While the U.K. is set to shed the last of its pandemic restrictions — including the requirement to self-isolate if testing positive for COVID-19 — the film and TV industry will continue to abide by COVID protocols for now, Variety has confirmed.
Part of the reason for this is because the end to pandemic restrictions will not be universally implemented across all four nations of the U.K. While the rules on self-isolation lift in England and Northern Ireland from Thursday (Feb. 24), in Scotland and Wales it remains enshrined in law that anyone testing positive for COVID-19 must self-isolate.
The British Film Commission (BFC) says that while it plans to update its “Working Safely During COVID-19 in Film and High-end TV Drama Production” from Thursday to incorporate the changes to self-isolation rules, it will include the government’s guidance that anyone testing positive in England and Northern Ireland is still “advised” to self-isolate, avoiding contact with others for at least five days and testing negative twice in two days.
The BFC intends to consult with the U.K.’s COVID-19 Physical Production Working Group on the changes set out in the government’s “Living With COVID-19” plan but until then will not be making any changes beyond updating its guidance to reflect current regulations.
“The British Film Commission will in due course consult with our COVID-19 Physical Production Working Group on Government’s ‘Living with Covid-19’ plan in relation to the ‘Working Safely During COVID-19 in Film and High-end TV Drama Production’ guidance,” Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the BFC and Film London, said. “In the immediate term, the guidance will be updated to reflect the changes to self-isolation requirements in parts of the U.K.”
John McVay, chief executive of producers’ group Pact, also told Variety that no changes will be made to on-set COVID protocols until there has been more government guidance, including from the governments of Scotland and Wales.
“We along with everyone else are waiting for the specific government guidelines to be published,” McVay said. “All of our previous and current protocols are based on these and we also have to take into account the fact that the four nations of the U.K. have different guidelines. So while things may change substantially in England they will be different in other parts of the U.K. which in the medium term is not sustainable. Industry will be working with all U.K. governments to produce appropriate production protocols as soon as we can. When we have more info we will publish. As you can appreciate, all of this is happening at speed.”
The Producers Guild of Great Britain (PGGB) has advised its members to continue following the BFC’s guidance as well as checking with insurers around what COVID protocols need to be in place lest they risk jeapordizing their insurance.
“Whilst we recognise that COVID measures have added around 15% (sometimes more) to production budgets, the cost of not having them in place was far greater,” PGGB CEO Lyndsay Duthie told Variety, suggesting that members “proceed with caution as we move through this next stage.” The need for on-set COVID supervisors, Duthie said, “will not be going away anytime soon.”
“As we have throughout the pandemic, film and high-end television production will closely follow the British Film Commission’s guidelines,” added Duthie. “These have been integral to keeping production moving forwards with great success and above all safely.”
“Many productions are choosing to keep all existing protocols in place ([including] masks/testing) for the health of their teams and as a duty of care to those that may be more vulnerable.”
As Duthie points out, however, if full COVID protocols are to be kept in place indefinitely, “who picks up the costs here needs to be defined.”
Producer Alex Boden, who is also the PGGB chair, told Variety, “We are in pre-production on a U.S. studio series production in the U.K. and still picking up positive cases weekly. So until this changes, we will continue to adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines, following the updates, as they continue to be eased, in line with the updated COVID-19 guidance from the BFC and the U.S. unions. The safety of all of each and every crew member remains our priority.”
Bianca Gavin, head of scripted production at Pulse Films, adds that there are also union agreements to consider in regard to protocols. “At a time when U.K. government restrictions are lifting, we will still always prioritise the health and safety of our personnel first and foremost,” Gavin told Variety. “However the uncertainty our industry is facing with regards insurance and protocols has added further pressures on production companies seeking to plan ahead. After overcoming covid disruptions on ‘Gangs of London’ season 2, we are celebrating moving into post-production, where we can end close contact work on set and financial risk decreases significantly. Peers working on production with SAG or DGA talent have to adhere to union protocols in the U.K. and so are navigating a more cumbersome road that is in stark contrast to the life everyone is leading outside of the work place.”
“We have been advised to follow a risk-based approach with regards to isolation rules on production currently, and continue to follow the BFC guidelines,” Gavin, who also serves as a board member of the PGGB, added. “I can anticipate this will continue and conventions will adapt over time. The uncertainty we face makes planning for other projects we have set to move in to pre-production in coming months challenging. The hope is that insurance for key talent is finally going to become a reality later in the year. Not being able to rely on the PRS scheme or clear protocols means that for some projects we may not be clear on who will shoulder the risk of disruptions ahead, and what our work force will agree constitutes a safe work place. And of course how much budget is needed to service this uncertain future.”
A spokesperson for Netflix also confirmed that while it is “reviewing” the government’s changing legislation, the studio currently has no plans to dispense with COVID protocols. “We are of course aware of changing government legislation, and we are reviewing, but will stick with our current protocols for the immediate future,” a spokesperson told Variety. “The safety of our cast and crew remains our priority.”