When Hollywood’s return-to-work agreement expires on April 1, will this be the end of COVID-19 guidelines that have been in place for the past three years?
Sources in the industry believe so and have speculated for weeks that, at the very least, major changes might be coming next month, when the current version of the agreement expires. The deal was last extended in January, loosening protocols when COVID-19 hospital admissions are low.
The Directors Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA, IATSE and the Teamsters and Basic Crafts unions have negotiated the COVID-19 protocols with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios and streamers in talks with unions, since 2020. AMPTP member companies have been pushing for some time to end the agreement, while unions have advocated to keep some degree of protection for members. (AMPTP declined comment.)
“Regarding the COVID protocols, it will be vital to find the middle ground between relaxing some of the protocols while still protecting the IA crews,” IATSE told members in its latest bulletin.
The Hollywood Reporter reached out to multiple labor groups involved in the negotiations for further comment.
The two-tiered agreement, first put into effect in September 2020, establishes stringent protocols (listed under “Part I” of the agreement) when a production is staged in a county or metropolitan area with 14 or more hospital admissions for COVID-19 per 100,000 people. Under that threshold, less stringent protocols take effect (under “Part II”). In January, President Biden announced his intention to end the federal public health emergency on May 11, while Los Angeles’ COVID-19 state of emergency will end on Friday.
In recent months some actors have become increasingly outspoken about their resistance to the protocols. In an interview with The New York Times, Woody Harrelson (Triangle of Sadness) called the fact that the protocols are ongoing “absurd” while Tim Robbins (Castle Rock) supported his remarks in early March, tweeting, “Woody is right. Time to end this charade.” In a speech at SXSW in March, The French Dispatch‘s Tilda Swinton told the audience that on an upcoming film shoot in Ireland, “I was told to wear a mask at all times, and I’m not.”
The president of Hollywood’s largest union, SAG-AFTRA’s Fran Drescher, has long been public about her opposition to vaccine mandates, which are optional for producers and can currently only be put into effect for “Zone A” (performers and crew members who work most closely with them) on sets. In November, Drescher celebrated that Disney had dropped vaccine mandates on 12 television productions in a video shared on social media. “To think that every human on the planet can take one vaccine is ludicrous,” she stated at the time.
The protocols were a major topic of conversation among execs during a March 29 brunch hosted by the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) and THR. “I don’t think it [the return-to-work agreement] should totally go away and be ignored,” Legendary’s evp of production Herb Gains said of the agreement, noting that he pushes for crew members to wear masks in shoots for small movies in tight, interior spaces. “It’s how much you want to spend and how much you want to risk.”
HBO’s evp of production Janet Graham-Borba emphasized the costs associated with adhering to the protocols, estimating they added 20 percent to a project’s budget. “We joke about how it’s trying to do production on a slip and slide,” she said.
In January, President Biden announced his intention to end the federal public health emergency on May 11, while Los Angeles’ COVID-19 state of emergency will end on Friday. The end of the protocols could potentially coincide with the former date, though no official announcements have been made.
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