California state officials are busy drafting guidelines that will allow film and TV production to restart amid the pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday. They’ll be issued Monday and, like guidance around restaurants reopening, will be tied to metrics on a county-by-county basis — so don’t expect production to resume in coronavirus epicenter Los Angeles just yet.
“The biggest hurdle that we have is this regional problem we have in regard to Los Angeles,” said Ann O’Leary, Newsom’s chief of staff. “We have increasing cases in the LA area, so because of that we are going to have some delays in the Los Angeles region. I just want to be honest about that. We are working really hard with LA County … I don’t want to say it’s going to be a ‘switch on’ as quickly as it will be in other areas.”
When it comes to reopening the economy, California’s approach has been to issue guidelines sector-by-sector and give the OK for applying rules on a county-by-county basis. Newsom said that 53 of the state’s 58 counties are eligible to move ahead on reopening their economies, but before that they need to meet other criteria tied to numbers of coronavirus tests, hospital capacity, and ability to address community spread of COVD-19.
As the state recorded its highest-ever number of daily coronavirus-related fatalities Wednesday, 132, officials in the state epicenter of Los Angeles County said they hope to reopen more of the economy by July 4. While the exact details are unclear at this point, that could potentially be the date when LA can resume production.
Newsom said the state will begin distributing masks to the industry in the coming days. There are currently 70 million surgical masks in the state’s inventory, a number that’s growing daily.
Newsom and O’Leary assembled a group of industry leaders on Zoom Wednesday in order to gather input into their ongoing drafting of production regulations. They’ve also tapped the expertise of an enormous economic task force, which includes industry members like Netflix’s Ted Sarandos, NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell, Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger, and IATSE VP Thom Davis.
Government OK is one thing, but the restart of production will also require coordination and agreement by studios and the industry’s powerful unions and guilds.
Danny Stephens, a grip with Local 80, said on the Zoom call that he’s concerned about productions moving to other locations that may have softer rules or looser union restrictions.
Hair stylist Stacey Morris said the East and West coast locals of the Make-Up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild are coordinating to create a unified set of rules that aims to prevent just that. Her work is among the most difficult to do while social distancing.
“You can’t social distance and do hair and makeup,” she said. “When they’re wearing masks, they can’t get makeup applied … to me, if we’re returning to work and there’s a need for a hazmat suit, it’s not time to go back to work.”
Sarandos said Netflix has encountered a wide range of rules and regulations in countries where production has restarted. In Sweden, there’s a mandatory, two-week quarantine leading up to production and then ongoing isolation during shoots. In South Korea, any crew member showing symptoms is tested and production is shut down until the results come in.
Sarandos said rules must consider the different dynamics on various types of sets. A documentary with a tiny crew and a few subjects, for example, should not be treated the same as a film with a large crowd scene and hundreds of extras.
Ava DuVernay said she’s confident leaders will work together to come up with rules that maintain health and safety on set, like finding new ways to have fewer people congregating on set. For his part, Stephens said grips will be able to use technology to achieve this, but he said change needs to come from the top — these first productions to restart will need to be ones with scripts that allow for such protocols to be followed.