Can TV & film production resume safely amid a spike in Covid-19 cases?

As California continues to report high numbers of coronavirus cases, the entertainment industry has a daunting challenge: to restart film production with live actors, incurring as little risk as possible.

Reopening certainly isn’t easy, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. Though it’s clear that there will be significant changes, everyone is working towards the same goal of providing a safe and creative environment to continue the art of making movies in the Golden State -- and far beyond.

The rules

There are many vested interests in live film production, including Hollywood’s various unions as well as the city and county of Los Angeles and the state of California. Naturally, they’ve all weighed in with some hefty guidelines. While each has its focus depending on affiliation, here are a few of the highlights included pretty much across the board:

  • Testing, testing, testing. All members of cast and crew will be tested on the first day of production and regularly thereafter. Performers need to be tested a minimum of three times per week.
  • The production company must provide all personal protective equipment (PPE) and infection prevention supplies needed on set, including face coverings, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, gloves, mobile hand washing stations, and other equipment and supplies.
  • Those who exhibit symptoms of Covid-19 cannot return to work until at least three days after their fever has resolved, with a minimum of 10 days absence from the start day of their symptoms. Those who are asymptomatic and test positive cannot return for 10 days.
  • Break rooms and common areas such as make-up, wardrobe, and restrooms must be disinfected on a regular schedule. Within these spaces, the six-foot social distancing rule will be in effect.
  • Craft services can only distribute single-serving packages (meaning no more bowls of M&Ms to put your grubby hands in) and all meals will be staggered or in areas where cast and crew can remain six feet apart.
  • Crew jobs will be in modular workforces that will interact with other departments as little as possible.
  • Covid-19 “safety officers” will be on location at all times to ensure these rules are being enforced.
  • All jobs that do not require a physical presence on set will be shifted to teleconferencing/telecommuting. This likely includes post production jobs such as editing, but it also could mean that meetings of directors, producers, executives, and other department creatives will also likely take place virtually, instead of in production tents or huddled around monitors.

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Baby steps in California, others move forward

Governor Newsom gave the green light for film and television production to resume after June 12. While a smattering of productions took place right away, shoot days are down 96% compared to the second quarter of 2019.

Since it’s still a fluid situation, stops-and-starts are likely to happen for quite some time. Long-time soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” resumed filming on its CBS sound stages after a brief delay due to a rash of false positives. The Michael Bay pandemic-themed thriller “Songbird,” announced production would begin in LA on July 8; SAG-AFTRA then briefly issued a Do Not Work notice, which they rescinded after producers signed the required safety paperwork.

One production, relationship drama “Malcom and Marie” from “Euphoria” creator Sam Levinson has the distinction of being the first to complete a two-week shoot on private property in Carmel, CA; the eco-friendly Caterpillar house on 33 acres of land proved to be enough of a remote, airy situation to allow cast and crew to follow all health directives.

Outside of California, production seems to be a bit further along, with Georgia announcing 75 projects slated for filming in the state. Tyler Perry’s BET drama “Sistas” began filming the week of July 20. New York City has officially entered Phase Four, which will allow groups of up to 50 people to work on a shoot so long as they don’t interfere with hospitals and testing centers. Production is expected to begin ramping up in these regions in August and September.

Countries such as Germany, Latvia, and Iceland resumed filming earlier than the U.S. by using smaller crews, testing, and social distancing; one production touts using a “corona stick” to keep people from getting too close on set.

An opportunity for re-invention

Amid the uncertainty, there is one thing that’s clear: change in the film industry is afoot, with as many jobs as possible being shifted to remote work. This means artists from all departments have the potential to connect and collaborate from anywhere in the world.

Evercast has proven invaluable as a secure collaboration platform, approved by all the major studios and OTT content providers. With fewer people on film sets due to Covid-19 restrictions, it’s become increasingly necessary to enable distanced communication and decision-making. Through Evercast, you can even stream directly from camera in high definition -- with nearly imperceptible lag (using Video Village or DIT cart, for example). So, producers, execs, and even the director can view the live feed and give feedback or live direction in real time from wherever they are.

While it may be a little while before filmmaking will be up to full speed in California, those studios and production companies that embrace remote collaboration and viewing technologies will be poised to succeed when it does.

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