Attorney David Albert Pierce has carefully researched COVID-19 rules across all jurisdictions to offer the following guidance to moviemakers trying to work in these difficult times.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration laws assign employers a general duty to provide a safe and healthful workplace. This is the basis for the need for the adoption of COVID-19 policies by any film productions lucky enough to be moving forward during this pandemic.
While varying jurisdictions and unions may differ in their requirements, I’ve analyzed almost all of the requirements, and they all share a basic framework which compose “COVID-19 Protocols” that all moviemakers must include in their now mandatory COVID-19 policies. And of course, you should always consult medical professionals and an attorney before doing anything you think might be a risk.
9 General Protocols You Need to Follow on Set
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- Appoint a dedicated COVID-19 Compliance Officer to monitor and supervise compliance with the protocols. A small team should work under this person to serve as the Compliance Department. The 1st AD on a film is ultimately responsible for safety on the set, so the 1st AD should coordinate with the Compliance Officer.
- Ensure social distancing measures are followed and maintain a strict closed set. Protocols now exist to divide different areas of film sets into “Zones.” Cast and crew are restricted to the zones that they absolutely must be in to perform their duties. Employees should be prohibited from appearing on set either before or after their scheduled call times, and guests and other non-essential visitors should be prohibited.
- Conduct regular COVID-19 testing and temperature monitoring. Temperature checks and self-evaluation questionnaires about health should be completed each work day by the cast and crew at the start of their call time.
- Provide employees with appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)—masks, face shields, gloves, disinfecting wipes and sprays.
- Deep clean locations each morning and night. This should be overseen by the COVID-19 Compliance Team. In addition, locations should be frequently cleaned and sanitized throughout the filming day with emphasis on all common areas/high traffic areas and frequent touch points. Call sheets and other written materials should go digital.
- Where practicable, dress sets well in advance and keep those sets untouched until needed.
- Hold daily 10-minute safety meetings which specifically discuss COVID-19 issues, along with any other safety discussions scheduled for that day.
- Utilize contact tracing in a responsible manner upon notice of an outbreak. The “Zones” system is designed to facilitate contact tracing.
- Adopt resources and measures to promote positive mental well-being for cast and crew. Recognize that your cast and crew may experience COVID-19-related anxiety, so direct them to resources like online meditation and socially distanced exercise plans. Provide a contact person they can talk with if they feel overwhelmed.
These nine points express the dictates of the protocols set forth by the assorted union, industry, studio, and government jurisdictions that may oversee the filmmaking process.
Who Came Up With The Covid-19 Protocols?
An industry task force was assembled through the efforts of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, several major studios and networks, and all of the entertainment unions, in conjunction with medical experts. They created what is known as “The White Paper” on how to reopen productions safely. Many of these guidelines share common threads. For instance, social distancing measures are required on all sets. Face coverings are required for cast and crew, except for actors in front of the camera. The proposals explain how the CDC and OSHA guidelines are to be applied to the unique aspects of production workplaces.
Entertainment unions, while contributing to The White Paper, also created their own guidelines known as “The Safeway Forward.” All production signatory companies must comply. SAG-AFTRA calls for separating talent and assorted crew into zones, and other unions require this too. Safeway Forward advises union members on how they can contribute to their own safety, and identifies producers’ obligations.
To ensure compliance with SAG-AFTRA guidelines, producers must now submit a COVID-19 plan to the union. SAG has also published an urgent safety notice stating that all members must contact the union before accepting work, to ensure that the union has evaluated and established that the producer/employer meets adequate health and safety standards.
Each State Has Its Own Rules
Many states have adopted similar standards, but differences may exist within the details set forth by each state. For example, Illinois dictates how many people can be in a dressing room. Montana discourages elderly people and those with compromised immune systems from being on sets. Missouri requires cast and crew to quarantine themselves for 14 days before travel in and out of the state. Hawaii urges work groups to be separated into pods or teams, and to be color-coordinated to avoid non-essential interactions. You need to know the rules of the state where you plan to work.
Remember: This Is A Worldwide Pandemic
Virtually every country, and many cities, also have their own rules. Producers must know the rules of each jurisdiction in order to procure a film permit. It is important to be in contact with the permitting office of the local municipality as early as possible in order to understand the full breadth of the requirements, and to regularly check in with film permitting offices, since rules are changing often.
Countries around the globe have each responded differently to COVID-19. By the time you read this, the rules may have changed.
At the time of this writing in late June, several nations have established protocols for filmmakers to follow. For example: Australia, Poland, and parts of Spain have similar guidelines to those set by several U.S. states. These policies include physical distancing, contact tracing for cast and crew members, and frequent sanitation. New Zealand’s guidelines focus heavily on the importance of contact tracing for cast and crew members. The Czech Republic requires crew to discard used masks four times a day. Canada, the United Kingdom, and Portugal, among others, have strict 14-day quarantine procedures on all foreign cast & crew flying into their jurisdictions. Iceland has a quarantine that prohibits foreigners from entering into its cities, but permits work to occur on-set during the quarantine if those on-set are quarantining together. Each province in Canada has established its own guidelines, and some are stricter than others. France largely looks to local authorities to establish rules. Paris has strict safety measures and restrictions which are not imposed in more rural areas of the country.
And remember, policies change. The EU banned travelers from the U.S. into their member countries, but then reversed course and announced an excep- tion for U.S.-based cast and crew to jumpstart production.
Plan to Have Plan
Anticipate all of the significant added expenses associated with being COVID-19 compliant and budget for it. Determine whether travel is permitted to your desired location. Employ a well-versed counsel and safety experts to ensure your COVID-19 plan is compliant with each jurisdiction and the rules of each union involved in your production.
The costs of your new COVID-19 Compliance Department needs to be in the budget. In addition to your compliance officer and a safety administrator, designated cleaners are needed. If you are a signatory to IATSE, the cleaners must be members of the caterers’ union, and not just PAs with cans of Lysol. Shooting schedules will be prolonged. And prepare for the extra costs of boxed meals, because inexpensive buffets are over.
And remember: No matter how “guerilla” of a filmmaker you may be, you can’t cut corners or break rules that will endanger your cast and crew. Prevention in a time of pandemic is expensive. But nothing is more important than protecting your team. Be careful out there.
David Albert Pierce is MovieMaker Magazine’s resident legal guru and the managing member of Pierce Law Group LLP. He has over 25 years of experience in dealing with OSHA safety issues and workplace injuries. He has taken a lead in developing COVID-19 compliance plans for producers. Contact him at: David@PierceLLP.com