Industry Leaders Explain Guidelines For Restarting Film And TV Production In Los Angeles, Deliver Them To County Supervisors

Deadline reported yesterday that the 22-page “Proposed Health and Safety Guidelines for Motion Picture, Television, and Streaming Productions During the COVID-19 Pandemic” document was sent to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday.

There was no response from Newsom’s office on Monday as to whether it had received the white paper. No word either from Cuomo’s folks as to whether they have laid eyes on the report either. View the document in its entirely here.

But one very important group of officials has seen the report.

On Tuesday, leaders in the film, sports, TV and theme park businesses presented those plans for reopening to the powerful Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, urging county officials to allow them to move as quickly as safely possible.

Members of the Economic Resiliency Task Force — including NBCU’s Jeff Shell and Wasserman Media Group CEO Casey Wasserman — have been working for weeks with unions and other representatives on safety guidelines and best practices in the era of COVID-19.

Universal Pictures chairman Donna Langley delivered a white paper from the film industry laying out plans for “incorporating best-in-class protocols to protect cast and crew” as production resumes.

Langley said labor leadership, studios and other producers were ready to get back to work.

“We urge the county to quickly review the white paper and appropriately revise or lift any orders that restrict our industry’s ability to produce film, television and digital media content with the appropriate safety protocols in place,” said Langley.

She called for the county to create “consistent and unambiguous” health orders for film production and theme parks across the city, county and state.

If public health officials aren’t willing to lift all restrictions, Langley asked that certain pre- and post-production work be allowed to resume. For example, set construction, video editing and music scoring can begin quickly and safely.

“Since a majority of production halted in mid-March, our industry has demonstrated great innovation and resiliency when it comes to creating and delivering new content to audiences around the globe,” Langley said, pointing to new technologies and delivery platforms. “This … spirit and creativity…will enable us to safely and quickly resume production in this county.”

Karen Irwin, president and chief operating officer of Universal Studios Hollywood, said theme parks should not be last to open.

“Many people instinctively think that large theme parks with crowds would be the last thing you should reopen. While this perception is understandable, theme parks actually offer more controlled environments than places like beaches, gardens or even hiking trails,” Irwin told Supervisors.

“We would like approval to begin the reopening process immediately in order to get our employees back to work…L.A. County parks will be ready to begin reopening between mid-June and July 1st.”

Screening of guests and physical distancing geared ride-by-ride will be enforced and barriers between workers and guests, like those found in grocery stores, will be installed where appropriate, she said, echoing Governor Gavin Newsom, who said last week that grocery stores may provide lessons for reopening.

About 60 percent of theme park guests are local and international guest visits are not projected to return to 2019 levels until 2023, according to Irwin, who said it was important to capture customers who might otherwise opt to go to casinos and other attractions reopening earlier in Las Vegas or Arizona.

Shanghai Disney has already reopened, as has Six Flags Wild Safari Park in New Jersey, while three Universal Studios Parks in Orlando and a Six Flags Park in Oklahoma City are set to open this Friday, she said.

“The theme park industry in California supports an employee base of more than 135,000,” Irwin said, “ranging from front-line entry-level jobs to skilled technical positions, many of which are union jobs. Our diverse workforce includes 70% people of color and is multi-generational.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn pressed the theme park team for a capacity number.

NBCU CEO Jeff Shell said Orlando had come up with a 35 percent capacity limit based on specific limits by attraction, with some at up to 50 percent capacity and others staying shut altogether based on safety concerns.

“If you’re looking for a number … 35 percent is a good number to start, but it’s really going to depend on ride by ride, restroom by restroom, how we can open safely,” Shell said.

“It’s important to keep everybody healthy, but it’s important to also acknowledge … the need in society to get people back to work,” Shell said, adding that NBCUniversal chose not to furlough people, but cannot support that plan indefinitely.

Supervisor Hilda Solis said some of the requests by the task forcewould be challenging, while Supervisor Katheryn Barger told the group that many of the recommendations presented had already been incorporated into public health guidance or would be soon.

“Moving forward, it’s going to be slow,” Barger said, “but we’re going to reopen…responsibly and reopen in a way that’s going to put people back to work.”

Casey Wasserman delivered a recovery vision for the region’s major sports teams.

“The opportunity for teams to open their practice facilities and compete without fans in their venues is both eminently doable and culturally and economically vital to the county,” said Wasserman. “I would just equate it to opening a restaurant without customers. Playing baseball at Dodger Stadium with no fans is a quite straightforward proposition.”

The 26-page sports plan reflects input from every major venue and operator, all of whom are also working on individual plans, and is meant to lay out a baseline of safety guidelines, Wasserman said. Some details, like testing for players, will rely on collective bargaining between the players and management.

“Sports can play a part in our recovery both psychologically and economically,” Wasserman said. “We’re looking forward to see what I imagine will be the Dodgers playing baseball at Dodger Stadium and the Lakers and Clippers getting ready for a deep playoff run, hopefully in Orlando, and excited potentially (to see) some MLS soccer. Here’s hoping we don’t lose any
more events to other parts of the country.”

It will be fall before the teams consider more specifically how to address fans in arenas, but Wasserman said venues were highly capable of controlling the flow of people and maintaining social distancing.

What the County Supervisors, governors and various other state officials involved will do with the white paper remains to be seen.

“The ball is totally in their court,” one industry insider told Deadline on Monday after the white paper went out.

The task force’s next meeting is scheduled for June 16.

Dominic Patten and City News Service contributed to this report.

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