On Wednesday, SAG-AFTRA, the Los Angeles-based actor and other entertainer labor union, announced that most productions in California would be put on hiatus until at least mid-January due to the recent COVID-19 surge.
In a message posted on the labor union’s website, SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris and national executive director David White noted that the recent surge, as well as ICU capacity in Southern California hitting 0%, have caused most productions to be delayed by several weeks, cutting into a crucial time for filming in the Los Angeles-area.
“We are writing to let you know that we are closely monitoring the recent surge in COVID-19 infections along with the reported lack of intensive care unit (ICU) beds throughout the state of California and particularly in Los Angeles County,” said the union leaders in their message.
“Most entertainment productions will remain on hiatus until the second or third week of January if not later. This means that the number of our member performers working on sets right now is reduced. Our safety protocols ensure appropriate precautions for the holiday hiatus period including additional time for testing prior to the resumption of production.”
“To ensure the utmost safety, we are in close contact with our sister unions and guilds, the industry, our expert epidemiologists, industrial sanitation specialists, public health officials, member leaders and staff. We remain focused on ensuring the safest possible work environment and protocols for SAG-AFTRA members.”
Shortly after, studios and productions began announcing hiatuses, most notably CBS, who will be delaying production starts from January 4th until at least January 11th. The delay will cause many shows, such as ‘NCIS’ and ‘NCIS: Los Angeles’, to have gaps in their broadcast and streaming schedules.
Other industry organizations, such as Film LA, also added similar messages and media advisories noting that while filming permits can be obtained in January, it is strongly advised against doing so until late January.
A hiatus of several weeks
The latest delays to the film and TV industry come as a blow to a rebounding industry in California that held surprisingly steady in 2020 thanks to streaming services offering an outlet for new releases and a large number of productions restarting during the summer.
“It’s been a real off and on problem,” said location scout Nicholas Duca to the Globe. “A lot of shows and productions I work for are going on hiatus for a bit, and honestly, it’s been like that ever since COVID-19 started.
“Film crews, and the cast, can be big. Even more solo jobs, like mine, require meeting with other people that can easily go over the state gathering limit.
“But the ICU bed shortage, and the big Christmas surge, are what everyone is worried about now. So this is just a precaution of a few weeks. Again, productions can have a lot of people, and one person having it can quickly have it spread around.”
Others in and around the industry worried what the hiatus could potentially do.
“One or two weeks doesn’t sound like a lot,” explained entertainment lawyer Jeffrey Klein to the Globe. “But that’s a few new episodes that might not be shot. That’s a delay to air time by a few weeks. That costs money everywhere from lost advertisements to paying people to stay home for a week. And for workers in the industry, it’s like everyone else, they want to work and they want to see these things they worked so hard on go up.
“It won’t be like earlier this year where there were months without much, but things were just getting back to normal, or really, as normal as they could possibly be during this time. They even were allowed to shoot while other industries were pulled back by the state.
“It just goes to show just how bad COVID-19 got here.”
Productions in California will likely resume in late January.