COVID-19 Film Production Guidelines in Los Angeles
By: The Athos Team
Published on: 12/8/2020 3:16:00 PM
A helpful guide and resources for what you need to know to shoot in LA County during the pandemic.
As I write this, outdoor restaurants and bars in LA are about to close down again for at least 3 weeks as COVID-19 cases are on the rise. They were open, they closed, then they were open only for outdoor dining, now they’re closed again. We don’t know whether they’ll be open again in a few weeks or not?
While regulations on restaurants, stores, and everything else have changed constantly over the course of the pandemic, filming rules have remained pretty consistent since June. So if you’re a filmmaker looking to jump back into the game, hopefully this article can point you in the right direction.
Some filmmakers are hesitant to even bother location filming right now. With the added work and expenses of complying with health and safety guidelines, plus the risk of you or someone on your crew getting sick, many would rather wait this whole thing out. That’s understandable, but the new rules and guidelines aren’t as complicated as you think. Most are common-sense measures to slow the spread of the virus, and I guarantee after reading this article you’ll be more equipped to get a production off the ground.
On June 12, LA County Department of Public Health put out a health order. It has requirements about social distancing, masks, hours you can film, sanitation, and testing. These apply to all types of filming activity, union or not, and even include student films. In order to get film permits, filmmakers must comply with the order, and the requirements are pretty strict. In addition to these county requirements, the tv, and commercial film industry has developed its own guidelines, laid out in a SAG AFTRA publication by the AMPTP’s Industry Wide Labor Management Safety Committee Task Force, comprised of health experts and reps from studios and unions.
We’ll base this guide off of those guidelines as well as the county order (there is a lot of overlap) to use as a COVID-19 resource. If you decide to start production during Covid, you’ll want to read the full health order here, but we’ll go over enough to give you a good idea of what to expect.
First, they recommend that anyone who’s able to do their job from home should do so. Obviously very few productions can take place fully remotely, though some have gotten creative. Some of the production jobs that can take place remotely, including casting (with actors self-taping auditions or zooming in), pre-production meetings, post-production, etc. Basically everything except on-set filming.
You'll Need a Compliance Officer on Set
So for those working on set or in person, a workplace COVID-19 Compliance Officer (C19CO or COC) must be designated to establish COVID safety protocols, train staff on these rules, and make sure they’re being followed. While there’s no formal certification requirement for the officer, it has to be someone “appropriate,” so you can’t get a “COVID Compliance Cutie” shirt for your golden retriever and think you’re set to go.
However, maybe your responsible, out-of-work friend who’s a bit of a stickler for rules would appreciate the gig. There are also some unofficial training courses for aspiring COCs, and online databases of those who have completed the courses.
The Nitty-Gritty (Additional) Rules
Production has to provide PPE and sanitizer, and everyone has to wear a face mask whenever possible (no one likes wearing masks all day, but at least you don’t have to smell the boom operator’s coffee breath). Actors don’t have to wear masks while shooting, but are encouraged to wear them between takes and setups, especially when around other people.
Anyone who has symptoms of Covid, has tested positive, or has likely been exposed has to isolate and not come to work.
Regular testing of on-set cast and crew is required. For shoots where regular testing isn’t feasible, they discourage close scenes that include talking, to prevent spread.
There are strict protocols for what to do if one or more cast or crew members become infected.
Common areas must be disinfected frequently, workstations must be at least 6’ apart, and breaks must be staggered so people can stay 6’ apart in break rooms. -Employees can only eat in certain areas, to make sure they’re wearing masks all other times.
Props, equipment, and tools all have to be cleaned between uses.
If you’re doing an audience scene, audience members should wear masks and be seated 6’ apart, preferably outdoors. This rule protects against covid and close-talkers.
Some of the more upsetting rules relate to food and drink, such as the rule against buffets. (I know, I should have been more upfront about this one.) It’s sad, but if it helps us get back on set, we’ll take it. Also, no shared coffee pots, no sharing food, and everyone has to sanitize before eating.
When possible, shooting has to occur between 7am and 10pm. But again, this guideline is stated as “when possible.” If there’s a reason that it’s impossible to only shoot within those hours (such as needing to shoot during sunrise), that’s ok, it just needs to be justifiable if anyone should take you to task.
And while it’s important to be familiar with the basics, remember that there will be a compliance officer on all sets to make sure rules are being followed and not forgotten, so you don’t have to stay up late studying the county’s full 10-page list.
When you break down the guidelines, it’s not as intimidating as it might seem. It’s mostly just common-sense practices to keep everyone safe. And while it may require slightly more time and money to film certain types of scenes, it shouldn’t restrict your creativity too much (maybe just cut that packed nightclub scene for this one).
So for those who can’t wait until some theoretical post-pandemic future, we hope this guide has helped give you the confidence to jump back in.
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PLEASE NOTE: This article was written based on current guidelines as of 12/4/20. Be sure to check before starting production for any more recent changes.