By David Robb
UPDATED with more details: Hollywood’s unions released their detailed protocols today for the safe reopening of the film and TV industry – a joint effort by the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and the Teamsters. The 36-page report implements the more general guidelines set forth in a White Paper on reopening that was issued by the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force on June 1. The release of the unions’ report comes just as Los Angeles County has allowed production to resume, starting today.
Like the White Paper, the unions’ protocols stress that testing and social distancing are the keys to a safe reopening. Special precautions – and the establishment of safe zones – are required for working with and around actors, who are most vulnerable because they can’t wear masks or socially distance while they’re performing.
You can see the full report here.
“Safely getting back to our work of storytelling, and reuniting with our creative community is at the top of all our minds. But in these fast-changing times amid such a complicated virus, figuring out how to get that done right was no easy task,” said DGA president Thomas Schlamme. “We knew the only way forward was to consult with leading medical experts and let science guide us to the right approach for our unique work environments. It was only through that Herculean process, and our close coordination with our sister guilds and unions, that we were able to develop the most effective solutions to keep all of our members safe. At the DGA, this was many weeks of hard work and we are eternally indebted to our Covid-19 Safety Committee led by Steven Soderbergh who so intimately understands the complex issues at hand. Through the dedication of everyone involved, we are all that much closer to being able to get back to telling stories together.”
“We’re pleased to share this crucial report which includes meaningful protocols and requirements for a safer return to work,” said SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris. “We commend each of our union and guild partners for their diligence, determination and hard work throughout this collaborative and productive process. The report reflects our shared goal of ensuring the safest possible return to production for all of our members throughout the entertainment and media industry.”
“These steps are key in our efforts to safely reopen the motion picture and television production industry,” said IATSE international president Matt Loeb, “and they would not have been possible without the collaboration between the other guilds and unions. We look forward to continuing to work with the industry and our local unions on getting our members back to work the right way.”
Thomas J. O’Donnell, director of the Teamsters Motion Picture & Theatrical Trade Division, and Steve Dayan, chairman of the of the Hollywood Basic Crafts Unions, said that “On behalf of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Hollywood Basic Crafts Unions, we are grateful for the collective and collaborative process that took place between all of our Sister Guilds and Unions, in developing these guidelines. We will be continuing discussions with our Members and committees to finalize our own internal protocols and procedures that will best support our Members within all of the classifications we represent, in order to bring our Members safely back to work.”
The unions say that their report, titled “The Safe Way Forward,” is “the next major step toward the resumption of film and television production. The guidelines set forth a detailed set of 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 guidelines serve as an essential and necessary element of a return to work for the unions and guilds representing film and television casts and crews.”
The unions said that they worked “in close coordination with one another as they consulted with an array of experts ranging from preeminent epidemiologists and scientists to risk analysts and specialists in public health and occupational health and safety. By delving into up-to-the minute medical expertise, the science of COVID-19 transmission, and the unique risk factors their members would be confronted with in the production environment, the group developed tailored protocols to protect cast and crew. A central focus is the protection of performers, who are among the most vulnerable on set given they are not always able to observe physical distancing or wear personal protective equipment when cameras are rolling.”
Testing, they said, “is the key to the resumption of production,” noting that they “quickly determined that a comprehensive, mandatory testing regimen would need to be the cornerstone of a safe return to production in a pre-vaccine landscape. Without testing, the entire cast and crew would be working in an environment of unknown risk. Confirmed cases would be determined days after people have been shedding the virus – potentially endangering the health of cast and crew members. Moreover, they could lead to the quarantining of others on set, and should those individuals include a key actor or director, to production delays or even a production shutdown. Not to mention the public health implications associated with cast and crew members interacting with the public and going home to their families.”
Testing Frequency and the Zone System
The guidelines lay out that:
· Every member of the cast and crew 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 that 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. A detailed tour of the inner-workings of the Zone system is included in the Guidelines.
New Health and Safety On-Set Positions
To execute testing and the Zone System, the Guidelines require the creation and staffing of two new positions/departments with authority to oversee the production to ensure the Guidelines are being followed, and to take immediate action to correct any unsafe practices or conditions:
· A Health Safety Supervisor (HSS) (referred to in the Industry White Paper as the “Covid-19 Compliance Officer”) would be in charge of the testing process, hire and coordinate the necessary Covid-19 medical staff, and be responsible for related health safety for the production. The HSS has the authority to pause the production in event that a breach threatens the health of the cast or the crew.
· There would also be a Health Safety Department, with a Manager and staff. The Health Safety Unit Manager (HSM) would oversee the execution of HSS directives in conjunction with the directors’ team, and other relevant department heads.
The Zone System
The report says that “the Zone System is the foundation of our safe set strategy. It is step one. All subsequent production decisions regarding safety should be engineered to fit its premise.” It stipulates that production will consist of three Zones: A, B, and C.
Zone A is any perimeter within which activity occurs without physical distancing or the use of PPE. In most cases, this will mean performers working on set with no protection alongside crew. “Zone A is a bubble encasing closely vetted vulnerable people. It can be as small or as large as necessary, can function only for a few hours if need be, and can include controlled points of access between different Zone As. It can also exist within a Zone B – and often will, if the set is on a stage with production offices.”
Zone B is everywhere the production has a footprint that is not Zone A. “Use of PPE and stringent physical distancing practices are observed and enforced within Zone B, with variations and modifications specific to both general filmmaking demands and specific production needs. This could be a production office, base camp, a vehicle, a control room/truck, basically any work space or place that a crew member may be performing work. Again, the goal is that people cleared to work in Zone A only come into contact with people in Zone B who are rigorously practicing physical 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.”
Zone C is the outside world: homes, hotels, wherever people employed in the production go when they’re not working. “No one can be allowed access to Zone A or Zone B for the first time unless they have been tested and cleared within the last 24 hours. The reason is simple: People often begin to shed the virus before they’re symptomatic, and there have been no indications to date an infected person is shedding virus in less than 48 hours from initial virus exposure. (An argument for testing twice is that a false negative test, whether due to inadequate sampling or a technical error, could have devastating effects on a production.) Going forward from that initial test, there are several potential testing scenarios, with varying degrees of risk attached. We have modeled a series of these scenarios, ranging from no testing at all (for those who think such a thing is an option) to testing every day. The risks associated with each of these scenarios are discussed in detail in Part Two, and the modeling shows a clear variance between testing once a week and testing three times a week (the latter being safer). For this reason, Zone A personnel should be tested three times a week at a minimum, with the understanding that certain circumstances may require daily testing (such as performers and crew involved in production of scenes that require close or intimate contact, or extreme exertion, etc.). Turnaround time for testing, which can range from hours to days, will be a key factor in determining when and how often tests are administered.”
People working in Zone B, the report states, “are to be tested at least once a week, preferably on a Monday or Tuesday, but they too will have been tested and cleared prior to entering Zone B for the first time. Again, they adhere to strict physical distancing guidelines and use PPE at all times. Also, no one can be instantly ‘bumped’ from Zone B to be permitted to enter Zone A; they would have to be tested and cleared 24 hours before entering Zone A.
Generally speaking, by staggering tests and tailoring them to each cast and crew member’s work obligations, a sourcing bottleneck and long testing lines at the end of a wrap day can be avoided. 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 report notes that none of this will be easy. “On a practical level, sourcing the tests, the personnel, and the equipment at any sort of scale will be an enormous task, not to mention the interactions with multiple city and state agencies regarding coordination and waivers. Fortunately, our expert consultants believe testing scarcity will be resolved in the near future, which would address the primary question of testing availability. Also, this is an industry with a long history of solving logistical problems creatively; why not use those powers to work back from a starting point of maximum safety?
“Perception will play a significant role in any proposed safety plan, and we cannot be viewed as poaching supplies and personnel from the public sector during a time of perceived testing and resource scarcity. This issue will require continual close attention to ensure the results of our approach are objectively transparent and perception is aligned with reality.
“The volume of testing required will prompt a deeply critical analysis of who really needs to be in Zone A and how often. Think about it this way: who really needs to be within six feet of an unprotected performer as part of a normal workday?
“There are currently several apps available to monitor cast and crew testing status, along with contact tracing capability in the case of a confirmed positive test. Also, we have verified an easy-to-use app could be developed based on factors used to create the models in Part Two to allow each production to assess its risk regarding COVID-19 exposure and test accordingly.
“At present we are recommending nasopharyngeal testing because it is the gold standard for sensitivity. We are nonetheless closely tracking developments in saliva and anterior nares testing for COVID-19. In the event that these less invasive methods are proven to be as reliable as nasopharyngeal testing we would adjust our sampling strategy accordingly.”
The report notes that these protocols will require the creation of a Health and Safety Unit “solely dedicated to their execution. This unit would be supervised by qualified professionals and technicians in the requisite field to ensure compliance and accuracy.”
The unions said that they believe their approach provides “a vigorous set of protections under current conditions to have a safe set. What we are in the dark about is the real-world emotional effect on the cast and crew. Early projects that share information transparently will provide key, live data in a timely, public fashion, so the entire industry can take advantage of the real-world knowledge being accumulated. Of particular value will be contemporaneous how-to postings that illustrate the myriad ways cast and crew are adapting to our new way of working. Success in a safer return to work will also depend on cast and crew being willing and able to engage in good safety practices when at home and in areas throughout Zone C.”
The report notes, however, that it is not a static document and “will likely never be ‘finished.’” The unions said that “We intend for it to be improved by the industry as production resumes,” noting that “all things related to the virus will improve over time – better, faster, cheaper testing, a clear understanding of immunity, a drug that helps fight the virus, etc. The Zone System is a plan to get us started today. With it, we can move forward safely and learn a lot in the process.”
Another section of the report provides a virtual tour through the Zone System, giving specific examples of how this would work and what will be required to make sets safe.
The report’s section on testing for the virus concludes by saying that “Increased testing frequency reduces the risk of acquiring infection on set. Weekly testing makes an enormous difference, taking the risk from it being almost certain that if someone comes to the set with disease, additional cases of COVID-19 will occur on the set to a high chance of avoiding them. Testing every three days reduces the risk further still. Daily testing largely eliminates it. We see the cost and logistics issues associated with testing coming down, to the point where such testing should not be prohibitive, by the time the productions are ready to begin.”
It also notes that community infection and transmission rates “make a big difference. If public health measures are successful, these rates will come down over time, reducing the need for testing; if those measures fail, the opposite will be true.”
More from the protocols issued today:
THE HEALTH SAFETY TEAM
Executing the Zone System, the report says, will require the creation of one new position and one new department – a dedicated Health Safety Supervisor and a Health Safety Department, with a manager and staff.
“The Health Safety Supervisor (HSS) will be the final authority on COVID matters and cannot be overruled in their efforts and activities to enforce COVID-19-related safety practices. In other words, the HSS can hit the pause button on the production. The unions and the employers will work together to create criteria that ensure this key position is filled by individuals with the experience and knowledge commensurate with this high level of responsibility.
“The unions and employers will work jointly to develop and provide industry-specific training for the HSS and the Health Safety Manager (HSM) as well as industry-specific COVID-19 training for workers. This training will include programs to accomplish the necessary training outlined in the Industry White Paper and its addendums.”
The report gives detailed guidelines for all phases of production, including safe procedures for stunts, craft services, location scouting, travel, housing, visual effects and working in production offices. “We understand what a sea change this will be for production. But while films and television shows are important, they do not trump the importance of getting the people who make them safely home to their families or loved ones. As you can see from this document, we are willing to go to great lengths to ensure a safer environment for all of us.”
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