Film Producers to Notify Unions of Positive COVID-19 Results On-Set

Director S.K. Dale on set of 'Till Death'
Millennium Films

Director S.K. Dale (middle) on the set of 'Till Death,' one of the first projects to shoot under COVID-19.

Producers are also to keep the unions abreast of their specific testing plans around the holidays.

Hollywood is adjusting its filming protocols amid the rise in COVID-19 cases.

The new protocols, which were laid out in a Nov. 19 "side letter" and went into effect two days ago, mandate that producers must notify the unions of both their testing plans around the holidays and of any positive test results on their shows. The amended agreement appears to be in place for the duration of the holiday season, though it may extend beyond that.

"When we and our sister unions negotiated the safety and testing protocols in our Return to Work agreement with producers, we knew that as circumstances changed, adjustments would be required to manage the risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace," the Director's Guild of America wrote in a letter to its members. "The good news is that production has been ramping back up since that time, and early signs indicate that the protocols are achieving their objective of reducing risk and catching infected individuals early in the disease, in most cases before they are contagious."

"But there are steeper challenges up ahead as the prevalence of COVID-19 in our communities is surging — which, if not taken seriously and not addressed properly, may have devastating consequences for our industry," the email continued. "Today, as COVID-19 spikes throughout the country, the upcoming holidays pose an extraordinary risk for increased virus spread. Though we strongly encourage everyone to avoid gathering in public places or with friends and extended family over the holidays, the fact remains that this is still a high-risk time period for everyone. We also know that there is lag time in between initial contact with the virus and when it can be detected in a test."

In order to help account for that lag, the major unions negotiated new terms with the studios to increase post-holiday testing and take additional time to get results before resuming production. "Producers agree to notify the Unions of their plans for COVID-19 testing during and/or following the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday breaks, including the intended duration of the holiday break," read the new agreement, which was signed by the AMPTP's Carol A. Lombardini, the DGA's Russell Hollander, IATSE's Matthew Loeb, SAG-AFTRA's David P. White, and the Teamsters' Steve Dayan and Thomas O'Donnell.

For the recently passed Thanksgiving break, notice was to be given no later than Nov. 20, while for Christmas break, notice is to be provided no later than next Friday, Dec. 11. "If the Unions have not received notice of a Producer's plans by the applicable deadline, they should contact the Producer so that the Producer can promptly provide such plans to the Union," reads the letter.

"It is understood that a Producer's plans are subject to change," it continues. "Factors such as the production's access to different types of tests, the availability of different types of tests, the volume of tests required on the production and projected testing turnaround time, among other things, may necessitate changes in the testing plan. If a testing plan changes after it has been delivered to the Unions, the Producer shall promptly notify the Unions of the change.

In addition, an example of how producers ought to notify the unions of any positive test results on set is laid out. "To: DGA, IATSE, SAG-AFTRA, Basic Crafts and Teamsters Local #817," notes the letter. "This notice is to advise you that [#] individuals employed on [name of production] in Zone [A/B/C] returned a positive test result for COVID-19 on [date]." Producers can also provide additional information with regard to the positive test result if they have more to share.

The industry's original return-to-work agreement was reached in late September after months of negotiations between the AMPTP, the DGA, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE, Teamsters and the Basic Crafts. The agreement outlined everything from testing regimes for productions to health and safety training requirements to paid sick leave. The full side letter is available to read on the DGA's website.