"The Situation Remains Fluid": Production Pause in Los Angeles May Extend Longer Amid COVID Surge

Los Angeles Skyline April 15 2020
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The major studios and streamers have halted their L.A.-based projects with plans to restart them mid-January — but sources say that's increasingly unrealistic.

With production stalled in Los Angeles amid the city's latest COVID-19 surge, the industry is wrestling with when it'll be able to return to work safely in one of its most popular filming regions.

The major studios and streamers have paused production on the bulk of their L.A.-based projects, most of which were already on a hiatus over the holidays, marking the town's biggest shutdown since March when the virus first began to spread in the U.S. Instead of returning to work as anticipated on Monday, January 4, top content makers including Disney, Warner Bros. Universal, CBS and Netflix pushed back their post-holiday filming schedules due to the city's dire COVID-19 situation. In addition, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, SAG-AFTRA, the Joint Policy Committee and the Producers Guild of America further recommended that productions consider hitting the pause button.

Most productions that were slated to resume on Jan. 4 are now eyeing either Jan. 11 or Jan. 18 as new start dates. However, some production insiders suggest that even those dates are looking increasingly unrealistic. They raise concerns that the city might not yet be feeling the full effects of a post-holiday COVID surge, something that's been widely expected. Should the city's case load continue to skyrocket and ICU capacity further decline in the coming weeks, they say that studios would likely keep pushing their schedule back — though they're unlikely to make those decisions until they can take stock of the situation closer to those dates.

Of course, others remain more optimistic about Hollywood's chances of returning to work sooner rather than later, often pointing to the efficacy of the stringent COVID guidelines employed on productions and what they claim to be low on-set transmission rates. “The industry has been extraordinarily responsible throughout the time of the pandemic, as demonstrated by their recent actions during the rise in cases of COVID-19 and history of strict safety protocols," FilmLA president Paul Audley tells The Hollywood Reporter. The organization, which tracks filming in the greater Los Angeles area, notes that it plans to release data in January that shows that applications for film permits declined significantly in December as the industry began "dialing back activity considerably" due to the guidance of county public health experts.

While most productions executives and government officials are hesitant to speak directly about the situation given how much uncertainty surrounds it, the Director's Guild of America, for its part, told members on Tuesday that it was keeping a close eye on the current environment. "The situation remains fluid and we will continue to monitor new developments and work across the industry to ensure that worker safety remains a top priority," read the statement. "Together with our sister unions, we have communicated to employers that we are prepared to work with any of their productions seeking to further extend their hiatus. Since that time, the major studios have announced hiatus extensions for many of their projects."

The DGA acknowledged that this kind of surge was all but expected in the New Year. "We’ve long anticipated that there would be this post-holiday spike in community COVID-19 infections, which is why, prior to Thanksgiving, we negotiated an agreement providing employers with flexibility and economic incentive to increase testing and take additional time to get results before resuming production," the statement read. Of course, most studios didn't take advantage of that buffer until now. The DGA also emphasized the effectiveness of the on-set safety protocols its leaders helped develop over the summer. "The data so far has indicated that these protocols have been largely effective in catching infected individuals before they are contagious, and limiting the potential spread on set," read the email. "Our goal has always been to minimize the risk of workplace exposure for our members and all workers on set."

Hollywood has been able to keep working despite that fact that other businesses, including the restaurant industry, have had to shut down in various parts of the country. The reason is entertainment industry workers are considered "essential" in California, per guidelines laid out by Governor Gavin Newsom's office. As such, production has remained exempt from the state's recently-extended Stay at Home order — at least for now.