My Bumpy Road through “Hollywood” — What Will Be the New Normal?


“Hollywood” is the epicenter of the pandemic in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom has clearly stated this as California looks to reopen cinema/TV production shutdown by the coronavirus pandemic.

In Los Angeles county, the killing has raced past 2,000 dead.

[UPDATE: Today is Friday, June 12, 2020 and California and the County of Los Angeles have opened up cinema/TV production in “Hollywood.” The “Reopening Protocol for Music, Television and Film Production: Appendix J” is now published.

My observations:
Three things that stand out to me about the new COVID-19 guidelines for reopening Hollywood cinema/TV production:

1) #Actors are going to be the losers under many restrictions and even script rewrites to write them out, while most crew will be highly in demand as more are needed to properly and safely shoot a production.

2) #Soundstages are going to be overwhelmed and hard to book because they are the easiest way for all the backlog of production that will flood the industry to meet the guidelines. The controlled environments of soundstages are far more suitable for the guidelines than the chaos of location shooting.

3) #Indiefilm is dead, or at least not even on life support, as the guidelines are a tremendous burden on low-budget nonunion production (which, for instance, rely on practical location shooting and rarely can afford soundstages). There will likely be no insurance, bonding, or investing in indie films until the new normal of vaccinations arrives, which will be years.

I have appended to the end of this blog post my synopsis of what I understand are the COVID-19 rules that apply to actors.]


Personally, I have been trying to gather local, national, and international proposed guidelines for the new workplace of cinema/TV production. It’s a mess. One great value Gov. Newsom can bring to this industry will be a set of uniform, coordinated guidelines.

The biggest challenge is what to do with the talent in front of the camera. Most stories cannot be told without expressive, often attractive, actors interacting closely and even intimately.

Hollywood production values are very high, which is why the public loves Hollywood movies. The audience may be shifting, as it gets adjusted to “stay at home” TV. SNL and late night shows and music competition shows have quickly found ways to increase the production values of stay-at-home broadcasting (such as, USE A DECENT MICROPHONE, DAMMIT) and the public seems to enjoy being along for the ride. If this is a sea change in public acceptance of new production values, that might give Hollywood some leeway in how to work with actors.

Unfortunately, that leeway is most likely to cripple background actors (“extras”), who, especially in crowd scenes, are likely to be replaced by computer-generated crowds and stock footage. Many non-union background actors, usually employed after a certain number of union background actors are first called up, may likely never work again.

On the other hand, all crew categories are likely to expand. With suggestions of parallel “pods” of crews — having duplicate camera, grip, gaffer, etc. crews isolated from each other) means a boom for crew.

Post-production, too, is likely to boom. A lot of post-production is lonely work, and can often be done anywhere, which includes work-from-home. Using VFX to routinely create crowd scenes, for instance, should mean more post-production work.

Even feeding cast and crew will require restaurant-style teams and servings instead of the now-common large open buffet lines.

And trying to keep people a safe six or more feet apart is going to initially create havoc for the very tight production set environment. Requiring double the current space for any working set is possible.

Coronavirus teams will also be needed, a brand new category added to budgets, especially the new world of sanitizing everything.

And nobody knows what the insurance and completion bond industries will do. Nor do we know what will calm the fears of skittish investors.

All of this is a killer for budgets by today’s standard. Budgeting itself will require probably twice the work and new, unproven parameters.

This is what large-scale studio productions will face.

Low-budget indie productions, with their small teams, lack of money, and cast and crew doing multiple jobs, will face incredible challenges. They can’t have duplicate crew pods and new teams of virus fighters. They rely on far-flung practical locations that present unique challenges for virus sanitation, including issues of safe transportation and rental equipment.

The consideration for smaller productions — ten or fewer crew has been suggested as a cutoff — must have unique problem-solving ingenuity or the indie film industry will die.

Of course, the whole goal is to make sure nobody dies or gets sick from or spreads this virus. This is the greatest safety challenge for the entire cinema/TV production industry in the past century.

We will find our new normal. The State of California is a proper resource to bring together all of the various proposals and interests, along with science and medicine, to establish uniform guidelines.

APPENDED:

#ACTORS:

Any prolonged physical contact such as fight scenes or sex scenes is discouraged.

Actors are mandated to keep as silent as possible to avoid spreading droplets through talking.

Actors who cannot wear face coverings during performances should keep eight feet apart.

Actors should apply their own makeup.

All scripts should be shared digitally or individually assigned to each worker.

Actors should not sign waivers releasing productions of liability for COVID-19 infection.

Actors in high risk scenes that require close contact without masks for an extended period of time will be periodically tested.

Date, time and participants in all production sessions must be recorded to allow for contact tracing.

All shared clothing, wigs, prosthetics and equipment must be disinfected before reuse.

Actors must wash and sanitize their hands before each scene and not touch their face.

Breaks must be staggered to allow for social distancing, and they must be frequent to allow for hand washing

Eating is prohibited anywhere beyond designated areas to ensure cast and crew wear masks as much as possible.

Filming must occur between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m

Actors should stay on location during filming even during breaks.

Hands-on assistance with wardrobe, hair and makeup only provided when actors cannot do it themselves.

Actors must sanitize their hands before each hands-on styling or wardrobe session.

Actors should stay as silent as possible during the application of makeup.

Actors must sanitize their hands before eating.

Any food brought in by actors must be labeled and not shared.

Breaks are to be staggered to assure actors can maintain six feet distance in break areas.

Actors must reduce the sharing of hand props.

Actors’ representatives must adhere to the same policies

Only essential actors should be on or near the set at any time.

Actors using elevators are limited to only the capacity that allows six foot distancing between riders; some allowance for up to four actors per elevator if too small for six foot separation.

Actors will need appointments to approach costuming and other shops.

Actors must wear cloth face covering at all times and wash their masks daily.

Minor Actors may be accompanied by up to two adults and must stay with the adults who must supervise them.

Actors should bring their own common props and costumes in order to avoid sharing.

Actor auditions should be preformed remotely.

In-person auditions cannot be “open call,” no sharing of scripts, actors waiting for their audition must be in open areas with six feet of distancing.

BACKGROUND ACTORS (#EXTRAS):

Crowd scenes are discouraged.

Paid staff will serve as audience members for talk shows, sitcoms, etc.

Audience members must be six feet apart and limited to 25% of the available space.

Only the same group of employees should be used as the audience members throughout a production.

Background actors should stay on location during filming even during breaks.

Eating is prohibited anywhere beyond designated areas to ensure background actors wear masks as much as possible.

Date, time and participants in all production sessions must be recorded to allow for contact tracing.

Hands-on assistance with wardrobe, hair and makeup only provided when background actors cannot do it themselves.

Background actors must sanitize their hands before each hands-on styling or wardrobe session.

Background actors must sanitize their hands before eating.

Any food brought in by background actors must be labeled and not shared.

Breaks are to be staggered to assure background actors can maintain six feet distance in break areas.

Background Actors’ representatives must adhere to the same policies.

Only essential background actors should be on or near the set at any time.

Background Actors using elevators are limited to only the capacity that allows six foot distancing between riders; some allowance for up to four actors per elevator if too small for six foot separation.

Background Actors will need appointments to approach costuming and other shops.

Actors must wear cloth face covering at all times and wash their masks daily.

Minor Background Actors may be accompanied by up to two adults and must stay with the adults who must supervise them.

Background Actors should bring their own common props and costumes in order to avoid sharing.]

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