The new guidance from the California Department of Public Health states that TV, film and music productions in the state could resume on June 12, “subject to approval by county public health officers within the jurisdictions of operations.” But SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris says that doesn’t mean it will be business as usual on set.
“The government may say things are open but whether they’re open or not we had to make sure that there was a structure that would be safe,” Carteris explains.
SAG-AFTRA joined the Directors Guild of America (DGA), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the Basic Crafts to create guidelines on COVID-19 safety in the workplace. It’s called The Safe Way Forward and it details science-based protocols serving as a path for employers to uphold their responsibility of providing safe workplaces in a pre-vaccine, COVID-19 world.
“The goal is to make sure that we would be protected as we re-enter and go back into work.”
How they plan to do that is a multi-layered approach to making sets safer by starting frequent cast and crew testing and a Zone System.
The guidelines lay out that:
- Every member of the cast and crew will be tested for active COVID-19 infection before their first day of work to ensure they are not shedding the virus. Cast and crew members will then be subject to regular testing protocols during the course of their work on the production.
- Given that performers are uniquely vulnerable for the reasons described above, the guidelines require a higher testing frequency of at least three times a week at minimum for them as well as those with whom they come into close contact.
- Individuals who work in areas like the production office – where physical distancing and PPE can be utilized – can be tested less frequently, at a minimum of once a week. Other variables impacting testing frequency include the prevalence of the virus in a given community, and the rate that the infection is being spread.
In order to ensure these different sections of the production environment are tightly controlled, the guidelines require the implementation of a specialized “Zone” system laying out barriers within which those on set can flow based on proximity to cast, level of testing, PPE and the extent to which physical distancing can be observed in the performance of their work. Cast and those with whom they come into frequent contact would be grouped in Zone A, while other individuals on set would be grouped in Zone B. The Zone system is the structure and foundation around which all on-set COVID-19 safety decisions should be engineered.
The guidelines require hiring a new position for a Health and Safety Supervisor and Health Department specifically geared toward COVID-19 compliance. Carteris says this is just the beginning of a foundation that will allow the entertainment industry to get back to work. She says there may be some changes along the way as they test out these guidelines and learn from practical use on set. And ultimately, even with these guidelines in place, it will still take some time for the industry to be fully up and running again.
“I think a lot of this is going to be defined by people’s willingness to work. Some people want to get right back and others are saying ‘I’m not ready.’ Carteris says. “And we have to respect that. People have to feel empowered to make their own personal choices.”
You can read the full guidelines on the SAG-AFTRA website, here.