Starting June 12, Hollywood can resume film and TV production, California governor Gavin Newsom announced over the weekend. While shoots are still subject to approval by public health officials, this opens the door for the entertainment industry to get back to work after the coronavirus pandemic forced a three-month hiatus.
Hollywood's labor unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers joined forces to release a white paper last week, outlining their recommendations for how to safely resume film and TV production.
While all of the group's recommendations may not necessarily be implemented, the white paper is seen as an important step toward restarting the film and TV industries. Many of the new filming protocols meant to reduce the risk of transmission could last long after the pandemic recedes, creating a new normal for moviemaking worldwide.
"Certain activities such as fight scenes or intimate scenes increase the risk of transmission," the white paper reads. "When maintaining physical distancing is not possible ... contact must be kept to the shortest amount of time possible."
The task force recommends productions "consider measures to minimize scenes with close contact between performers," such as by changing scripts or using more digital effects. Scenes viewers once took completely for granted may no longer be possible—at least, not how we're used to seeing them.
The white paper mentions the use of live studio audiences during filming is "discouraged," but does not outright suggest a ban on them. It says some may be allowed on a case-by-case basis with social distancing, mandatory mask use, symptom screening of audience members upon entry, and physical barriers between the audience and the cast and crew.
The use of paper should be minimized "whenever possible" and alternatives like electronic scripts "should be explored," according to the document. If paper scripts are completely unavoidable, the task force recommends they be assigned to specific individuals, clearly labeled, and "not shared between others."
In an effort to reduce the risk of transmission and keep cast and crew sane, the task force wants to limit the duration of work days and use fewer consecutive work days.
The International Cinematographers Guild released its own set of guidelines, which also stress the importance of shorter work days. "Workplace practices that compromise the health and immune systems of employees and contribute to vulnerability and illness of employees should be eliminated," the document says. The cinematographers also recommend extending rest periods "to ensure cast and crew remain healthy and receive adequate rest."
As a result of shorter work days, film and TV shoots could be forced to run over a longer period of time. A two-week shoot could stretch into a month. A monthlong shoot could stretch to several months. Longer production schedules could also put a strain on actors' and filmmakers' availability and studios' budgets.
New safety guidelines on film sets will likely hardest hit the craftspeople whose jobs require they work closely with actors: costume designers, makeup artists, and hairstylists. The task force acknowledged that some of their work simply "may not be possible while maintaining physical distancing from others."
Productions may have to prioritize costumes actors can put on themselves. Complicated period costumes—like a corset, for example—may have to be altered so that performers can wear them without anyone's assistance.
Every set could soon have its own designated Covid-19 "compliance officer" who works across all departments to ensure guidelines are being followed and "to address issues as they arise."
Several Hollywood studio executives told Variety they expect productions to cost a lot more in a post-Covid world than they used to. The additional equipment, new personnel, higher insurance premiums, and increased reliance on visual effects and other technologies as substitutes for in-person filming will all add to the costs of a shoot.
The obvious conclusion is that more expensive productions could hurt independent production companies who already struggle to finance film and TV shoots.