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Filmmaker taps rent-a-celeb app Cameo to make touching flick during lockdown

Lindsay Lohan, Gary Busey, Jon Lovitz and others share uplifting messages in Ben Berman's timely short that explores the need for human connection.

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For his short film The Follow-Up, Ben Berman contacted a number of celebrities through the online service Cameo. 

Video screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Like many creatives, filmmaker Ben Berman is happiest when he's creating. The coronavirus pandemic -- in that pesky, disruptive way it has -- has put a bit of a wrench in that. 

"How do we make projects ... when we're alone and not allowed to get a crew together and go outside and film and rent locations? It's a question for anyone who is a storyteller or a filmmaker," Berman tells me. "It's like, what do we now?" 

For Berman, the answer is The Follow-Up, a short film he made from quarantine at home in Los Angeles. It touches on experiences all too familiar in these unprecedented times -- uncertainty, confusion, fear and the quest for connection amid social distancing and sheltering in place.  

For the five-minute film, on Vimeo now, Berman finds that connection through Cameo, an online service that lets users order personalized video messages from celebrities including actors, comedians, reality TV personalities, musicians and sports figures for anywhere from $5 up to $1,200 and beyond.  

Jon Lovitz, Lindsay Lohan, Gary Busey, Paulie Shore and Flava Flav are among those who offer Berman uplifting video messages that appear on screen interspersed with images of graphs showing mounting COVID-19 infection rates and jarring headlines about self-quarantines and market crashes.     

"This is just a little blip on the map of life, you know?" former Saturday Night Live cast member Chris Kattan says in a message that follows a series of doomsday newscasts.  

Berman calls his film The Follow-Up because in addition to dealing with coronavirus anxiety, he's been going through career angst. He made a successful documentary last year, The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, and he's wondering if he'll be able to follow his debut feature with another win.   

"I question if I'm a one-hit wonder, if I had my heyday," he says. "Have I peaked?"

Singer Mark McGrath is among those offering earnest encouragement when Berman tells him via Cameo that "I feel washed up. Any advice?" Says McGrath, "I think good things are coming your way, my friend." 

There's something mildly poignant about seeing celebs who may be asking similar questions about their own careers sharing the kind of messages they've probably needed to hear themselves at one point or another. And doing it from their living room and bedrooms, locked down like the rest of us. 

"I'm even working from home right now," Lohan says. "But we all have to stick together and get back to our normal lives as soon as we can."  

"We all have to stick together." That's a message people everywhere could probably use right about now. 

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