Hollywood reopening halted by COVID-19 safety concerns

“The Bold and the Beautiful” had been on the air for 33 years without a break until the COVID-19 pandemic forced Hollywood to shut down in March. After local health officials and unions allowed filming to restart on June 17, the show hit another hurdle.

The soap’s producers took multiple precautions: they used dolls and real-life partners of actors as “stunts”, cut the crew by about 20%, and separated the directors with plexiglass in the Television studios. City in Los Angeles. But performing 200 coronavirus tests a week has proven daunting. The first round yielded too many inconclusive results, which made growers nervous about an outbreak.

So they closed again while testing was moved to a new lab, which was able to provide more reliable results, and production resumed two days later.

“It’s been a financial strain,” said the show’s executive producer and head writer, Bradley Bell. “We do everything we can and spare no expense to ensure that we work in a safe environment.”

Four months since the COVID-19 pandemic halted film and TV shoots, Hollywood is struggling to get back to business. Film sets, notorious for being overcrowded and often dirty, have faced a range of challenges, including adhering to testing and other stringent health and safety rules meant to curb new outbreaks, managing sparse neighborhoods welcoming and additional control by the unions.

So far, most filming activity has been limited to small commercials and music videos. But the problems are set to intensify as more than 100 crews for major movies and TV series resume filming on the streets of Los Angeles.

Bradley Bell, executive producer and editor of “The Bold and the Beautiful”.

(Gilles Toucas Photography)

“A lot of people imagined it would be like flipping a switch and everything would turn back on, and it turns out it’s not quite like that,” said Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, COO by SAG-AFTRA. and General Counsel. “But we’re seeing the pace pick up, especially for short-lived productions like commercials, music videos and other productions that only take a few days.”

In recent months, unions and an alliance of major Hollywood studios have worked with LA County health officials to create safety guidelines that would prevent outbreaks on film sets.

“So far we have been able to get cooperation from almost every grower on the safety standards we seek,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “We are talking with different industry employer groups to establish mutually agreed detailed protocols that we believe will become the automatic default for all of these production environments.”

Among other measures, the new rules require COVID-19 security guards on set to enforce security protocols; frequent cleaning of areas and equipment; limited shooting hours; and the creation of zones separating crews who cannot socially distance or wear masks in the course of their work. They will have to be tested every three days while others, who can maintain distance and wear protective gear, would be tested once a week.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland from SAG-AFTRA

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland from SAG-AFTRA

(SAG-AFTRA)

Some productions, however, have struggled to follow the rules.

“Songbird,” a thriller set in 2022 and co-produced by Michael Bay, received a rare not-to-work notice from SAG-AFTRA on July 2. The producers had “not been transparent about their safety protocols,” SAG-AFTRA spokeswoman Pamela Greenwalt said.

The notice meant that none of the union members, including the film’s star, Demi Moore, could take part in planned shoots around Los Angeles. Within 24 hours, the union rescinded the notice after the production was finalized and signed an appropriate safety protocol, a person with knowledge of the production said.

The troubles didn’t end there. The filmmakers planned to film over several days and night in Boyle Heights. Some residents, however, balked at the idea of ​​having a large production in their neighborhood.

“We were just worried about the risk of COVID-19 and the parking situation. Everything is difficult right now and any disruption to your routine is a big deal,” said Sam Cornwall, a 34-year-old photographer who filed a complaint with FilmLA, the nonprofit group that handles filming permits. “No one needs to die for a Michael Bay movie. We have a lot of neighbors at risk.

The complaint became moot when the company moved filming to another location to accommodate a change in storyline.

“Throughout the pre-production process, we have remained in close discussions with the guilds and various Hollywood film groups, and our new production model meets and exceeds all safety guidelines set out not only by SAG, but also by the book. white from LA County Public Health, ‘The Safe Way Forward,’ and FilmLA,” the company said.

Photographer Sam Cornwall at his home in Boyle Heights

Photographer Sam Cornwall at his home in Boyle Heights

(Sam Cornwall)

FilmLA has issued about 350 permits since mid-June and received about three dozen complaint calls. Of the total 54 issues raised, 17 involved illegal productions which were later shut down by the police.

“This is one of our biggest concerns because this unauthorized film activity is likely unaware of or not following these guidelines,” FilmLA President Paul Audley said.

Seven complaints were related to COVID-19, mostly from residents concerned about interaction with crews and safety requirements on set.

The biggest hurdle to getting back to business is testing, Audley said.

“Everyone, not just the film industry, everyone has a problem right now getting tests and getting those test results quickly,” he said. This can lead to delays or cancellations of shoots.

“Courting Mom & Dad,” a family film starring actor Scott Baio, was also called by SAG-AFTRA.

On June 13, the union issued a restraining order for the film, which was filming throughout Los Angeles, because it failed to follow new COVID-19 safety rules, including mask-wearing and distancing. social. The union said it was working with production to resolve the issue. Pure Flix, the film’s producer and distributor, did not respond to requests for comment.

“There are people in the industry with all different viewpoints, including people who question the science behind the protocols or the validity of the pandemic itself,” Crabtree-Ireland said. But the lengthy rules laid down by health officials are designed to prevent outbreaks, even if cast or crew members aren’t sheltering at home or taking precautions, he said. .

Despite the measures, some artists and crew members are concerned about the risk of infection. Bell said not everyone from the original cast and crew of “The Bold and the Beautiful” returned to filming due to concerns about health risks.

Some productions, however, used the new guidelines without issue.

The cast and crew of Focus Features thriller “The Card Counter,” starring Oscar Isaac, returned to Biloxi, Mississippi, this month to wrap up filming which was halted in March after a cast member tested positive for the virus.

This time, all of the cast and crew were tested before they could even attend production meetings, said Ryan McCormick, head of the film’s makeup department.

A production meeting for "The card counter" in Biloxi, Miss.

A production meeting using COVID-19 social distancing safety measures on the set of “The Card Counter” in Biloxi, Miss.

(Ryan McCormick)

The entire crew had their temperatures taken daily, and McCormick was tested again for COVID-19 three days into filming.

She wore a mask, like everyone else on set, and a face shield to make up the main actors. Contact was minimized, with only one person at a time allowed to touch the actors. Hand sanitizer was distributed and there were frequent cleaning reminders, she said.

“I was very worried at first, but felt like they really knew what they were doing and spared no expense to make sure the crew and cast were safe,” said McCormick, a veteran makeup artist based in Salt Lake City. “They took it very seriously. I felt as safe as possible.

Still, a growing concern for growers is the growing number of COVID-19 cases. Los Angeles officials have warned of a new stay-at-home order, which would jeopardize what little filming has begun in the county.

“Everyone is reluctant to start a shoot that could be stopped,” said Sam Nicholson, general manager of Pasadena visual effects company Stargate Studios. “I believe that until we get our new COVID-19 infection rate under control, everyone in the production chain, from studios to producers and directors, to cast and crew, will not ‘will not have the confidence to make substantial commitments to local production.”

Helen D. Jessen