Hollywood’s largest studios and unions have come to terms on a tentative short-term deal to relax some of the COVID safety protocols that were put in place last year to allow movie and TV production to resume.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and four unions — DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and Teamsters — confirmed late Monday that they have reached an agreement on adjustments that will be in effect through Sept. 30. The new pact allows the studios to make it mandatory for all those on a given set to be vaccinated, to decrease the rate of regular COVID testing and to loosen mask mandates in outdoor settings.
“The modifications center on workplace practices for fully vaccinated cast and crew, including changes to outdoor masking requirements and updated mealtime protocols. Producers will also have the option to implement mandatory vaccination policies for casts and crew in Zone A on a production-by-production basis. Additional changes, such as adjustments to testing frequency, are included for certain areas in the United States and Canada where COVID-19 incidence is, and remains, very low,” the sides said in a joint statement.
According to the rules implemented last year, “Zone A” refers to clusters that are created on sets of cast and crew members who have to work together in close quarters with no social distancing or personal protective equipment.
Negotiations between the AMPTP companies and the unions have been going on and off for months. The need to adjust lensing protocols amid the deep threat of the pandemic raised touchy issues especially for IATSE members and below-the-line unions who feared studios would use the public health threat to slash on-set staff requirements.
COVID safety rules for production were enacted in September 2020 after lengthy negotiations. Hollywood has had its share of productions shut down due to COVID positive tests since then but for the most part, work on movies and TV series has resumed, albeit with safety precautions that add a significant budget expense.
Productions based in Southern California had been looking forward to the prospect of looser mandates until the post-July 4 surge in the region prompted Los Angeles County to reinstate its indoor mask mandate. Across the pond in the U.K., production on Season 2 of Netflix’s “Bridgerton” and HBO’s “House of the Dragon” were shuttered in recent days because of positive COVID tests.