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Getting Back on Set as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Can Models and Actors Safely Work Yet?


After one week on a film set in California with my 11-year-old, my short answer is yes. In fact, the past week is the safest I’ve felt since May, when I first began interacting—cautiously—with anyone beyond immediate family. That is because here, on location north of San Francisco, I know:

-Every cast and crew member is being tested for COVID-19 every three days. There is no shopping errand or backyard gathering or kid playdate that offers that level of reassurance.

-Everyone’s temperature is checked as we pull into base camp (literally before we park our car—and we each have our own car—no group vans). Temperatures are checked again as we leave base camp at the end of the day.

hand washing reminder

Safety signage in our trailer

(Read about Hollywood’s stringent safety reopening guidelines in Deadline)

-Everyone is wearing a mask at all times (except actors after makeup application), even though we are primarily outside and way more than six feet from each other. This rule is followed religiously and respectfully because cast and crew members are experts at functioning as one, like a finely greased machine. Movies/TV shows would not get made otherwise. Politics have no place here. Everyone wants to work and keep working. In this time, it is a privilege to do so. It is a privilege to stand on set in a mask.

-A COVID-19 compliance officer is overseeing safety protocol. If we could have one of those at gatherings with extended family, I’d attend. But we don’t, so give me a movie set any day of a pandemic. He enforces social distancing whenever a clump of people starts to form (which is rarely).

-The hairdresser and makeup artist—those who have to get closest to the talent—are in masks, shields, and plastic body suits. Each actor has her own set of cosmetics and makeup brushes. And remember, these people tested negative three days ago and today and will be tested again a few days from now.

-Anyone who doesn’t have to get close to each other (which means pretty much everyone except the makeup artist, hairdresser, and actors) does not. Again, people are working and no one wants to mess with that. Chairs (which are sanitized, along with tables) at lunch are spaced six feet apart. It doesn’t feel distant emotionally. We are eating our individually packaged lunches and boy do I miss the buffets of yesteryear, but life is good! The cameras are rolling again! Creativity is in the air  (the fresh outdoor air) and, in its shadow, that other C word seems smaller.

2 Surprises of Shooting During COVID

1. It’s still FUN! If you have kids in the biz, that’s the biggest worry. If it’s not fun, you don’t want to be dragging your child away from their captivating virtual schooling (ha) to a set that feels sterile and glum. Even with the significantly pared down crafty offerings and air elbow bump greetings, Natalia is giddy each day she works—the farm animals on set make it extra fun—and bummed when she has a day off (the hotel pool is closed). She is making memories she will cherish and befriending people who are teaching her about collaboration, patience, passion, and storytelling. “I love having a new mom (uh, should I be insulted?), sister, and home, and creating this whole other life,” she gushed after the second day on set. Imagination! It’s hard to fire up in these days of Netflix and Youtube bingeing, so major points to the child actor life.

cow and calf

Cute castmates

2. It doesn’t feel reckless. On the contrary, productions up and running, in a safe atmosphere, are more than just an economic positive to society; they’re a safeguard ensuring fast contact tracing. There is this whole pocket of people who are being tested so frequently that should a breakout happen in their family or social group, it likely will be caught and contained quickly rather than festering and spreading unchecked through who knows how many asymptomatic or symptomatic transmitters.

COVID-19 Concerns for Productions – The Long Answer

ranch landscape

Northern Californian ranch country

-We are on location in Northern California, and most people traveled in (by car) from L.A., so they are going home to a hotel room each night, not to their families or roommates. This probably mitigates potential viral spread (unless hotel protocol is sloppy). So it may be a bit of a different story for productions getting up and running in L.A., where cast and crew members have a life off set. It will be up to them to be extremely vigilant at home if the set is to feel as safe as this one does. But again, the frequent testing is a reassuring safeguard and is likely to make people feel safer than they do if not working and not receiving those constant “negative” results.

-Everyone on this production—some 60 people—all tested negative from day 1. With many coming from L.A., where the positive result rate has hit 9% of the population, that was a minor miracle. And a huge coup, considering how inconvenient and costly delays would be. If a positive test comes back mid-production, meaning people on set may have been exposed, that would cause even more of an upheaval—and perhaps scare some people out of returning to work so soon.

-We have been shooting in the summertime, not cold and flu season. Once fevers and symptoms that may look like COVID are swirling around, delays are likely to be more frequent. For each high temp or sore throat, Covid will need to be ruled out as the cause. Unless more rapid testing is readily available, these disruptions may be lengthy and costly. (Test results here are taking two to three days.)

-The majority of the scenes on this shoot have been outdoors, which we know is safer. We also have been eating outside. The soundstage environment will be a different animal but still infinitely more manageable than antiquated schools expected to be filled with thousands of students this fall. I know my kid is safer on set and with a studio teacher than in a crammed classroom and congregating with reckless peers. Everyone has to weigh the pros and cons for themselves, especially anyone who is older and/or has a pre-existing condition.

Post your comments, send your stories and opinions of working—or not—during COVID, and hang in there!

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