It’s been nearly three months since two separate industry guidelines offered a blueprint for COVID-19 protection on film and TV sets. But as production has slowly started ramping up, independent producers have found those rules are just a starting point in safely getting back to work. Those trailblazers have utilized a piecemeal approach, relying on their own ingenuity and word-of-mouth, to figure out the best way forward.
On Monday, the Producers Guild of America released a new 57-page document that seeks to make things easier. “COVID Safety Protocols for Producing Independent Productions” is meant to compliment — and in many cases offer more specificity than — earlier industry guidelines, including the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers’ white paper and the guilds’ “The Safe Way Forward.”
Created by a PGA task force led by former PGA president and Revelations Entertainment CEO Lori McCreary, the new document covers a summary of safety mandates, budget and insurance considerations, and common questions that arise when considering whether to greenlight a project and when to shut it down. While earlier guidelines offered baseline requirements for shooting during the pandemic, the PGA document offers nitty-gritty details gleaned from producers’ on-the-ground experience.
For example, while the earlier guild guidelines introduced the foundational concept of a zoned system, where different groups of cast and crew are kept separate based on the frequency that they are tested, these new guidelines offer more specific recommendations as to how producers can implement that system.
The earlier guidelines offer that Zone A be a bubble that encases performers working on set without social distancing or PPE, along with closely vetted crew who must work in close proximity. All people in that zone must be tested, at minimum, three times a week, with the frequency increasing as much as needed.
The PGA document takes this out of the abstract, and suggests the possibility of creating sub zones within Zones A. Those in Zone A1 can include people who need to be closer than six feet to cast members on or off set when cast are not in PPE, that can include a producer, director, script supervisor, camera operator, dolly grip, boom ops, hair and makeup, costumer, and background actors.
Zone A2 can includes people who need to get close to cast members off set, including hair, makeup, sound, and props crew.
Zone A3 can include people who need access to the current set, but not cast members, such as camera operators, focus pullers, gaffers, lighting technicians, grips, and set dressers.
Additionally, it breaks down some of landscape on testing, including which testing kits are currently accepted by SAG-AFTRA and how exactly testing should be conducted. It also includes extensive breakdowns of exactly what to do when a cast or crew member tests positive.
That kind of tried-and-true knowledge is woven throughout the document, but there’s also a whole section called “Notes From the Field,” which includes suggestions like having grips or the prop department build a plexiglas shield on a rolling platform that can be placed between two people when social distancing is not possible, such as when they look together at a prop or script. Other tips include limiting location moves, avoid day-player hires, and how to prepare for testing specimens that go missing at the lab.
“There has never been a time where I’ve seen producers and the larger industry come together around an issue with such collaboration, endurance, purpose, and, as we all need right now, hope. Our colleagues and fellow PGA members, whose talent for telling stories and making sense of the world has been paused during the pandemic but never extinguished, are eager to return to doing what they love. I and the Task Force are honored that we have the opportunity to help pave the way to work safely while continuing to produce great content,” McCreary said in an official statement.