12 changes to Hollywood sets amid COVID-19

Actors doing intimate scenes will have to be tested constantly.

12 changes to Hollywood sets amid COVID-19
James D. Morgan/Getty Images
June 12, 2020, 3:24 PM

More than two months after television and film productions screeched to a halt amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hollywood is officially open again.

June 12 marks the first day production can resume in Los Angeles County, according to a statement from the California Department of Public Health, though each project is "subject to approval by county public health officers within the jurisdictions of operations."

One studio executive told "Good Morning America" that while production is unlikely to begin on day one, it's not unrealistic to think that it could happen within a matter of weeks.

But how will everyone be kept safe? The Industry-Wide Labor Management Safety Committee Task Force, which includes representatives from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the Teamsters, has issued guidelines, called a white paper, for the industry to follow. And on Friday, the group released an additional 37-page manual on how to proceed.

PHOTO: The Hollywood sign sits in the in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles, March 5, 2017.
The Hollywood sign sits in the in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains in Los Angeles, March 5, 2017.
James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Those protocols include:

1. Symptoms should be monitored closely: Cast and crew should be required to engage in symptom monitoring every day with an electronic survey, manual screening and/or temperature spot-checks. Additionally, "weekly testing makes an enormous difference," the organizations wrote in their latest manual, adding that anybody coming off a flight must be tested and cleared before arriving to set. Of course, no cast or crew member should work while sick or while experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and any cast or crew member forced to quarantine will continue to be paid, the guidelines state.

2. Sets should be paperless if possible: The task force advises against the use of paper whenever possible. Electronic scripts and sign-in sheets should be used instead, the task force advised. If a production must use paper scripts, however, each individual should have his or her own copy, and not be expected to share. Whenever shared paperwork is required, such as with an editing binder or blueprint, crew members must be mindful of proper hand hygiene.

3. New roles should be created and a zone system should be implemented: Each production should designate a health safety supervisor, or a COVID-19 compliance officer, as well as a health safety department consisting of a manager and staff. The health safety supervisor will have the authority to shut down production if need be, and the health safety department staff would include a hygiene crew and a security unit. In addition, sets should institute a new zone system. Zone A refers to any perimeter in which activity occurs without physical distancing or the use of personal protective equipment.

"In most cases, this will mean performers working on set with no protection alongside crew," read the latest guidelines. "Zone A is a bubble encasing closely vetted vulnerable people."

Zone B is anywhere else in which production takes place. There, physical distancing practices should be observed and PPE should be worn. Zone C is the outside world. Nobody may enter Zone A or Zone B for the first time without being tested and cleared, and people in Zone A may only come into contact with people in Zone B who are "rigorously practicing social distancing."

"Think of it this way: From door to door, people working in Zone A travel along a cocooned path -- sometimes involving multiple Zone As -- laid out and controlled by people working in Zone B," read the guidelines from June 12.

4. Workdays should become as short as possible: Guidelines stipulate that the duration of workdays should be limited to 10 hours and excessive workdays should be avoided, if possible. In addition, cast and crew should have staggered call and wrap times and visitors to set are prohibited. Anyone on set will be required to wear face coverings and other necessary PPE as their jobs permit.

5. A hotline system should be established: The white paper suggests the creation of a communication or hotline system to allow cast and crew to safely voice concerns anonymously. It also stated that studios are also encouraged to consider bringing on a board-certified infectious diseases physician, or infection preventionist with certification in infection control, to help with development of specific workflows.

6. In-person meetings should be limited: If a meeting can be held via video conference or over the phone, it should be. Virtual writers' rooms should be explored too, according to the white paper.

7. Live audiences are not recommended: Live audiences are discouraged, though they may be used on a case-by-case basis, with rigorous protections in place.

8. Performers should spend as little time on set as possible: Everyone on set will be required to wear appropriate PPE, but on-camera performers, including actors, cannot do so. To keep them safe, contact with others must be kept to the shortest possible time and the number of people with whom they come into contact must be limited, too. That could mean that they work with one makeup artist and one hair stylist, who would work in Zone A. F"Hair, makeup, and costume departments should try to have one member of their department cover the set while the remainder of their crews wait at Cast Base Camp," the June 12 protocols stipulate. "Note that performers should be provided, and use, whatever PPE may be possible under the circumstances, for example, handheld face shields while moving about the set after hair and makeup are done, or when physical distancing cannot be maintained."

They will also travel to and from set in personal or sanitized vehicles.

9. Performers will be subject to increased testing: Performers, especially those involved in intimate or fight scenes, will be tested more than anybody. In the latest guidelines, the task force recommends that studios "consider on-set rapid testing up to one to 12 hours (the shorter the better) prior to intimate scenes, fight/stunt scenes or scenes involving extreme exertion (e.g., dancing) for actors'/performers' security." Zone A personnel should be tested at least three times a week and those working in Zone B should be tested weekly, preferably on Monday or Tuesday.

10. Child actors should adhere to special guidelines: Minors, especially those who are too young to understand physical distancing guidelines, should be kept off premises, if possible. When they are on set, they should only be accompanied by a teacher and one guardian. Virtual school is preferred.

11. Travel will be limited: To cut down on the number of people who must travel, the studio executive said local crews will be used as often as possible. For international travel, cast and crew who must travel will likely be flown first class so as to limit their contact with others on commercial flights. "If traveling by plane, cast and crew members must be tested and cleared within 24 hours of the flight. They will be tested and cleared again before entering Zone B or Zone A for the first time," the new guidelines state.

12. Certain locations are preferable: Productions should prioritize sets that allow for complete control, to maintain high standards of cleanliness. Crowd and street scenes should be minimized when it's not possible to control the flow of people. And of course, attention must be paid to health guidelines and outbreak hotspots.

Related Topics