The biggest question going around in Hollywood is when things can start again amid the coronavirus outbreak. With so much up in the air and so many people out of work, things are getting desperate. Many people I know are relying on unemployment to pay the bills, but given that a lot of Hollywood people are 1099 employees, that unemployment didn't extend to a lot of us.
Directors like Steven Soderbergh have been trying to help the DGA come up with a safe return plan, but without consistent testing, tracing, and regulations, it has been a free for all.
That's why I was so surprised to hear that Gavin Newsom, governor of California, said production could start as soon as next week.
Newsom recently held a Zoom roundtable with director Ava DuVernay, hairstylist Stacey Morris, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, actor and producer Jon Huertas, and key grip Danny Stephens to get unique perspectives on how they think Hollywood can return.
You can watch the whole conversation below.
California Governor Newsom Says Production Could Restart Next Week
“We’re in realtime drafting guidelines” for specific sectors, including the entertainment industry, said the governor.
We can expect those guidelines to be released on Monday.
Some counties will be allowed to move deeper into the governor’s 4-phase plan for reopening. Newsom made it clear that this includes film and TV production. But it will not likely include Los Angeles.
“It remains a challenging part of the state for us still,” Newsom admitted, referring to things getting started in LA.
The panel all talked about the individual challenges of coming back to work.
“Emotionally, of course, we all want to get back to work,” Huertas said. “But also, the actor is going to be the least protected person on set. We can’t film with PPE on.”
DuVernay observed that sets “are very safe places,” and noted that she is “hopeful” about what the future holds.
But for production to begin again, unions like the grips have to know they are safe. And when they are bidding on productions, they don't want to be penalized or priced out of jobs because they value the safety of Los Angeles crews.
Sarandos said Netflix is spending “$150 million-plus” paying the crews of the shows that are shut down. Which is definitely noble, but it cannot go on like that forever. Netflix is shooting shows all over the world, over 200 of them at the moment, and only some have been able to resume.
With content being king right now, they're desperate to come back.
Newsom’s Chief of Staff, Ann O’Leary, reports that coronavirus cases are still increasing. "It’s not going to be just a switch on,” she said.
It sounds like no one really has a handle on the "How" of it all.
Sure, people want to get back, but I can't imagine the price hike in production insurance for a set in a place where testing is poor and cases keep spiking.
Only time will tell if production truly begins and what the ramifications are when it comes to safety.
What about the future?
On May 25th, the state will issue guidelines to allow film and TV production to begin in some California counties. IndieWire got their hands on a 30-page white paper, an early draft, written by representatives of major guilds (IATSE, DGA, SAG-AFTRA) and the studios (via the Association of Movie Producers and TV Producers) in conjunction with advice from medical professionals.
The idea behind the paper is to give every set moving forward protocol for what's coming next.
A spokesperson for IATSE told IndieWire that, “Many of the things in the report are topics of bargaining and will have to be agreed on in negotiations, but how those occur will be informed by these experts.”
Meaning they hired their own medical professionals to weigh in.
Still, the papers provide specific guidelines for how to move forward.
What did the papers say?
First, the general idea is that every set will have someone there to specifically monitor the situation in regards to COVID-19. “A trained COVID-19 Safety Monitor… This individual should be present on set at all times during work hours [and] will oversee and monitor physical distancing, symptom monitoring, disinfecting protocols, and PPE education.”
Aside from that person, they want crews to take a one-time nasal swab 48-72 hours prior to the start of production. That goes for everyone in the cast too. “If testing supplies or capacity are limited, priority should be given to those who may need to work in close proximity and/or with limited PPE, such as cast, hair/makeup, and costumers.”
Face masks or other PPE are required at all times unless you're an actor in a scene or there is no way you could do your job with one on, like for makeup articles or if it interferes with other safety gear.
Then there are their more stringent recommendations that it does not say they will enforce. Like smaller crews, fewer crowd scenes, and no set visits, no crowds watching sets, and disinfecting all equipment multiple times a day.
Aside from on-set recommendations, there a large focus on forming writers' rooms that meet virtually and limiting in-person contact for everyone else in the industry.
What's not in the report?
Here's where things get tricky.
There is still no limits set on crew size, the hours they can work, or what they do outside of work as well.
While they say employees who are sick should stay home, they don't guarantee them a check or any form of payment.
We also have no idea who will enforce all these policies. Surely the safety monitor cannot do everything. So who does what, and what are the penalties for not complying?
No matter what people theorize, the path forward into production will not be a smooth one. It appears as if the Governor is trying to mitigate risk, but at what cost? There are still massive questions to be answered before anyone can comfortably say they are safe at work.
What do you think of these protocols? Got any suggestions for people going back to work? Let us know in the comments.