California gives television and movie productions the okay to resume

Posted Sunday, June 7, 2020 1:04:45 AM
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After more than two months, soap operas may soon be filming new episodes. The Governor of California has recommended that TV and movie production can resume this month, subject to approval by local health officials. The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of our Lives, General Hospital, and The Young and the Restless all suspended production in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom revealed guidelines that could allow for the resumption of film and television productions within the next week.

"Music, TV and film production may resume in California, recommended no sooner than June 12, 2020, and subject to approval by county public health officers within the jurisdictions of operations following their review of local epidemiological data including cases per 100,000 population, rate of test positivity, and local preparedness to support a health care surge, vulnerable populations, contact tracing and testing," the California Department of Public Health said in a statement by way of the Governor's Office. "To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, productions, cast, crew and other industry workers should abide by safety protocols agreed by labor and management, which may be further enhanced by county public health officers. Back office staff and management should adhere to Office Workspace guidelines published by the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Industrial Relations, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission."

Earlier last week, the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force -- whose members include AMPTP, SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild, IATSE, and the Teamsters -- submitted a 22-page document that offered recommended protocols that would allow production to restart while minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19. That document was submitted to Newsom, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and other state governments across the country.

The recommendations included many procedures that other industries have already adopted: the testing of cast and crew members and daily monitoring for possible symptoms as well as social distancing. Other steps include staggering meal times to avoid large groups of people as well as eliminating open-air and buffet-style meals.

In terms of changes that viewers might see, the document urges that productions adopt measures to "minimize scenes with close contact between performers." That might require revising scripts or using special effects to make it appear that performers are sharing a scene together. It is unclear if soaps would have the necessary budgets to utilize extensive digital effects. Shooting schedules are also expecting to be altered to minimize performers' travel and to film in such a way that interactions are kept between as few cast members as possible. Theoretically, if two performers are scheduled to share multiple scenes together over the course of a week or a month, a show might be urged to film all of those scenes at once, even if it would mean taping episodes non-sequentially. This is a practice that several of the soaps have already adopted.

Other recommended changes that do not necessarily impact soaps involve limiting filming on public streets and minimizing the use of crowds in scenes.

It is unclear if any of the soaps are planning to write the COVID-19 pandemic into their storylines. Doing so might allow storyline to be altered just enough to explain why characters would be social distancing on-screen.

The four daytime soaps have been dark since March due to stay-at-home orders that mandated operations cease. Only Days of our Lives continues to broadcast new episodes due to the series' production schedule. The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless have been airing classic episodes since the end of April. General Hospital will begin its third week of encore episodes this week.

Last month, the producers of The Bold and the Beautiful issued an internal memo stating that they hoped production would resume by the end of June.

None of the soaps has issued a formal statement on a timeline for production to resume or if COVID-19 will be written into the show in any way. Several stars have, however, suggested that it might be impossible for the soaps to not address the pandemic in some way.

As of June 12, the United States has recorded in excess of 2,000,000 cases of coronavirus and there have been more than 116,00 COVID-related deaths.

UPDATE (June 12, 2020): Los Angeles county released its set of workplace rules. Here are some of the additional precautions that will be made.

Health checks will be done on all vendors and employees when they arrive on set. A workplace COVID-19 compliance officer will be established. Procedures will be created for any employee exhibiting coronavirus symptoms or for those who test positive. Film and TV productions must provide periodic testing of all cast and crew, especially those involved in “high risk scenes." Additionally, all employees and visitors will be required to wear cloth face coverings, unless their production activity -- like filming a scene -- does not permit it.

Productions will officially be permitted to resume production starting today.

What do you think of the decision to resume TV production? Are you concerned that the necessary precautions might make it more difficult to film soap operas? Would you be okay with occasional rebroadcasts while soap operas work their way back to normal? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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