Hollywood Unions Release COVID-19 Safety Guidelines for Film, TV Production

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County both said that production could resume Friday

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Hollywood’s unions and guilds as part of the industry-wide safety committee, including the Directors Guild, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, have jointly released their COVID-19 safety guidelines that will provide a framework for how Hollywood can resume film and TV production, with a large focus on the protection of performers.

The report, titled “The Safe Way Forward,” is the next step following the white paper that the unions jointly sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Shortly thereafter, Newsom gave approval for film and TV production to resume in the state on June 12, and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health also permitted production to resume on the same date.

The white paper offered a foundation for states to resume production and also provided guidance employers must follow to provide a safe working environment, but it noted that specific protocols would be up to the unions and guilds, and the unions and guilds have now reached that agreement on more specific protocols relative to individual areas of production.

The guilds coordinated with epidemiologists, scientists, risk analysts and other specialists in making the guidelines specific to cast and crew. And a big focus of the report is the protection of performers, who are among the most vulnerable on set and aren’t always able to wear protective personal equipment or observe physical distancing while cameras are rolling.

The new report states that every member of the cast and crew must be tested for active COVID-19 infection before the first day of work and they will be subject to additional testing regularly as production resumes, with performers specifically expected to be tested a minimum of three times per week, as well as those they come in close contact with. Others working in the production office can be tested less frequently, but at a minimum once a week.

Access to testing will be key to resuming production before a vaccine can become available, and that “without testing, the entire cast and crew would be working in an environment of unknown risk.”

“Confirmed cases would be determined days after people have been shedding the virus – potentially endangering the health of cast and crew members,” a release announcing the report said. “Moreover, they could lead to the quarantining of others on set, and should those individuals include a key actor or director, to production delays or even a production shutdown. Not to mention the public health implications associated with cast and crew members interacting with the public and going home to their families.”

The guidelines also state that productions will have to implement a specialized “Zone” system identifying where people are allowed to go on set. The barriers and zones will be determined by an individual’s proximity to cast, their level of testing, how much PPE they’re wearing and the extent to which physical distancing can be observed while working.

“Cast and those with whom they come into frequent contact would be grouped in Zone A, while other individuals on set would be grouped in Zone B. The Zone system is the structure and foundation around which all on-set Covid-19 safety decisions should be engineered. A detailed tour of the inner-workings of the Zone system is included in the Guidelines,” the release reads.

The guilds are also requiring the creation of two new positions or departments who have the authority to make sure the guidelines are being followed and to take immediate action to correct unsafe practices.

First, a Health Safety Supervisor, or HSS (referred to in the Industry White Paper as the “Covid-19 Compliance Officer”), would be in charge of the testing process, hiring and coordinating the necessary COVID-19 medical staff and be responsible for related health safety for the production. The HSS even has the authority to pause the production in the event that a breach threatens the health of the cast or the crew.

There would also be a Health Safety Department with a manager and staff. The Health Safety Unit Manager (HSM) would oversee the execution of HSS directives in conjunction with the directors’ team, and other relevant department heads.

The full set of guidelines, and a listing of the experts consulted by the Unions and Guilds, can be found here. The document will be updated with further specific safety protocols from IATSE locals, SAG-AFTRA, Teamsters and the Basic Craft Unions as they are developed.

“Safely getting back to our work of storytelling, and reuniting with our creative community is at the top of all our minds. But in these fast-changing times amid such a complicated virus, figuring out how to get that done right was no easy task,” Thomas Schlamme, Directors Guild of America president, said in a statement. “We knew the only way forward was to consult with leading medical experts and let science guide us to the right approach for our unique work environments. It was only through that Herculean process, and our close coordination with our sister guilds and unions, that we were able to develop the most effective solutions to keep all of our members safe. At the DGA, this was many weeks of hard work and we are eternally indebted to our Covid-19 Safety Committee led by Steven Soderbergh who so intimately understands the complex issues at hand. Through the dedication of everyone involved, we are all that much closer to being able to get back to telling stories together.”

“We’re pleased to share this crucial report which includes meaningful protocols and requirements for a safer return to work. We commend each of our union and guild partners for their diligence, determination and hard work throughout this collaborative and productive process. The report reflects our shared goal of ensuring the safest possible return to production for all of our members throughout the entertainment and media industry,” Gabrielle Carteris, president, Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, said in a statement.

“These steps are key in our efforts to safely reopen the Motion Picture and Television Production Industry, and they would not have been possible without the collaboration between the other guilds and unions. We look forward to continuing to work with the industry and our local unions on getting our members back to work the right way,” Matthew D. Loeb, international president, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, said in a statement.

“On behalf of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Hollywood Basic Crafts Unions, we are grateful for the collective and collaborative process that took place between all of our Sister Guilds and Unions, in developing these guidelines. We will be continuing discussions with our Members and committees to finalize our own internal protocols and procedures that will best support our Members within all of the classifications we represent, in order to bring our Members safely back to work,” Thomas J. O’Donnell, director, Teamsters Motion Picture & Theatrical Trade Division and Steve Dayan, chairman of the Hollywood Basic Crafts Unions, said in a joint statement.

Studios however will also have to tailor both general and craft-specific guidelines to their particular productions, which could require adjustments depending on the scenes involved, so it does not necessarily mean that filming will immediately resume across the board, as TheWrap reported on Tuesday.

Studio executives have told TheWrap that shooting on studio soundstages is more likely to resume quicker than productions that are filmed on-location due to greater control over the filming environment. These soundstage productions include television productions such as lower-budget dramas, sitcoms, game shows and late-night talk shows, the latter of which will have to be filmed without a studio audience.

Among the general safety guidelines advised by the industry white paper include regular temperature checks of all cast and crew, isolation of all staff except when needed for essential duties on set, and mandatory safety training for all employees. Implementing these costs is expected to increase both production budgets and insurance costs by up to 20%.