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Lights, Camera... But No Action? L.A. Film Production Still Stalled

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The following article was originally published May 20, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by John Horn

Gov. Gavin Newsom told a panel of filmmakers that the state will introduce guidelines on Monday that could potentially help restart Hollywood production, but he offered few details and cautioned that Los Angeles County might not be ready to implement the new rules.

In what Newsom is calling his "Economic Recovery & Reinvention Listening Tour," the governor solicited feedback from director and producer Ava DuVernay ("Selma"), actor Jon Huertas ("This is Us") and Netflix executive Ted Sarandos, among others.

The panelists in Wednesday's online conversation said that while they're eager to return to work, there are still no industry standards on workplace safety, which could delay restarting production until 2021, especially if film and TV sets are opened prematurely.

"Of course people want to get back to work now, because we have to work in order to sustain ourselves," Huertas said. But he said in conversations with the producer of his NBC series, he was told, "We may not go into production until January if there's a second wave."

Newsom's industry session came on the heels of a report outlining the breadth of unemployment in Hollywood. Board of Supervisors chair Kathryn Barger said that nearly 900,000 industry employees have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Governor Newsom holds an online roundtable with key Hollywood figures on May 20, 2020. | Screenshot from California Governor's live stream
Governor Newsom holds an online roundtable with key Hollywood figures on May 20, 2020. | Screenshot from California Governor's live stream

DuVernay reminded the governor that some of the most affected are crew members who go from one job to the next as gig workers. "I can comfortably sustain myself through these times," she said, but noted that her brother, a barber, "has nothing."

Netflix currently has more than 200 projects in various stages of post-production, Sarandos said, with much of that work happening in people's homes. He said that while a small documentary crew might be able to start filming soon, it's an altogether different question for a movie with a crowd scene of several hundred.

But proving that there are no uniform guidelines for physical production, Netflix is currently filming in South Korea, Iceland and Sweden.

Sony Picture Studios halted film and TV production amid coronavirus fears. | Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Sony Picture Studios halted film and TV production amid coronavirus fears. | Amy Sussman/Getty Images

With no industry safety standards in place, and the cost of implementing any such measures bound to cost time and money, one panelist worried that future productions could leave California to film in states and countries with looser rules.

"Someone needs to pay for all this," said Danny Stephens, who works as a grip. "But the last thing we want to do is price ourselves out of the business."

Newsom ended the conversation by noting that even if the state on Monday unveils a framework for the resumption of production, "that doesn't mean the light goes on everywhere." He singled out Los Angeles County for its continued high level of coronavirus cases.

"It remains a challenging part of the state, still."

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