Hollywood’s major unions have released extensive back-to-work guidelines for resuming production amid the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, with a heavy emphasis on testing.
The 36-page report, titled “The Safe Way Forward,” starts by saying, “This document represents what we believe to be a path for employers to provide a safer workplace for their cast and crew members in a pre-vaccine COVID-19 world.”
The report also placed the responsibility for executing the guidelines on production companies: “The Guidelines set forth a detailed set of science-based protocols serving as a path for Employers to uphold their responsibility of providing safe workplaces in a pre-vaccine, Covid-19 world. The Guidelines serve as an essential and necessary element of a return to work for the Unions and Guilds representing film and television casts and crews.”
The protocols require every member of the cast and crew to be tested for COVID-19 before their first day of work, then be subject to regular testing during the course of their work on the production. Performers will be tested at least three times a week. Individuals who work in areas like the production office can be tested less frequently, at a minimum of once a week.
“The Unions and Guilds quickly determined that a comprehensive, mandatory testing regimen would need to be the cornerstone of a safe return to production in a pre-vaccine landscape,” the report said. “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.”
“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,” it continued.
The guidelines also mandate that productions will have to set up four zones on sets to identify where people are allowed to go. 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.
Additionally, a health safety supervisor would be in charge of the testing process, hire and coordinate the necessary COVID-19 medical staff, and be responsible for the overall health and safety for the production. That individual has the authority to pause the production if a breach threatens the health of the cast or crew.
The report was released Friday by the Directors Guild of America, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Basic Crafts, and SAG-AFTRA. It comes less than two weeks after the unions teamed with studios to release another set of guidelines, and contains far more detail.
The report admitted that the practical issues of sourcing the tests, the personnel, and the equipment at any sort of scale will be an enormous task, not to mention the interactions with multiple city and state agencies regarding coordination and waivers.
“Fortunately, our expert consultants believe testing scarcity will be resolved in the near future, which would address the primary question of testing availability,” it said. “Also, this is an industry with a long history of solving logistical problems creatively; why not use those powers to work back from a starting point of maximum safety?”
The guidelines were issued a day after Los Angeles County released extensive regulations for a staged resumption of film and TV production. The rules allow for productions to resume as soon as Friday, although in reality, most are not expected to get underway until July or August.
The county’s rules set out stringent directives for social distancing on sets. It mandates the use of cloth face coverings by cast and crew, orders that only “essential cast and crew” be allowed on set, and advises that actors wash their hands before scenes.
The DGA began developing back-to-work protocols in April, with Steven Soderbergh chairing its safety committee. DGA president Thomas Schlamme saluted the “Contagion” director in a statement.
“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,” Schlamme said. “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.”