California's Film, TV Production Guidelines to Be Rolled Out May 25, Gov. Gavin Newsom Says

YouTube Screenshot of Governor Newsom's Economic Recovery & Reinvention Listening Tour - H 2020
ScreenShot YouTube/Economic Recovery Listening Tour: Entertainment Industry

The governor on Wednesday announced the upcoming sectoral guidelines during an Economic Recovery & Reinvention Listening Tour conversation with industry leaders including Ted Sarandos, Ava DuVernay and Jon Huertas.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced during a conversation with leaders in the entertainment industry that the state plans to roll out guidelines for productions on film, television and commercials on Monday.

"We're in real time drafting guidelines related to productions, TV, commercials … because we anticipate rolling out on Monday, May 25, some sectoral guidelines that would allow these counties to begin to move forward and allow some modification, allow some work to be done, allow some movement in your industry. That's why this is timely," he told participants of the conversation, which was held as part of the governor's Economic Recovery & Reinvention Listening Tour. Dr. Sonia Angell, Danny Stephens-Lo, Jon Huertas, Stacey Morris, Ava DuVernay, Tom Steyer, Ted Sarandos, Julie Su and Ann O'Leary joined Newsom during the call.

During the conversation itself, production leaders discussed the ideas they are drafting for returning to work and learning from other countries' actions. Netflix chief content officer Sarandos noted that his company is currently in production in South Korea, Iceland and Sweden, and each production is implementing different safety protocols: "In places like Sweden, they're not doing testing but doing voluntary quarantine in the weeks up until production. In South Korea, you're immediately tested." Meanwhile, in Iceland, crew and castmembers aren't ride-sharing to set. The exec added that sets can't just be safe, they have to feel safe to cast and crew to successfully return.

Makeup artist Morris (Dolemite Is My Name) added that she hoped guidelines would involve transparency and explanation. "People inherently don't like being told what to do," she said. "So I think it's important for us to be on the same page, have some understanding and education." Huertas, an actor on NBC's This Is Us, echoed that people have to stay motivated to follow all guidelines: "We don't want to destroy what we build," he said.

Wrinkle in Time director DuVernay, meanwhile, mentioned a "positive" to arise from coronavirus restrictions on productions: "We've learned to work that I never thought would work like virtual writers' rooms, remote working for staff, all these new procedures that we're coming up with that we can take into this new era that we can build from." At her ARRAY film collective, she said, leaders are considering creating production "pods" and moving people outside the set when they are done work.

IATSE Local 80 member Danny Stephens, a key grip, mentioned the problem he and his union is focused on is balancing safety with cost. His union is especially concerned about productions moving to other states with fewer restrictions: ""We're trying to find that middle ground that's going to keep everybody safe but make it affordable for people to work," he said.

Newsom promised the guidelines by Monday but was quick to caution that “it doesn’t mean the light goes on everywhere.” He said that 53 of California’s 58 counties are in a position to meet all of the state’s criteria for reopening (including containment and protection plans), but Los Angeles County isn't one of those. The state’s largest and most densely populated county remains the epicenter of the pandemic in terms of deaths and positive case counts.

Despite some “good signs,” Newsom said, L.A. County “remains a challenging part of the state for us still,” and it could mean that it will be “a few weeks behind everybody else.” The good news was defined Wednesday by Los Angeles County Department of Public Heath director Dr. Barbara Ferrer as a slight but steady decline in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and the number of patients on ventilators and being treated in the ICU.

Asked by Newsom how Netflix is handling productions in other states and how it compares, Sarandos said that there have been discussions about things moving at a faster pace elsewhere, but only a matter of weeks. He also said that the needs of each production are different, resulting in a more tailored approach given. That said, the exec asserted that everyone is proceeding with caution. “I don’t think anyone is rushing,” Sarandos said. “If they are taking shortcuts on safety, it’s going to have terrible long-term effects.”

The pandemic has had a personal and professional impact on DuVernay, who revealed that she lost a family member and a crewmember to the illness. "That can't be in vain," she says, adding "I hope there will be new energy" moving forward into new phase of life. Part of that, she hopes, will be taking lessons learned from this challenging time and turning them into solutions. "It's an opportunity for us to say, 'OK, this sucks, but what can we take from it that's working? ... What can we leave behind that's broken?"

The roundtable took place just hours after L.A. County Board of Supervisors chair Kathryn Barger reported that many of the industry's 890,000 entertainment workers are currently unemployed amid the COVID-19 crisis. The news came out of a Los Angeles County Economic Resiliency Task Force meeting where business sector leaders provided an update on their industries.

Industry coalitions are still working out plans to return to production on entertainment projects, with one of the first U.S. companies releasing its proposal — Tyler Perry's Atlanta studios — on Wednesday. The plan calls for the cast of Perry's TV shows Sistas and The Oval to be tested for COVID-19 with nasal swabs before they come to set, self-isolate for 16 days, travel on private jets and then be tested again when they touch down in Atlanta, among other measures.

Theaters, for their part, are presently looking to reopen by late June or early July in order to show Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which is scheduled to bow July 17, and Disney’s Mulan a week later on July 24. While a smattering of cinemas have reopened in certain states, the vast majority remain closed and are prepared to implement health precautions including reduced seating capacity if necessary.

Watch the full roundtable, below.