The COVID-19 pandemic brought the entire world to a standstill and people everywhere have been staying home to stay safe for many months. Unfortunately, at a time when more people than ever before are watching television, movies and streaming services, film and television production has been drastically slowed down by the pandemic. According to Ampere Analysis, the pandemic delayed the productions of over half of the television shows that were set to air in 2020.
Major changes to production had to happen quickly in order to ensure the health and safety of the many people it takes to create an episode of a television show or a feature-length movie. Production was stopped in mid-March as the realities of COVID-19 became apparent. Starting in May of 2020, individual states started to release their pandemic protocols around film and television production. California, including Hollywood, started allowing productions to resume in June of 2020. Many of the new safety protocols were put in place behind the scenes, but some have also changed how film and tv looks and feels.
PPE, Physical Distancing and Body Doubles
Similar to all other industries, when close contact cannot be avoided employees must wear masks. With film and television production, though, there are times where this is simply not possible. One instance is during hair and makeup preparation. The County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health mandated that when the cast needs to remove their masks during hair styling and makeup application, hair stylists and makeup artists must wear both a mask and a face shield.
During filming where mask wearing is not written into the script, masks need to be removed in order to maintain the storyline. It is strongly encouraged that actors try to stay 8′ apart during rehearsal and the performance. You might have noticed the characters in your favorite shows have been more spread out or that fewer members of the cast are on screen at the same time. Script writing and scene blocking has been tweaked in many productions in order to keep everyone involved safer.
In order to ensure the safety of their casts while still producing an entertaining final product, many directors and producers have had to find creative solutions. Soap operas including The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless have hired the spouses of the actors to act as stand-ins for scenes that require up-close intimacy like kissing or hugging. In some cases, even mannequins have been used in place of real actors. The popular sitcom The Connors has written COVID-19 into their show which allows for the characters, and the actors who play those characters, to wear masks and maintain physical distancing during filming.
Screening, Testing, Bubbles and Quarantine
A Los Angeles Times article predicted that COVID-19 precautions could add more than $1 million to the total budget of an average film. On the other hand, an outbreak in a production would devastate the entire project.
It is in the best interest of the producers and production companies to ensure the safety of everyone involved. Though states have clear rules when it comes to production safety during the pandemic, many productions are going above and beyond the minimums to make sure COVID-19 does not shut them down.
Some productions have mandated that their cast and crew stay in a COVID bubble for the duration of filming. This means that they live, eat and work together without any outside contact. People within the bubble are tested when they enter the bubble, they wait out a quarantine period and then can freely work in close quarters with other people within the bubble without worry of infection.
Other production companies have increased their COVID-19 testing procedures. Some cast and crew have to endure testing each day that they are on set. The added expense is worth it for the production companies when the alternative is a possible outbreak and shutdown of the project completely.
Changes to Sets
If you watch late night talk shows, you might have noticed that they no longer have live audiences on set. Before COVID-19, tickets for live audiences of many shows were coveted. The County of Los Angeles began to allow live audiences as of January, 2021. The rules stipulate that these audiences cannot exceed 50 people and they must be hired.
Other changes behind the scenes include physical upgrades to the ventilations systems. Proper ventilation has been shown to drastically decrease the risks of COVID-19 spreading through buildings. The County of Los Angeles protocols for productions states that HVAC systems must be kept in good working order, use the highest-efficiency filters possible, and whenever possible outside airflow should be encouraged.
Since film and television production uses many buildings, the ventilation on sets, in offices, recording areas, green rooms, trailers and workshops must all be upgraded and maintained. Experienced companies like Alliance Environmental are called upon to ensure that all COVID-19 precautionary protocol is followed, especially in the ventilation systems. They regularly inspect, repair, clean and maintain ventilation systems to keep everyone working in as healthy an environment as possible.
Even with all of these added measures, the entertainment industry has found ways to continue to produce high-quality entertainment. With more months of pandemic-induced distancing and more time in front of the television ahead of us, it is a good thing for everyone that film and television production continues.
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