As production begins to restart in an ever changing COVID-19 landscape, The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and other major studios announced an important deal with the DGA, IATSE, Teamsters, Basic Crafts, and SAG-AFTRA -- meant to ensure the safety and security of their members during the upcoming months. The Hollywood Reporter and other outlets reported the deal on September 21st and The Hollywood Reporter linked to a draft “COVID-19 Return to Work” agreement here. While we continue to confirm details, here's a rundown of the safety and related protocols set forth in the current agreement:
- The agreement purports to begin on September 18, 2020 and run through April 30, 2021.
- Each production must have a COVID-19 compliance supervisor who will be accessible to the staff and crew during all production hours, and who will be present on the production from call to wrap.
- Productions must implement the “Zone” systems for on-set productions which clarify the extent to which personnel can interact with others, the levels of testing and PPE required for day-to-day work, and physical distancing.
- Any performers and those who are in close and unprotected contact with such performers on set (“Zone A” personnel in most cases) must be tested a minimum of three times per week.
- Those who work on set without PPE but are not present at times when performers are present must be tested at least once per week, and personnel who work in office settings must be tested a minimum of once every two weeks. All remote workers associated with a production, but who do not fall into the categories above must be tested prior to their first day of employment.
- All employees of a production will receive ten (10) days of COVID-19 paid sick leave, which can be used toward eligible COVID-19-related events (e.g., exhibiting symptoms, testing positive, household member testing positive).
- If an employee takes COVID-19 sick leave, that individual will be reinstated to the role so long as the role continues to exist.
- If a production employee or crew member is required to quarantine or self-isolate at the request of an employer or production entity (or as required by law), that individual will be eligible for quarantine pay.
- Every member of a cast and crew must be tested before their first day of work so as to ensure that the production does not start off with a member who actively has the virus.
- Lab-based PCR tests or Rapid PCR tests used in conjunction with lab-based PCR tests will be allowed. Antigen and antibody tests are not allowed to prove that an individual does not have the virus.
- The agreement includes a procedure for requests for modifications that would apply to certain productions.
We note that the draft agreement states that the unions/guilds and studios acknowledge that this will be an ever changing situation. As a result, they have added the caveat to the terms that the parties agree to reconvene in a month, and then every two months thereafter (or more as is necessary) to discuss revisions or modifications which time, and experience, may deem necessary.
Producers Guild Also Releases Safety Guidance. In addition to the agreement discussed above, the Producers Guild of America (PGA) also recently released guidance clarifying its positions on how PGA members (and non-member productions) should conduct business throughout the various stages of production. (The PGA is not a party to the AMPTP agreement.) The PGA's recommendations, “COVID Safety Protocols for Producing Independent Productions,” are intended to complement proposals and policies established by the other major guilds and state and local officials. Broken down into a 10-section how-to guide, the PGA guidance is based on the real-world experiences of producers with first-hand knowledge of the challenges facing staff and crew. It is written, in our view, more as a practical guide for handling production obstacles than as a prescriptive set of rules to follow.
What's next? As the past few weeks have exposed a variety of both positive COVID-19 tests across both television and film production (i.e., Warner Bros. Pictures' “The Batman” ; ABC's “For Life”, as well as great successes in production (i.e., Tyler Perry's production facility quarantine bubble) the pursuit of safety and security is paramount for producers, studios, and the multitude of above-the-line and below-the-line production crews. With each passing week, and as more and more entities learn from experience, further guidance is likely.
With the myriad of guidance, best practices, and production considerations to be made before and during production, now is a good time to review your production practices.