Film and TV production will be allowed to resume in California as early as June 12, according to guidelines issued by the state Friday. Like rules for other industries, the OK for work to resume will be given on a county-by-county basis using benchmarks like COVID-19 infection rate. The guidelines give great leeway for the industry to come together to decide on its own specific rules.
The move comes after a false start last month, when the Gov. Gavin Newsom on May 20 announced that he planned to issue the guidelines a few days later. That timeline caught entertainment leaders off guard; many were hard at work as part of industry-wide joint task force to develop its own set of rules, ones written specifically for Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help inform their state regulations.
Newsom’s guidelines seemingly offer a great deal of deference to the industry to self-regulate in a nod to the task force’s work. “To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, productions, cast, crew and other industry workers should abide by safety protocols agreed by labor and management, which may be further enhanced by county public health officers,” the guidelines read.
However, it’s unclear if Los Angeles County will be eligible to begin production June 12. The governor’s OK is just one step toward production resumption; there’s still much for the industry to figure out before the guilds will sanction getting back to work.
Dozens of representatives from major guilds and the studios (via the Association of Movie Producers and TV Producers) drafted a white paper that offers specific safety guidelines for scores of positions and outlines testing rules, hygiene practices, and other recommendations. The industry group sent the white paper to governors in all 50 states.
Producers say one set of rules will help alleviate pressure from individual producers, who would otherwise be tasked with figuring out rules on a production-by-production basis, a role they may not be qualified for or comfortable with. One set of rules could also quell confusion — there are already upwards of 30 different pandemic-era production guidelines in territories around the world.
“It was meant to be a broad set of guidelines, there are still things to be sat down and negotiated and talked about in detail with the unions,” HBO senior VP production Jay Roewe said during a June 3 webinar, “A Guide to the Guidelines: A Discussion of Potential COVID-19 Procedures for Worldwide Physical Production,” which was sponsored by payroll management service Entertainment Partners.
Roewe, who was one of the white-paper contributors, continued: “The next beat now is really for the AMPTP to sit down with the unions directly and get into the minutiae of some of the things that were more broadly discussed in the white paper, such as the testing, sick and paid leave, some of the protocols on the set.”
Indeed, buy-in from SAG-AFTRA is widely seen as a linchpin in any plans to restart production. “Actors are the most vulnerable because they cannot be fully fitted up when we’re shooting,” Lori McCreary, CEO of Revelations Entertainment, told IndieWire last week. “They’re going to be the most vulnerable on set. We want to work hand in hand with SAG-AFTRA.”
Production executives say they’re gearing up to address unprecedented problems that will continue to be a factor for years. Because of that, they say flexibility is key — rules and guidelines will change as more information about coronavirus becomes available and will vary from production to production.
“This could be a three-year thing, not short term,” McCreary said.
Where Tyler Perry’s model involves sequestering cast and crew on his Atlanta-based lot, Amazon Studios scripted production head Ken Lipman told the webinar audience that his company is considering a “hub approach” in which producers will aim to hire cast and crew based in the city where a production is underway. That would allow people to quickly and easily return home if pandemic concerns arise, eliminating the chaos and confusion that plagued sets when the country first shut down.
“A lot of people are still traumatized about how their shows (shut down) in the first place,” he said.
Other possible practices include shortening the length of production days in favor of longer shoots, reducing the number of daily hires in favor of more core crew, and keeping directors on to shoot more episodes to limit the number of people who need to be trained, said April Taylor, co-executive producer of “Billions” Season 5.
Some changes will need to start in the writers room, like writing scripts with fewer story days, while the ability to sanitize and secure a location will be a big factor in choosing where to shoot.