On June 1, the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee Task Force (Task Force), composed of representatives of producers and the unions of the motion picture and television industries, submitted to the governors of California and New York a white paper proposing guidelines for the resumption of motion picture, television, and streaming production (White Paper). The White Paper presents the consensus of the Task Force regarding the circumstances under which content production can safely resume, with an emphasis on regular testing, sanitation, physical distancing, and education and training. The White Paper also addresses unique production-specific concerns, such as preventing infections from equipment that is commonly shared and not feasibly disinfected (e.g., lighting / electrical cables and certain props, costumes, accessories, wigs, and other specialty items), and special guidelines for casts that include minors or animals.

Though the guidelines set forth in the White Paper are not specifically tailored to any particular production location, they are of particular importance to production in California and New York. In both states, production was halted in late March and remains effectively prohibited as of the date of this article. However, both states have gradually begun reopening by allowing certain sectors to resume limited operations, pursuant to sector-specific guidelines, in regions that meet criteria for slowing the spread of COVID-19. Because neither of these states—the two largest film and TV production hubs in the U.S.—has adopted any guidelines for the resumption of filming or other aspects of production, the White Paper is a significant step toward the resumption of content production in the wake of the pandemic.

By contrast, Georgia—the third-largest U.S. production hub—allowed content production to resume on April 30 upon the expiration of its “shelter in place” requirements, subject to certain social distancing and sanitation rules applicable to all businesses other than critical infrastructure, live performance venues, and amusement parks. (Georgia also released non-binding best practices for content production during the COVID-19 pandemic on May 22.)

Though the White Paper provides a solid foundation for the appropriate California and New York state agencies to examine the resumption of production, it will be a while before the entertainment industry is back to business as usual. In addition to complying with any statewide guidelines, productions must comply with any applicable local directives to legally reopen. And even once they are legally reopened, productions (like any other business) must remain mindful of other federal, state, and/or local obligations that may arise in connection with reopening, for example, regarding the confidential treatment of medical information related to testing protocols or employment discrimination when selecting people to return to work. If the recommendations in the White Paper are adopted, productions will be required to designate a “COVID-19 Compliance Officer,” who will be responsible for COVID-19 safety plan oversight and enforcement and accessible to all cast and crew at all times during work hours.

We are closely monitoring the reopening process and will provide ongoing updates regarding reopening issues related to the White Paper, production insurance, government assistance, labor relations, and other matters.