
“Ozark” Season 3 received 18 Emmy nominations in 2020, tied for the most of any drama series. Per Netflix’s own Top 10 lists as well as third-party analysts, the series has been one of the streamer’s most-watched original programs.