Restarting Production: A State-by-State Guide
June 11, 2020
As was the case with most non-essential businesses, film and television production across the county and around the world shut down almost completely during the recent months-long quarantine intended to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus and lessen the impact of the world-wide pandemic. Now, as many nations across the world, including our own, move to open up, production is beginning to resume as well.
The United States is opening up on a state-by-state basis, with each individual state and the counties and municipalities within the state deciding when, how, and how much to restart businesses and industry depending on many Covid-19-related factors, including the rate of infection, hospitalizations, and deaths.
This goes for production as well. A few states have already permitted filming on movies, television shows, and commercials to resume, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah. A few more states, including Illinois, are about to.
Most of the states allowing shooting to restart have established guidelines for productions working within their borders that permit filming to proceed under conditions designed to keep cast and crew safe by preventing the transmission of Covid-19 as much as possible.
In a few of the less-stringent states, these guidelines are the same general bits of advice being suggested for all businesses – that masks and gloves be worn, that hands be washed or sanitized, that social distancing be observed, and so on. However, most have crafted more detailed principles that apply specifically to film and TV production. Many of the states have based their guidelines on the safety practices recommended by the AMPTP’s Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee for the Motion Picture and Television Industry, which developed their suggestions by synthesizing input from the major industry guilds and unions.
These guidelines begin with the general principles we are all now familiar with: the use of personal protective equipment; frequent handwashing and hand sanitizing; the continual cleaning of surfaces and frequent contact points; and social distancing. From there, the AMPTP’s guidelines go on to address each specific area of pre-production and production in detail, including casting, location scouting, set construction, shooting on exterior locations, shooting on stages or in interior locations, make-up, costuming, sound-recording, the use of extras, and so on. The basic concepts outlined in the AMPTP’s white paper are as follows:
- First and foremost, anyone who is sick or who is experiencing symptoms of Covid-19 should not come to work. Health questionnaires should be provided and the temperature of every person working on the production should be taken at the start of each day and anyone with a fever should be sent home immediately. Contact tracing should be enacted to determine who an infected or potentially-infected cast or crew member might have exposed to the virus. Anyone who has been exposed should quarantine themselves for the usual two weeks.
- Person-to-person contact should be avoided by using technology to scout locations remotely; by using video-conferencing for production meetings and casting sessions; and by reducing all crew sizes to the absolute minimum whenever possible.
- Production paperwork – schedules, call sheets, contact lists, etc. — should be prepared and distributed digitally so that cast and crew handle as few sheets of paper as possible.
- Production personal should be organized into pods – there should be a set-construction pod, a set-decorating pod, a prop pod, a lighting pod, and so on. The pre-production and production schedules should be organized so that only one pod is allowed on the set at a time, rather than all of the crafts mixing together at the same time, which has been the norm until now.
- Make-up should be done in isolation, with only the actor and the make-up person (garbed in PPE) present. Costume fittings should also be done in isolation and the individual pieces of an actor’s wardrobe should be separately wrapped and stored until needed and then cleaned after every use. Likewise, all props should be cleaned after use and then wrapped and stored until they are needed.
- Camera and sound recording equipment should be cleaned frequently. When it is feasible, the production schedule should be arranged for sets to be pre-lit the day before shooting so the lighting crew does not have to be present at the same time as the camera crew. Sound should be recorded using booms whenever conditions allow. If individual mics are required, each actor should have a specific mic that only they use and that mic should be cleaned after every take.
- All sets, locations, and production offices should be as well-ventilated as possible.
- During the filming of a scene, all non-essentially personnel should leave the set. Only those people absolutely required to make the shot should be present.
- Productions should use as few extras as they can. Background players must be given a place to wait between scenes that allows for proper social distancing for every person.
- No open craft service tables — only individually-wrapped snacks and drinks, and pre-prepared boxed meals should be offered.
- A specially-designated crew member should be assigned to make sure all safety guidelines are being followed. Another crew-member should supervise the continual cleaning of all surfaces on a given set or location so that there is no chance that cleaning will be overlooked because one person thought another already did it.
Most of the states with detailed guidelines incorporate many or all of the AMPTP’s suggestions. In addition, many of the counties and municipalities within these states also have their own guidelines and regulations, tailored for the specific conditions in their jurisdictions. Some state and local governments require that each production submit a Covid-informed production plan for approval before permits will be approved. For this reason, all productions are advised to consult with local as well as state authorities to determine just which guidelines and regulations they are required to meet. And keep in mind — all regulations are subject to change should infection and illness rates in a particular locality spike.
It is likely the AMPTP’s guidelines will remain with us for a long time to come. Even after the present pandemic has passed, people will need and want to feel safe and so smaller and more compartmentalized crews, more rigidly-segmented production schedules, more remote casting and production meetings, and more individualized care and feeding of actors and craftspeople are probably going to be the norm for the foreseeable future.
For now, however, Covid-19 is still with us. And so here are the current guidelines for each state currently allowing (or about to allow) film and television production to resume:
No guidelines posted
No specific guidelines.
No film-specific guidelines yet.
No statewide guidelines in place or planned.