The full reopening of the film and TV industry probably won’t be possible until a vaccine is developed to combat the coronavirus and testing and tracing of the virus’ spread are in place, according to David White, national executive director of SAG-AFTRA. White shared that view during a media conference call today with the top leaders of the industry’s unions and guilds, including representatives of the DGA, IATSE, Actors’ Equity and the WGA East.
“As a general matter, it’s worth noting that a vaccine is right now maybe not a consensus but overwhelmingly viewed as the time when everything can go back to normal,” White said. “And broad and reliable testing and tracing is the rule-of-thumb standard as to when we will have some organized, sustained production returning to stages. If you don’t know who is a super-carrier, and they’re on a set with folks, even with social distancing, you’ve got a problem. So you’ve got to be able to test and the vaccine is viewed as the time when it can come back.
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“I’m not an expert and there’s broad thinking around that,” he continued, “but as a rule of thumb, we’re looking for things to be firmly in place before we’re going to put people in an environment that can actually directly and negatively affect their health.”
Asked by Deadline about the work of the Industry-Wide Labor Management Safety Committee, which will play a key role in establishing protocols for a resumption of production, White said, “All the unions are working together on an easy-to-understand format to give an indication as to whether or not we’ve agreed that a set is safe vs. unsafe, so we’re all working together to come up with that protocol, which will tie into what the industry is doing.”
Formed in 1965, the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee is comprised of guild, union, and management representatives who research, write and recommend guidelines for on-set safety practices.
Said IATSE international president Matt Loeb: “The Industry-Wide Committee has seen recently a calendar of their activities – they are continuing multiple committee meetings, drilling down into the various kinds of safety nuances that will apply to them. My understanding is that the state of New York has asked for a white paper about how to reopen the industry and return to work, and the basis of the committee’s work right now is focused on that. But of course, that will at least lay a foundation for a more universal base-line. We plan to, on behalf of all our locals throughout the U.S. and Canada, deal with the AMPTP for an agreement for a uniform policy that will be guided by the medical and scientific data that we get from professionals.”
Russell Hollander, national executive director of the DGA, said: “There are a couple of things going on in the industry. We have a representative on the Industry-Wide Safety Committee, but we also have our own national board committee that’s working with top epidemiologists, virologists and risk-assessors. On the DGA side, what we’re trying to do – and no one knows when we’re going to be able to open – but what we’re trying to do is try to find a way to get try to get open safely in a reasonable time period . And that committee is ongoing and we’re going to take the results of that committee and we’re going to share it with our sister guilds and unions and then with the employers, and we’ll also coordinate with the Industry-Wide Committee. And while the Industry-Wide Committee is doing its work, which is a larger group, which we hope to coordinate with.”
Steven Soderbergh, a former DGA national vice president and the director of the 2011 pandemic thriller Contagion, will head a Directors Guild committee to address getting members – and the town – back to work.
SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris told reporters: “We were among the first to be hit by the virus and may be among the last to come back – simply because we work in high numbers and in very close proximity where PPE cannot always be utilized. That said, we are working tirelessly to develop the structures and protocols that will allow the industry to reopen safely.
“We are doing this on several levels,” she added. “The SAG-AFTRA President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety is receiving and reviewing reports and recommendations from our internal staff experts, our field representatives, external epidemiologists and other consultants, as well as our sister unions – some of whom are on this call today. We are also working closely with the employers’ labor relations and industrial sanitation and safety representatives – because we recognize that it will take all of us to ensure proper protocols are in place before we greenlight our members returning to the traditional work environment. And when we return to work, it will be our members who will continue to comfort and inspire this country and our nation as we rebuild.”
DGA president Thomas Schlamme said the shutdown has had “an unprecedented, devastating impact on our members,” adding that “we are anxious to get back to work, but it has to be done safely.” The DGA, he said, “is working day and night” to that end.
Other union leaders on the press call included Ray Hair, president of the American Federation of Musicians; Kate Shindle, president of Actors’ Equity; Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGA East; Raymond Menard, president of the American Guild of Musical Artists; Robert Prunn, director of broadcasting and telecommunications at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Christine Page, president of Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 174, and Laura Penn, executive director of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society – all of whom spoke about the need to get their members back to work safely, and about the need for the federal government to recognize the unique needs of arts and entertainment workers affected by the pandemic shutdown.
Most of Hollywood’s unions are non-partisan and don’t endorse candidates, but IATSE president Matt Loeb said that he is confident that his executive board will approve the endorsement of Democratic candidate Joe Biden for president.
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