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Hollywood on Verge of Another Pandemic Shutdown as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Production delays
(Image credit: Future)

With one in five COVID-19 tests on Los Angeles County residents now registering positive, and local hospitals pushed to their breaking points, Hollywood studios are on the brink of shutting down once more. 

The union representing onscreen talent, SAG-AFTRA, along with the Producers Guild of America (PGA) and the Joint Policy Committee (JPC), which represents those on TV commercial shoots, sent out a joint statement Sunday, saying they’ve agreed to a recommended “temporary hold” on in-person production in Southern California. 

This undefined stoppage would seem to extend beyond the usual holiday production hiatus, which is set to end in mid-January. 

“Southern California hospitals are facing a crisis the likes of which we have never seen before. Patients are dying in ambulances waiting for treatment because hospital emergency rooms are overwhelmed. This is not a safe environment for in-person production right now,” said SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris, in a statement.

Also read: Production Panic: Can the Major SVOD Services Keep Up with Ravenous Audience Demand?

A veteran production worker, who withheld his name because his employer hasn't authorized him to speak to the press, told Next TV on Tuesday that the commercial shoot he's working on has yet to respond to the recommendation issued by the guilds. 

He added, however, "I imagine that they'll 'pause' in the next couple of days.

Production was first halted at the beginning of the pandemic back in March, significantly disrupting the original series plans of the major SVOD services, among many others in the video business. Notably, the stoppage altered the launch plans for NBCUnversal's Peacock and WarnerMedia's HBO Max, forcing backers to re-think their strategies built on original shows. 

Guilds, media companies and streaming platform operators worked closely with California, and Los Angeles County and City health authorities to carve out stringent safety protocols, calling for aggressive testing of workers, social distancing, cleanliness of facilities, and limits as to how many extras and other personnel could be on set at any given time, among other steps. 

FilmLA, which authorizes location work, resumed issuing permits back in June, and despite rules stipulating that one positive test shut down an entire multi-million-dollar production, the masked-up workflow has generally kept the 160,000 workers who underpin the local Los Angeles-area film and TV production industry safe. 

 Production work continued to steadily increase up until December, when local cases surged, and FilmLA reported a significant drop-off in location applications.