U.K. broadcasters BBC, ITV and Sky, in association with actors’ union Equity, are drafting enhanced guidance around COVID-19 testing and new standards for close contact among actors, Variety has learned.
Equity has confirmed it is working with the broadcasters to update guidelines around increased coronavirus testing and “arrangements for limited interaction within close contact cohorts.” This would allow the resumption of production where close contact is unavoidable.
Variety understands the enhanced guidelines would be part of and complementary to the main British Film Council and British Film Institute-led high-end film and TV production guidelines, released on May 31, as well as the broadcasters’ TV Production Guidance, released on May 18. They come as Equity’s Recorded Media division continues to receive a number of risk assessments for projects scheduled to resume production shortly.
A BBC spokesperson confirmed that the public broadcaster is consulting with Equity and other unions “to ensure we can help the sector get production up and running as safely as possible.”
John Barclay, head of Recorded Media for Equity, told Variety, “The aim is to enable production to recommence quickly and, more importantly, give confidence to the performers that their health and safety is of paramount importance for the industry. Our members are keen to get back to work, but we need a safe working environment.”
It’s believed the reinforced guidelines around testing and close contact come as productions look to resume later this month and into August. While the existing guidelines are exhaustive around a number of different areas, clarity around testing has remained murky, with confusion pervading around how accessible the procedures will be to cast and crews.
In the BFC’s guidelines, for example, testing is vaguely suggested for cast and crew who have been in “close contact” with a suspected case — “If testing proves negative, self-isolation will no longer be required. If testing proves positive, NHS Track and Trace will contact those affected” — but it’s not exactly clear how and when this testing will be made available.
The guidelines also note that whole productions “may be halted for group testing” if a person who has wide contact with cast and crew shows undiagnosed COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19; however, this indicates that testing may only be applied in extreme cases and not proactively.
Similarly, the ‘Cast and Stunts’ section of the guidance is woefully limited in requirements for testing, particularly around intimate scenes. It’s suggested that productions “consider a testing regime for cast and stunt performers if essential close proximity working is required,” but no further detail is provided. The emphasis is instead on avoidance and limitations on intimate scenes, which are essential for many productions.
Elsewhere, in the broadcasters’ TV Production Guidance, testing is not discussed in any great detail at all.
The need to iron out nuances and intricacies around COVID-19 testing comes as the U.K. government prepares to exempt some leading U.S. actors, such as Tom Cruise, and crew from its 14-day travel quarantine to allow Hollywood blockbusters to resume production.
The move follows a conversation between culture secretary Oliver Dowden and Cruise last week about restarting filming on the latest “Mission: Impossible” movie. The exemption will allow “Mission: Impossible 7” – starring and produced by Cruise – to restart filming at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, near London.