California takes steps to safely restart film industry
June 17, 2020
LOS ANGELES: California is gearing up to enter the third stage of Governor Gavin Newsome’s four-stage plan to reopen the state after the lockdown measures imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). As the business capital of the film and TV industry, Hollywood is wondering when and how productions will resume.
Arab News spoke with Colleen Bell, executive director of the California Film Commission, who is in charge of overseeing the industry’s permitting, training, and tax incentives. She is working alongside Governor Newsome and public health officials to answer that question.
“There’s so much production that takes place here in the state of California, and between one minute and the next it was completely shuttered. It’s a unique set of circumstances,” Bell said.
She estimated that, between the major studios in Southern California, indie production companies and ancillary businesses, the number of entertainment industry jobs impacted by the shutdown is in the hundreds of thousands.
“There are a lot of people who are out of work, without paychecks. They’ve got bills to pay and family to take care of,” she said. “Resuming production activity here in the state will be an important part of the overall economic recovery.”
Before filming can resume however, officials need to determine how to ensure the safety of the workforce. This is important both for individual health and to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks.
According to Bell, multiple groups are working to determine what the new protocols and health guidelines will be, either in conjunction with each other or separately. In addition to the governor’s office, the Film Commission and public health officials, many other groups have a vested interest in production safely restarting. These include studio executives, independent producers, workers’ unions and insurance specialists.
“It’s down to the public health officials who are analyzing data all day, every day. They will make recommendations in terms of timing — when they feel that things can slowly open up in terms of production activity,” Bell said. “They’ll be looking at guidelines and protocols that have been suggested by experts who work in production.”
Bell identified two major problems that these groups have encountered in drafting the guidelines to reopening.
“Filming typically takes place in an intimate environment with cast and crew working closely together with tight deadlines,” she said of the first issue. “Sets are relatively controlled environments, but they can often be tightly populated.”
A former film producer, Bell recalled days spent in sets and offices the size of a trailer, working alongside numerous other people — a prime breeding ground for a virus to spread. In circumstances such as these, changes must be made to allow room for social distancing and to create backup safety measures.
The second problem complicates matters further. Unlike other businesses priming to reopen, such as gyms or restaurants where the basic layout and conditions are the same from location to location, film and TV sets lack consistency. Conditions can vary wildly from production to production, making it difficult to create a uniform set of protocols.
“You’ve got small facility productions, large soundstage productions, location shoots. There are so many different environments,” said Bell. “I don’t believe it’ll be one-size-fits all for every production.”
Bell was able to outline a few ideas, however, that could be applied to most film sets, the first of which was in regards to onset catering. Traditionally, many tables were open air, allowing for any cast and crew member to handle the food.
“I’m not sure that they were so healthy to begin with,” Bell said of the serving practices.
Another idea being discussed was that of restricting access to various parts of the set and workspace. Limiting where specific workers are allowed would help to create a controlled environment and allow for more consistent social distancing.
The final potential new health and safety practice was limiting cross-contamination by assigning each crew member his or her own set of tools. As these and other guidelines are put into place, Bell sees an industry-wide opportunity for improvement.
“This forced set of circumstances pushed a focus on safety and health on sets,” she said. “I imagine there will be some really good takeaways after this pandemic that will continue to be included in day-to-day production activity.”
With theaters planning to reopen worldwide in July, the entertainment industry is taking steps to end the COVID-19 shutdown. While Bell could not provide a specific timeline for when production would resume, she gave her assurances that the California Film Commission was working tirelessly to help ensure that actors, directors and designers could return to their film sets in the safest way possible.