COVID 19 BLOG SERIES:
An In-depth Look at How Production Hubs are Re-Opening
In a perfect world, we would all be able to securely stay at home without the stressors of finances and the constant anxiety of not knowing when the film industry will be fully operational, but that just isn’t our world. Due to the need to make content and strengthen the economy, states and countries are looking for ways to resume filming in a safe and orderly fashion — but what does that look like? Most importantly, as individuals, are we taking enough time to look at the issued guidelines that are affecting us? These are the questions we want to help you answer. This blog is dedicated to giving you a comparison of what several major production hubs and productions are doing to maintain safety and letting you decide for yourself what works for you.
As stated in last week’s blog, Film Connx wants to be a source of valuable information for you and the rest of our community of creatives. Part of that is taking a critical look at our industry and letting you know what the facts are, including the good, the bad and the ugly. Enjoy.
– Film Connx
Georgia was one of the first states to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, thus kickstarting conversation of filming in this tax incentive state. In general, people were hesitant to praise Georgian officials on the timing of its decision to reopen. Cases were only on the rise, there were no real guidelines and no vaccine in sight. However, Governor Kemp decided that the show must go on. Georgia soon released guidelines about what filming would look like for its cast and crew members filming in its state and those guidelines appear to be heavily reliant on the individual.
Our review of “Georgia Best Practices for Film and Television,” indicates that while free COVID-19 training is available through the Georgia Film Academy, this training is not required. However, if the production elects to have a COVID-19 Compliance Officer on set, the guide recommends that they consider enforcing the suggestions mentioned in the guide. In terms of preventative measures, the guide recommends frequent handwashing, personal protective equipment (i.e. goggles, masks, etc.) and avoiding physical contact and touching of one’s own body.
The guide goes into detail regarding how each department should conduct its usual business and addresses recommendations for craft services, however it lacks guidance regarding enforcement. It is no secret that tensions and politics are running high in Georgia regarding COVID-19 safety, specifically whether masks should be mandatory or a matter of personal choice. Against this backdrop, the guide’s “suggestions” feel like a Switzerland approach between free reign and strict precautionary rules. Perhaps this is by design, to avoid ruffling feathers by not taking too strong of a stance on either side. However, most entertainment industry professionals are looking for a strong voice to guide them during this time, and the guide’s open-ending approach for individual productions will do little to ease the minds of the public. This stance may also do too little to hasten the return of in-person productions in the busiest production hub in the US.
However, a few productions are taking the lead and being an example for all in Georgia. Tyler Perry Studios is one such pioneer. It has been reported that T.P.S. has quarantined its cast and crew for two upcoming projects as well as flying cast members to Georgia on Perry’s private jet. In terms of precautions, the team is following
the guidelines provided by the state strictly as well as staying on the 300-acre studio lot. It seems T.P.S. is creating a safe and productive environment for filming during COVID-19, but what can smaller productions with fewer assets do?
Crazy Legs Productions, a smaller sized production house with impressive acclaim, is also at the forefront for filming during COVID-19. It was reported that the production company has spent more than $120,000 on improving its air filtration system, medical crew, and more to get back to business. COO, Scott Thigpen, was quoted as saying that he understands the necessities of the cost. They understand their limits and need reinforcements to create the desired environment. The plan is to start on unscripted work with a cast and crew of less than 10 to adhere to some of the recommended guidelines. They have also said every person will see a set medic and COVID-19 compliance officer every morning then given bracelets to identify who should and shouldn’t be near one another.
Blackhall studios is another example of a Georgia powerhouse taking charge during the pandemic. CEO Ryan Milsap has talked about the need to get production going as it just is no longer feasible to keep things the way they are. Blackhall as a whole has taken several precautions to make their facilities safer. They have invested in air purifiers, touchless appliances, and rooms where cast and crew can self-quarantine or wait when not needed on set. One of the biggest accomplishments for Blackhall is that all throughout the dry spell, they have kept on their 12 staff members on full pay.
Despite the suggestions made by the state, Georgia productions appear to be taking COVID precautions seriously and are actively getting the ball rolling for pandemic shooting. Outside of T.P.S. and Crazy Legs, it was recently announced that Real Housewives of Atlanta has started shooting again and is adhering to strict rules for a successful shooting process. Soon we shall see the results of some of these productions and the successes and challenges that they faced with these new rules.
Until recently, Los Angeles was on the brink of starting its new normal version of the entertainment business during the pandemic. Networks were starting to film productions on shows like The Bachelorette and The Bold and The Beautiful. Even NBC started to allow workers to return to its Universal City hub. However, all of that progress is being re-evaluated amid COVID-19 case spikes.
Before the most recent spike, California was handling pandemic filming impressively well and could even be considered an example of how a state should handle this situation. Its guidelines are much more stringent and extensive than Georgia’s. Firstly, and different from Georgia, a COVID-19 compliance officer is required for every production. Other rules outlined in the lengthy guidebook released by California include full transparency about precautions being taken between productions and SAG-AFTRA. If agreement isn’t reached, SAG-AFTRA could place a “Do Not Work” order on all union workers. Strict rules are also delineated for each department, similar to Georgia’s outline, and multiple COVID tests a week are required for crew members who cannot socially distance.
While some productions are struggling to find a balance with California’s stringent guidelines, Focus Features is currently filming a new feature and going about the production with little to no issue. The cast and crew recently returned to filming after production halted in March due to a cast member testing positive for coronavirus. To resume, everyone was tested before stepping foot onto set. People were also socially distanced, tested daily, sanitized, and more. Several California productions are carefully forging paths to safely go about filming.
Their success proves that while hard, it is possible to have both a safe environment and to create a fully realized film.
New York City:
New York is a special circumstance, as the state itself has been one of the slowest to reopen since it was the epicenter of COVID-19 cases. Most productions have completely halted with no reopening date in sight. However, with the recent news of New York moving into Phase 4, that could soon change.
The NYC film commissioner, Anne del Castillo, recently stated (before the Phase 4 announcement) that August would be a “safe bet” for productions to try to restart, which is so far on par with when this phase’s permits begin, July 27th.
Castillo stated that her office is trying to navigate what productions are able to do based upon the guild and union guidelines, however the vast difference in productions made in the city versus other parts of the state is a complicating factor. NYC film commissions office is keeping a close watch on conditions to assess what is deemed safe as New York moves into this next phase. Phase 1 started with no more than 10 people per production, Phase 2 then moved to accept location permit requests. Phase 3 allowed no more than 25 people on a set. Now, Phase 4 is no more than 50 people with rules that include no interfering with hospitals or COVID-19 testing, no blocking streets, and no filming near restaurants with outdoor seating unless given permission from the restaurant.
Smaller productions are resuming for commercials and pick-ups, but bigger productions are struggling to find their new normal in NYC — surprisingly the opposite effect that we have seen in Georgia and California.
Overall, it seems that New York City is still trying to figure its way through the issue of filming during COVID-19 and the state is really just getting started with its filming resumption plan within the past couple of days. This makes sense considering how densely populated the City is and New York’s strict rules concerning COVID-19 control. One could even ask if it is safer to wait the virus out a little bit longer. It has been shown that New York has seen a slow-down of cases compared to the skyrocketing spikes seen in its Hollywood counterpart California, which has now reset the progress it had made.
Across the border sits another major production hub, Vancouver. Its guidelines for filming look similar to that of the aforementioned states in this blog. Rules like self-served catering, a 2-week quarantine before resuming production, encouraging crews to use their own travel, and limited amounts of
people on set are all found in its recommendations.
One vast difference between Vancouver and its Hollywood counterparts is that there is no ban on gatherings over 50 people when it comes to film productions.
WorkSafeBC has been the guide for filming in Vancouver, and it continues to update its guidelines as recently as July 13th. Similar to California and New York, Vancouver requires a health officer to ensure that the production house is adhering to the rules that they agreed to implement.
Although it is great to see such initiative from Vancouver, the border between the United States and Canada remains closed for non-Canadian citizens. Due to this, some productions like Riverdale, The Flash, and The Good Doctor might find it tricky to return to their homes. More groundwork needs to be done to assess this as well as other production factors, like possibly limiting the number of people on set to prevent a miss-step and causing an outbreak of cases.
It seems the consensus for these major production hubs is that they’re all still trying to figure it out. These times are unprecedented as we know, and the entertainment industry is doing its best to adjust. While bigger studios have more capital to eradicate the chances of spreading COVID-19 among their cast and crews, others are struggling to find their new normal given the restrictions and high costs of such safety precautions.
Over the next three months, we should find out about the outcomes of the productions currently taking place and how they managed to complete their work while also maintaining a six-foot distance at all times. Until then, we listen and trust ourselves to decide what is right for us as industry professionals and what is recommended by the places in which we work and live.