Wanted in Hollywood: COVID consultants to help keep sets safe
Along with hair stylists, camera operators and the hundreds of others who make magic happen for TV and film, Hollywood is counting on a new supporting member for future productions: COVID consultants.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted producers, movie studios and workers’ unions to seek expert advice on how to address the unique environments on film and TV sets, which shut down worldwide in mid-March.
In demand are epidemiologists and other public health specialists to provide detailed strategies for dealing with large crews who work in cramped spaces, makeup artists who get face-to-face with stars, and actors who kiss, hug, and fight.
Productions are ramping back up in South Korea, Australia, Sweden, Poland and New Zealand, where James Cameron’s blockbuster “Avatar 2” is returning to production this week. But sets remain empty in the United States.
Writer-director Tyler Perry has taken the lead on getting cameras rolling again, announcing plans to begin shooting BET television series “Sistas” and “The Oval” on July 8 at his studio complex in Atlanta, Georgia.
Perry’s 330-acre self-contained lot offers a setting with housing where people can be isolated to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes a sometimes fatal disease called COVID-19.
In a 31-page outline, Perry said “it took a village of staff, medical doctors, epidemiologists, lawyers, union reps, talent and their reps, crew members, insurers, and a lot of other great thinkers” to develop safeguards.
One was Carlos Del Rio, an infectious diseases expert at nearby Emory University, who said he advised that all cast and crew be tested at the start and at least once during the two weeks they remain sequestered for the shoot.
Del Rio, who said he was not being paid by Perry, also made recommendations on hygiene and other protections, though he noted that nothing offers a 100% guarantee.
In Hollywood, the industry is waiting for the state to issue protocols and signal when production can restart. The coronavirus remains prevalent in Los Angeles County, home to many movie studios and sound stages.
In the meantime, actors union SAG-AFTRA, and IATSE, which represents technicians and other crew members, have hired experts from Harvard and the University of California at Los Angeles to develop guidelines.
The Directors Guild of America tapped Steven Soderbergh, director of 2011 pandemic thriller “Contagion,” to lead a task force that is working with top epidemiologists.
Actors are watching closely. Anna Kendrick, in an interview promoting her new series “Love Life” for HBO Max, said some ideas she’s heard sound like they’ve come from “somebody who’s never been on a film set.”
“In my experience people on film sets as opposed to people in an airport, we all know we’re on the same team, we’re all just trying to keep each other safe,” she said. “I think it can be done, but I haven’t seen super great solutions yet.”
In Britain, a group of TV networks on May 11 released 15 pages of guidelines developed with Dr. Paul Litchfield, an occupational physician who chairs the What Works Centre for Wellbeing.
Handling coronavirus is complicated in television because many workers are freelancers, he said. “You can’t just look at your own bubble because people are moving in and out of your bubble to other productions with other companies,” he said. “So it’s making sure that the guidance is consistent across (TV) companies.”
The Actors’ Equity Association in April was among the first in the entertainment business to hire a coronavirus specialist.
It tapped Dr. David Michaels, a former Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA) executive, to look for ways for Broadway theaters to operate safely.