When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world earlier this year, life came to a screeching halt. Workplaces, restaurants, bars, cinemas all closed off. People didn’t know what to do with themselves.
In the confinement of quarantine and an overabundance of time, the one thing that kept people going (and frankly ‘sane’) is media entertainment.
The audience turned to their movies, TV shows, and Netflix. The importance of art and creative works was realized globally.
But now, almost one year down the line, we’re running out of things to watch. We have binged all our favorite TV shows, and we ask what next?
When would we be able to see new stuff? Would the pandemic allow film and television production to continue?
While the audiences worry about being starved of entertainment, for entertainment workers, this uncertainty comes with monetary concerns. For producers, it comes with investment risks.
The entertainment industry is especially affected by the pandemic as it requires workers to operate in close to intimate settings.
It’s virtually impossible for actors to follow the script and screenplay while adhering to social distancing norms.
Makeup artists can’t do their job without contact. The camera, lighting, and sound crew also have a significant potential of contracting the virus while handling the equipment.
Needless to say, to keep the entertainment industry thriving (or functional at the least), special standard operating procedures were vital.
This is why several Hollywood unions and guilds sat down to put together a line of action to protect their members and determine a ‘safe way forward’ for TV and film production.
Let’s have a look at what lies ahead:
Zone-based production setting
To optimize the creative workplaces for safer production practices, a zone-based system in line with science-backed protocols was developed.
It involved epidemiologists, scientists, risk analysts, and other specialists in making the guidelines specific to the nature of the work of the cast and crew.
It aimed to minimize the spread of the virus, considering the specific intricacies of the production environment.
These guidelines were agreed upon by numerous entertainment guilds and studios including, Directors Guild of America (DGA), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the Basic Crafts, and Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).
Zone A is based around entertainment workers who are at high risk of contracting the virus. It mainly constitutes actors as they can’t wear protective gear or maintain physical distance during performances.
Performers within Zone A and those who’re in close contact with them are subject to stricter testing protocols at least three times a week.
Workers other than the actors are required to wear PPE and observe distancing protocols throughout production.
However, those who’re at work when the actors are not around without protective gear are at a comparatively lower risk. They’re required to get tested two times a week, at least.
Crew members and other workers who don’t work directly on the set must be tested on a fortnightly basis. These could include employees in the production offices, trailers, etc., and are qualified as Zone C.
Many employees of production aren’t required to be on the set and can work remotely. These could include animators, CGI artists, writers, footage editors, and more.
They are characterized as Zone D workers and are supposed to be tested before their first day on the job.
Further safety protocols
To minimize the risk of an outbreak due to misdiagnoses, only gold standard tests of COVID-19 will be accepted. It includes lab-based PCR tests or rapid PCR tests used along with lab-based PCRs.
Antibody and antigen tests are not considered accurate markers of active virus in the patient. So they’re not acceptable in the TV and film production context.
Even a small breach of protocol can lead to an outbreak, and in the worst case, can end up in a production halt.
So it’s vital to ensure that the cast, crew, production team, and the studios adhere to the safety guidelines.
A COVID-19 compliance supervisor will be assigned to each production. The compliance officer or their team member will be present on the set at all times. Entertainment workers on the set will be able to reach out to them during working hours.
Should the compliance team find less than effective measures in practice, they will be able to stop the production and issue a ‘Do Not Work’ notice. It may remain in effect until all ‘Safe Way Forward’ SOPs are followed, and guidelines are adhered to.
Compliance concerns are often related to the cleanliness of the set and equipment, not observing distancing guidelines, not wearing proper protective equipment, or having lax testing procedures.
Quarantine and sick pay
With thousands of employees being made redundant, entertainment workers are concerned about the safety of their jobs and getting paid properly.
It holds especially in the case if they contract the virus. The Safe Way Forward report also caters to employee concerns and uncertainties in such instances.
In case of a positive COVID-19 PCR test, an exhibition of symptoms, or being in contact with a family member who has tested positive, employees are eligible for a 10-day sick leave.
They’ll also receive their pay for the duration of their quarantine.
These are the general guidelines discussed in the industry whitepaper ‘Safe Way forward”. They provide a solid foundation and starting point for resuming entertainment production across the country.
By following these directions, studios, production entities, and entertainment workers can ease back into their normal work lives with minimum risk and maximum safety ensured.
However, different states, guilds, and unions can develop further specific protocols for different areas of TV and film production.
Similarly, as an entertainment payroll service, Revolution is also taking measures to support its clients and production employees in these uncertain times. Learn more here.