A safety officer on the set of every film and TV production could be a key component of restarting shows during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Rebecca Rhine, national executive director of the International Cinematographers Guild, IATSE Local 600.
“I think what everyone’s coming to understand is that this is going to be an evolving process,” she said in her latest video message about the industry’s preparations for returning to work. “Decisions are gonna have to be made every day as we know more things medically and as we know more things practically. And what we’re advocating for is to have someone on the set with the expertise to make those decisions – like a safety officer to ensure that in every situation the maximum safety is guaranteed.”
Watch the video here:
“The ultimate goal is to have a national standard of safety protocols that would cut across genres and be applicable to all the regions,” said John Lindley, president of Local 600, which represents camera crews and publicists. “Both within our industry and within our local, the dominant conversation is now about how to return to work safely. The Local 600 Safety Committee has now given its list of suggestions for safe working conditions for publicists and camera crews to Rebecca and she will be taking those to the larger conversation with the IA” – the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
“That conversation,” Rhine said, “is taking place at the Joint Labor-Management Safety Committee, which is made up of representatives from all the IA locals and all the unions in the entertainment industry, as well as the representatives from the industry itself. Those conversations are taking two forms. One is a White Paper done by a task force to let state and local governments know that we’re ready to go to work; that we have protocols that will allow us to get our industry moving again. And then the second are these small working groups that are looking at craft-specific issues and beginning to hone in on things we’re gonna have to do for each individual craft to ensure safety.”
Formed in 1965, the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee, which has been implementing safety procedures for decades, is comprised of guild, union, and management representatives who research, write and recommend guidelines for on-set safety practices.
Many of the conversations about restarting the industry envision smaller production teams – at least at the beginning of the reopening. But Rhine said that this could pose a problem later on in terms of getting large numbers of her members — and other industry workers – back to work. “One of the real risks in a moment like this is that work-flows with much less staffing become ingrained, and we don’t want to let that happen because we believe you can create an absolutely safe workplace, without fewer people, if you plan and move people around and you are smart and you are proactive.”
Lindley also told members that Local 600 “is starting to hear more and more about commercial productions and smaller shows” shooting already, and urged members to notify the guild about any jobs they’ve been offered. “If a commercial contacts you or anybody you know about work, please report the job – it’s incredibly important at this time. And if they’re issuing their own sets of safety protocols from different production companies, please include those with the job report. Because a lot of these safety protocols are inadequate, and we need to know about them.”
“We can’t keep you safe unless we know what’s going on in your worksite,” Rhine said, noting that the guild is also keeping an eye on “remote shows” that are currently shooting during the pandemic – often times with performers themselves or non-union workers acting as camera operators. “We’re tracking the work that’s being done even during the social distancing and stay-at-home orders,” she said. “There’s some confusion about whether the stay-at-home orders are being properly applied. But what I can say is this: when we hear about work being done, we want to make sure that the staffing levels for that work are appropriate for the work – that the core crew is compensated for the work. And we’re filing claims and getting people paid for that work.”
A footnote on the video message notes that “Due to safety concerns, this video was not filmed by a Local 600 camera operator. A member of the Health Preserver List will be paid.” The Health Preserver List is a list of Local 600 members who are a few hours short of qualifying for their benefits.
Lindley also noted that “even though it’s only been a couple of months since the shutdown began, it’s taking a toll on people now who were pretty strong in the beginning. It’s wearing to have this go on and the uncertainty brings anxiety, and we still don’t know when it’s all gonna end. But what we do know is that this conversation about safety protocols speaks to the urge on behalf of the employers and our members to get back to work, and we will get back to work. Because if we stay together, we’ll get through this together.”