As Los Angeles Lifts Stay-at-Home Order, Studios Keep Up Production

Los Angeles Downtown Buildings
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

The Dodger Stadium COVID-19 testing and vaccination site on Jan. 19 in downtown Los Angeles.

More than a dozen projects from studios like Warner Bros., Disney, Universal and CBS are resuming shooting or planning to do so in February.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted regional stay-at-home orders across California on Jan. 25, one sector that didn’t see much impact was the entertainment industry, which has been allowed to keep working under its essential status. In fact, the major studios fully intended to move forward with resuming production in Los Angeles after extending their holiday hiatuses to mid-January.

They did this at the request of the L.A. County Department of Public Health and leading unions, including SAG-AFTRA and the Producers Guild, which recommended filming be paused until the city’s COVID-19 surge eased. On Jan. 11, director Barbara Ferrer wrote a letter addressed to her “music, TV and film production colleagues” thanking them for taking a longer hiatus.

“I wanted to offer my sincere thanks to so many of you who have done so much to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19 in your industry,” Ferrer wrote. “Productions have canceled or delayed work on scenes and performances that have innately higher risk. We have learned of productions cancelling travel, moving work outdoors, shortening sessions, closely assessing and improving ventilation, cancelling use of choirs or other group singing, and many more steps.”

With more than a dozen projects from studios like Warner Bros., Disney, Universal and CBS resuming shooting or planning to do so in February, industry sources are quick to point out that the request to halt filming was a recommendation and not a mandate.

“In a continued adherence with federal, state, and local guidelines, production decisions are being made on a case-by-case basis by teams that are closely monitoring the environment and determining what is safe and responsible for their workers,” said a spokesperson for the Motion Picture Association, the organization that represents the major studios. “Productions continue to follow the strict, industry-wide health and safety protocols that have resulted in one of the safest workplaces in the country.”

These insiders point to the industry’s stringent onset protocols and close working relationship with the L.A. County Department of Public Health as reasons they’d been able to largely remain up and running.

As productions restarted, the public health department updated its production guidelines Jan. 22. Among the minor changes outlined was that hired audiences are now limited to 50 people and must be actors or extras and not members of the general public; pre-employment PCR testing is required for all productions, in addition to weekly testing during production at minimum; the quarantine period for individuals who’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive is now 10 days instead of 14; and hair and makeup artists on set must wear a face shield in addition to a face covering.

FilmLA, for its part, notes that the majority of productions already have been meeting or exceeding these requirements. To be sure, there have been critics of Hollywood’s ability to keep cameras rolling as other businesses have remained boarded up. But that criticism may be tempered now that government officials are repealing stay-at-home orders.

Hilda Solis, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors chair, said Jan. 25 that L.A. would begin to “essentially align with the state,” allowing more businesses to open up in the near term.

A version of this story appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.