EXCLUSIVE UPDATED: Vancouver is open for business. We hear that the impasse between U.S. studios and the British Columbia unions over safety protocols is starting to get resolved, with the local unions clearing a number of TV series to begin production there.
One of the first to get a green light was The Good Doctor, we hear, after its lead studio Sony Pictures TV made a deal with the BC Council of Film Unions, made up of IATSE, Teamsters and International Cinematographers Guild locals, and various actors’ unions.
We hear Disney TV Studios also has reached an agreement with the BC Council for its Vancouver-based broadcast and streaming series A Million Little Things, Mighty Ducks, Mysterious Benedict Society, Big Sky and Turner & Hooch.
Netflix’s Midnight Mass may be the first series to start production in Vancouver. We hear it is expected to start filming this coming week after Netflix too has made a deal with the local unions.
The standoff had been over Hollywood studios insisting on rigorous testing according to the current SAG-AFTRA guidelines in the U.S., and the British Columbia unions pushing back, calling for far more limited testing of the crews they represent.
We hear at their core, the deals reached so far with multiple studios draw from the frequent testing and graduated safe zones protocols in the “Safe Way Forward” proposals put forth back in mid-June in a joint effort by major Hollywood unions, the DGA, IASTE, SAG-AFTRA, and the Teamsters.
In line with guidelines and roadmaps to reopening that have been on the table the past month or so in Vancouver, productions are responsible for “providing a safe workplace for all employees,” as one source termed it.
With a particular emphasis on the safety of performers and smaller crews on set during filming, British Columbia union officials tell Deadline that new agreements have been drafted to protect their members health and privacy. “We take that obligation very seriously and employers know that if need be, we’ll step in if there’s a misunderstanding,” an insider put it politely of the vigilance the unions are taking to make sure Canadian health recommendations and rights are respected.
Having said that, the new agreements appear to be the result of a classic negotiations where each side gives something and each side gets something. Especially after a potentially explosive cultural clash late last month between the American productions and their Great White North hosts in what many think was a rush to restart the multi-billion-dollar B.C. film and TV industry.
While details of the agreements are show-specific, it seems that the Vancouver unions and several Hollywood studios have come to a compromise on the prickly divisions over testing, addressing concerns over both frequency of testing and privacy in handling results by private labs contracted by U.S. studios.
We hear British Columbia’s privacy laws require testing to be done in the country, and one of only private labs in the province had a privacy breach last year, which has raised concerns. Additionally, there have been worries that tens of thousands of tests a week for all Hollywood productions in Vancouver could put a strain on the system in the area.
It was a dispute over testing that shut down The Good Doctor. We hear cast members questioned why the local protocols — testing actors twice a week, crew members in close interaction with them once a week and no testing for the rest of the crew — did not fulfill the safety requirements set by SAG-AFTRA. We hear the guild got involved, threatening to withhold services in British Columbia. Caught in the middle, the studio backed the actors, leading to the standoff with the BC Council of Film Unions.
The ABC/Sony Pictures TV’s medical drama was in pre-production, with cast members either already in Vancouver or preparing to fly in to begin a two-week self-quarantine when on July 31, the entire crew was laid off and everything was put on hold.
Pre-production is expected to resume shortly, with start of filming, previously slated for the week of Aug. 10, now eyed for end of August. The Disney TV Studios’ shows, a large portion of whose casts also are already in Vancouver, are exploring September stars, we hear.
Other Vancouver-based series that have been looking to begin production, include Warner Bros. TV’s Supernatural, The Flash and Superman & Lois, and CBS TV Studios’ Charmed.
Possibly playing a role in the British Columbia unions’ willingness to accept more frequent testing is the changing environment in the Canadian province which had been praised for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Aug. 6, British Columbia had registered 3,834 total COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic on a population of 5+ million. within the past eight days, the tally has risen to 4,358. Alarmed by the spike, with a harsh wave predicted to be coming in September, the B.C. Premier called upon B.C.-born Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Seth Rogen to appeal to young people who have been ignoring social distancing guidelines.
Because of the fluid situation, we hear the still freshly inked deals between American productions and the B.C. Council of Film Unions have “built-in flexibility,” according to a source close to the situation.
“Once production ramps up in the next 10 days, we anticipate some unforeseen challenges, but the will is there from all parties to work through and keep crews and actors safe,” a Vancouver industry veteran who participated in the recent successful talks with the B.C Council of Film Unions tells Deadline.