Hollywood is returning to work. As production starts to ramp back up, the next two months are looking to be especially busy, with projects that would normally November and December bumping heads with shows that are looking to come back online after an eight-month hiatus. The COVID-19 compliance officers who are required on every set will help keep cast and crew as safe as possible, but productions need to keep other important factors in mind. Here, gleaned from the Hollywood Professional Association Industry Recovery Task Force’s latest virtual town hall, are specific steps industry pros say will help keep sets safe and secure while we all wait for a vaccine.
- Make sure your COVID safety officer has a background in the industry. Look for a COVID safety officer with production savvy along with the requisite medical experience and health-care training, warned Kurt Miner, COO of Entertainment Safety Company, which advises insurance companies and Hollywood studios on safety issues. “We’re asked so many questions about so many different things that you also need to have a background in the industry,” Miner said, noting that it’s easy to underestimate the rigorous safety requirements on a film production, like the number of people who can be allowed in a van or a make-up trailer at any given time. “When you have to feed 200 people with social distancing, that requires [a space] almost the size of a football field.”
- Be prepared to actually enforce safety measures. If you’ve left your home during the pandemic, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that not everyone is taking COVID-19 seriously or observing proper safety protocols. It’s no different on a movie set. Miner stressed that producers have to be prepared to do whatever it takes to control the behavior of their crew. “On two different productions, we’ve had to let people go,” he said. “Their own department came to me and filed a formal complaint against that person, and production had to let them go. That’s how seriously the productions were taking it.”
- Beware of false positives. A lot hangs in the balance when it comes to accurately testing for COVID. Just ask Olivia Wilde, whose upcoming thriller Don’t Worry Darling just became the latest project to suspend for 14 days after detecting a COVID case on the production. According to Dr. Paul Varghese, the head of health informatics at Verily, something called the real-time pulmonary chain reaction (RTPCR) test is the “gold standard” for detecting the presence of COVID-19. But because it takes a minimum of 24 hours to run the tests, some have been gravitating toward rapid antigen tests that deliver results within 15 minutes. The trade-off, he warned, is that rapid antigen tests are less accurate, leading to false positives. “You need to do some confirmation,” he said. “We recommend that if you have a positive [antigen] test, you should follow it up with a (RT)PCR.”
- Consider committing to shorter shooting days. Lori McCreary, the CEO of Revelations Entertainment who chars the PGA’s Production Safety Task Force, emphasized that producers may have to make certain compromises to ensure a safer set. For instance, she said it’s important to “allow everyone to clear out every two hours” so that stages, sets and production offices can be thoroughly vented through HEPA filters—and also so that people simply have a few moments to remove their masks. What’s more, she said, the PGA is recommending a 10-hour shooting day. “Epidemiologists are telling us that 16–18-hour days are not good for anyone’s health or immune system,” she said. “If we all commit to it and get it going, it will be really great. I’m hoping that sticks—at least maximum 12-hour days.
- Take care of staff who are working from home. Cathy Repola, national executive director of the Motion Picture Editors Guild, noted that while a lot of her union’s members are currently working at home, not all of them are completely happy about the situation. She said it’s important that productions make sure their people are being treated equitably. “The employer has an obligation to provide equipment to employees,” she said, adding that workers should be reimbursed for necessary business expenses and provided a fair rental fee if they use their own equipment for work. “I don’t know how long people are going to continue to work remotely and whether their might be some residual desire to continue to do that, even after COVID is handled . . . . Hopefully there will be a new normal with shortened workdays and not such insane expectations.”