An open letter to the creative community regarding COVID-19

Surgeons Operating Together In Hospital

Male and female surgeons operating together. Doctors are wearing surgical caps and masks. They are in hospital.

To my fellow creatives:

I need not preface this letter with the current state of how this virus has found a way to affect us all. With anxiety looming, countless jobs in our industry lost, and uncertainty facing each and everyone of us, I felt moved to try and unite everyone who has been dispersed and holed up in their homes (like they should be!) waiting for the storm to pass.

In times like these, as creatives, it’s not uncommon to feel helpless — to feel like what we do is somehow irrelevant when the sky is seemingly falling. But I’m here to tell you that no matter your craft — whether you’re a filmmaker, photographer, artist, actor, musician, dancer or whatever your calling may be — there are ways for us to make an impact together.

How you ask? Well, I’m a filmmaker and storyteller by trade, so let me start with a story of the last time I felt this feeling of helplessness.

I remember my first day in film school. I had gotten into NYU and I was going to learn how to make movies. I felt like I was on top of the world. I moved into an apartment in downtown Manhattan and everything I ever dreamt of had materialized. But it only took 4 days for my world to be turn upside down

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001, my fourth day of college as a film major with my heart set on being making films. It was also the day when the world was shaken and changed forever. I’m sure every American could attest to being glued to the television that entire day, watching breaking news on every channel as the horrific images were replayed over and over and the story developed. Well, there I was, questioning whether I had made the right decision of following my passion and going to film school. I questioned the merit of such a profession, asking myself if this was the right choice, and thought that at a time like this, how was a filmmaker going to help people. I watched, sidelined, as policemen, fire fighters, nurses and doctors were helping the victims of such a tragedy — and I never felt so helpless.

I felt like I had to do something, help somehow, but didn’t know what that something was.

By the end of the night, I had the most uneasy feeling in my stomach. As everyone staying at our apartment retired to their rooms, I was left on the couch by myself, still stuck on the news since it was on every single channel. I decided I couldn’t bear to watch anymore so I grabbed the only DVD that was on the shelf by the TV and stuck it in the DVD player. It was Meet the Parents starring Ben Stiller and Robert Deniro. It was my first time seeing it and I can honestly say that all my worries took a backseat and I really got into the film. I even laughed out loud a couple of times and that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach seemed to vanish. All of a sudden, when the movie ended and the credits rolled, I was jolted back to reality and I found myself back on the couch in that apartment on what was possibly one of the darkest days of my life thus far. It was so surreal and it was then that I realized I had made the right decision. I’ve heard it so many times, but films (and art) really and truly are an escape from reality. For an hour and forty-eight minutes, I was able to laugh and smile during a point when I was a complete and utter mess. It affirmed my decision and erased all of my doubts, and I told myself, this is how I’m going to help people.

That was almost 20 years ago, but I think about it often. I reflect on that fact that being a filmmaker will never compare to being a teacher or a doctor or the everyday heroes of our society, and therefore, it is a privilege to do what we do, so I take immense pride in being able to let people escape into fictional worlds that we create. It’s no wonder that during recessions when morale is low and unemployment is high, history has shown that people still find the time and money to go to the movies and just get away from all the noise around them. Whether it’s for a few minutes or an hour and a half, I can only hope that the work we produce accomplishes the same and that to me will have made it all worth it.

So am I writing this open letter to motivate everyone to go out and make a film in a time when social distancing is recommended? Absolutely not. I share that story because it was the last time I had this feeling of uneasiness and helplessness and as things devolved quickly in the last few weeks, I kept trying to think of ways to make an impact and I was comforted in the power of numbers in our creative community.

To that end, Behind the Masks was born. There is undoubtedly a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (or PPE) for our medical friends who have been battling this virus on the front lines every day without having the proper equipment to protect themselves. It is their tireless work that is fighting this virus head on and it will be them that will find us a way out of this. After some research, I came across some information that shows that we can create DIY masks at home to help supplement the shortage. While nothing can replace the safety of N95 masks and surgical masks, there are some homemade DIY solutions that can help. There have been reports that some medical staff have resorted to making their own masks, while others have been using bandanas or even told to wash their masks to reuse them. This is the equivalent of going to battle with no armor. This is where we come in.

I am calling on everyone in the creative community to come together to make 1 million masks. In a time when we are all dispersed and separated in our own homes, we can come together in a way we have never done before. If you’ve found yourself in the same situation as I have, with jobs going away and the near future looking bleak, join me in making a difference, so that years from now, when we all look back on the Covid-19 era, we can rest easy knowing that we took a stand and did something that matters…safely.

So how are we going to do this? We’ve created a toolkit and video on materials and information you need to make masks at home. This virus has infected our world exponentially. So let us fight back exponentially and use our strength in numbers. Make a mask. Spread the word. And whether you’re able to make 1 or 10 or 1000 masks, we can all share in the pride we’ve created something together. And once we’ve made 1 million masks, we’ll make a million more.

Sincerely,

Kris Mendoza

Executive Producer, Maestro Filmworks

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