Three more Vancouver-based series — the CW’s Riverdale and Batwoman and Netflix’s Maid, all from Warner Bros TV — have been cleared to resume production tomorrow after receiving the delayed COVID-19 tests for their casts and crews. The trio, which had been dark for more than a week, are the first WBTV series impacted by the lab delays to go back to production.
Several other WBTV shows remain idle, with the CW’s The Flash poised to kick off filming later this week, we hear.
As Deadline reported last Tuesday, a big backlog at the Vancouver lab handling all COVID tests ground production on most U.S. series to a halt at the beginning of last week. While most shows, one by one, have been able to resume filming, the underlying issue of test-processing capacity remains, keeping U.S. productions in Hollywood North on edge that another bottleneck could be just around the corner, causing more shutdowns.
From the get-go, U.S. studios and British Columbia unions were at odds over the volume and frequency of testing, with the local B.C. guidelines — testing actors twice a week, crew members in close interaction with them once a week, and no testing for the rest of the crew — not meeting the safety requirements set by SAG-AFTRA. The U.S. guild got involved and, after a standoff, an agreement was reached in line with the SAG-AFTRA guidelines for rigorous testing.
But the local LifeLabs-run system was quickly overloaded.
The volume of COVID tests required for U.S. series to comply with back-to-work standards dwarfs the number of tests regularly performed in British Columbia, where asymptotic people are not tested. The number of tests performed daily in the entire BC province in the past few months equals the tests needed for just a portion of the U.S. series in Vancouver. Still, we hear the studios were able to contract the lab for the amount of tests they needed. But then, we hear their allotments were reduced by as much as 50%, cutting the number of tests processed on a number of shows, which led to the delays.
We hear the backlog is partially due to the British Columbia provincial government placing a priority at the lab on results for schools as the new academic year started. Deep into an election set for October 24 that looks almost certain to return the generally production-friendly New Democratic Party to office for another term, the province is seeing coronavirus cases plateau after an uptick out of summer long weekends.
“It’s a big mess,” a local insider told Deadline. “And the studios are frustrated with a public health system they don’t understand, and a strategy from our Public Health Officer that is counter to the advice and strategy of their own epidemiologist.”
While the delays are expensive, costing studios hundreds of thousands of dollars for each show, the productions don’t seem to have a choice but to wait.
Hollywood studios had been looking to contract their own private labs to handle the increased volume of testing required. That was not allowed, as there were concerns from Canadian officials and unions that BC privacy laws could be violated in the testing process as private companies are brought on-board and on-set. For similar reasons, U.S. productions have not been able to send their tests to the U.S. for processing (Seattle is just across the border), or to a lab in another Canadian province to expedite results.
Compounding the backlog issue is the fact that under the rules set up for production in B.C., COVID-19 tests time out after 72 hours., which means that delays could require new tests be conducted, fueling an even greater backlog. (We hear multiple shows have had to discard tests results because they were too old by the time they came from the lab.)
The only feasible option currently is for the Vancouver lab to ramp up testing capacity, which we hear it has been assuring U.S. studios is underway.
“They are looking into getting more labs online, because the system was not set up for this volume,” a Vancouver-based producer says. “All we hear right now is ‘we’re working on it,’ which isn’t that reassuring.”