When California Gov. Gavin Newsom revealed Wednesday that the state will deliver guidelines that will allow many counties to resume filming as early as next week, the reaction in Hollywood was muted.
After nearly two months of shutdowns caused by the coronavirus outbreak, many of the hundreds of thousands of cast and crew across the country are eager to return to work. But there are also lingering concerns that the industry isn't yet ready.
"I'm grateful the governor recognizes how important the film industry is," said Nickolaus Brown, President, IATSE Motion Picture Costumers Local 705. However, he added,"it's misleading to suggest the film industry is going to open on Monday. There’s been a mix of reactions from members, some are excited and some are scared out of their minds."
The revelation by Newsom that filming might restart so soon caught many in Hollywood off guard. Newsom made the statement in a session with entertainment industry executives, including Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos and Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay as part of his so-called "Economic Recovery & Reinvention Listening Tour."
Newsom said the state on Monday would release requirements that California's 58 counties need to meet in order to begin filming, and that some areas could resume production as early as next week. Los Angeles, however, is going to be several weeks behind that move because of ongoing deaths, he said.
“We are working with industry stakeholders — including labor and management — to produce guidance that is inclusive of industry voices while prioritizing worker health and public safety,” said Jesse Melgar, press secretary to the governor, in a statement.
The governor has been under increasing pressure to re-open the state to business despite the ongoing death rate caused by COVID-19. The disease has had a devastating economic impact on the film industry, where crews and actors interact in close proximity.
Part of the challenge has been a patchwork approach with some regions racing to start before others. In San Francisco, the city's film office said it is planning to issue permits for crews of less than 10 people, providing they meet certain guidelines.
But SAG-AFTRA, Hollywood's largest union, has told its 160,000 members not to return to work without getting its approval. Like other unions, SAG-AFTRA has been hiring epidemiologists to help them formulate reopening procedures.
The union said in a statement it has not yet signed on to "any specific set of procedures for reopening" and that is reviewing "multiple efforts throughout the industry to create various procedures for a safer return to work."
Steve Dayan, secretary-treasurer of Teamster Local 399, which represents location managers, drivers and casting directors, said flatly: "No, the industry is not going to open on Monday." While Dayan applauds the governor's handling of the pandemic, he said it was premature to talk about resuming filming while industry unions are still in talks with the studios over new safety protocols.
“I know people are anxious but people need to be patient, " Dayan said. "We are working around the clock to get this done. We need to protect our crews but also have an obligation to protect the public. The most difficult thing for me is to hear one of my members dies because I didn't do my due diligence."
Crew members remain anxious about returning to sets.
“I’m happy to go back to work, but I’m kind of scared,” said Robyn Buchanan, a 31-year old L.A.-based second assistant camera who was working on a network series when production shut down in March due to the pandemic. “If production can go back to work, then why aren’t restaurants and stores open?"
“We value the efforts by so many leaders in the production industry to develop in-depth back-to-work guidelines, and we hope the baseline guidance from the Governor, in coordination with public health officials, will contribute to that collaborative process,” said California Film Commission Executive Director Colleen Bell.
On the call with Newsom, Danny Stephens, a key grip and IATSE Local 80 member, raised concerns about costs of any protocols required.
Studios, for example, have discussed hiring “COVID coordinators” with their owns staffs and crews may be staggered, which could slow production down.
"Someone needs to pay for all this," said Stephens. While there is a need to develop rigorous protocols to keep people safe, the industry needs to keep it "financially feasible for production to afford this," he said. "The last thing we want to do is price ourselves out of business."
FilmL.A., the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and county, said it wouldn't begin issuing permits until at least June 15. "And it will be until the Department of Public Health issues its guidelines and gives the go-ahead," FilmL.A. President Paul Audley said in a statement.
To be sure, many in the industry have been hit hard by the shutdowns and are keen to return to work. Mark Butts, a production and lighting designer and lighting director, based in L.A., owner of Preset Productions said the move by the governor was "great news."
"One of the things that we’ve all been waiting for is that we’re all anxious to get back to work as long as we can do it safely," Butts said. “It’s encouraging that they understand that this business is a pretty big part of this economy and it’s getting attention."
10:15 AM, May. 22, 2020: This article has been updated with a statement from the governor’s office.