Hollywood’s Covid protocols, which have added hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of producing films and TV shows over the course of the pandemic, officially ends todaycoinciding with the date the federal government has set as the end of the coronavirus public health emergency.
The ultimate cost of the logs may never be known, but the California Film Commission’s latest annual reports provide a glimpse of the magnitude. In California alone, the 92 feature films and seven television series that received state tax incentives over the past two fiscal years are estimated to have incurred a whopping $223.5 million in Covid-related expenses, which in turn were covered by the state’s tax credit for the program.
The California Film Commission’s 2021 annual report called the raw numbers “startling.”
And that’s only for California and only for projects that received the state’s tax credits, which also cover Covid-related costs. However, the vast majority of films and TV shows shot in the state do not receive tax credits and are also bound by Covid protocols.
SAG AFTRA and the Advertising Industry Joint Policy Committee, meanwhile, are also ending their Covid safety protocols for commercial productions, effective today. The total cost of these protocols is not currently available, but is significant and not eligible for California tax credits.
First enacted in September 2020 According to a return agreement between Hollywood’s unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the protocols protected the lives and livelihoods of thousands of industrial workers while allowing production to resume safely after a three-month shutdown in the early days of the pandemic, which was officially declared in the March 2020 started.
Since then, Covid has killed more than a million Americans and was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Hollywood unions showed remarkable solidarity in negotiating the protocols with management. Among the unions that registered at the beginning and end of the minutes were the DGASAG AFTRA, IATSEthe International Brotherhood of cartersHollywood’s Teamsters Local 399, IBEW Local 40, Laborers Local 724, Plasterers and Cement Masons Local 755, and Plumbers Local 78. The WGA was the only guild not directly involved.
Unions have long held the view that safety is primarily the responsibility of employers, who, along with taxpayers, bear the cost of the protocols.
The latest data from the California Film Commission, seen exclusively here, shows producers of 42 feature films that received tax credits are expected to earn $91.5 million for Covid-related expenses in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2022 While producers of seven feature films provided incentives for television, the series was expected to spend an additional $42 million. The year before, the producers of 50 funded projects were expected to have spent $90 million on Covid-related costs, bringing the total to almost a quarter billion over two years.
The Film Commission estimated that in 2021, feature films with budgets greater than $20 million that qualified for the state tax incentive program would spend between 5% and 6.5% of their total budget on Covid-related costs while Low-budget films and TV series would spend around 4.25% of their total budget on Covid-related costs.
Over the past year, the percentage was slightly higher for mid-budget films (5.8% of total budget) and slightly lower for low-budget independent films (3.8% of total budget). “In sheer numbers,” the commission said, “for films budgeted over US$60 million, an average of US$5.6 million should be set aside for Covid-19 compliance.” For films budgeted between US$15 million and US$60 million US dollars were budgeted for an average of 1.5 million US dollars. Around $220,000 was budgeted for low-budget independent films. Estimated spending for the seven television series reflected feature films and averaged 5.35% of the total budget.”
A company source said that for some productions, Covid-related costs accounted for up to 20% or even 30% of the budget, particularly where travel and quarantine were required in the early days.
Film and television projects filmed in New York, Georgia, New Mexico, Arizona and elsewhere in the country were also subject to industry return protocols, and their Covid-related costs could also exceed $100 million.
So where has all the money gone?
The California Film Commission, which has allowed all Covid-related spending in the state to qualify for tax credits, says that “Project budgets submitted for review under the tax credit program indicate that about 40% of Covid spending for labor and 60% for labor.” on materials.
“Covid departments typically consist of two or three people on smaller budget projects and up to 15 people on large multi-unit teams. Working positions include Covid Supervisor, Covid Coordinator, Covid Protocol Compliance Manager, Sanitary Production Assistants, Covid Testers, Medical Covid Staff and additional Drivers and Site Assistants to ensure social distancing is maintained.
“Materials include testing, hygiene stations, face shields, PPE masks, outside testing companies and medical staff, additional vehicles and grants paid to crew to quarantine or work remotely.”
The protocol’s vaccination requirements, which were added to the protocols in July 2021, were by far the most controversial of the rules, giving producers “the ability to establish mandatory vaccination guidelines for cast and crew in Zone A on each individual production basis.” Zone A , where unmasked actors work, was the most restrictive safe work zone on set.
Opponents of the mandates, including SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, argued that they discriminated against those who refused to be vaccinated.
The mandates were “subject to reasonable accommodation, as required by law, for persons who cannot be vaccinated because of a disability or a genuine religious belief, practice or tradition.” However, opponents of compulsory vaccination have argued that these exceptions are too infrequently observed.
These mandates are also ending, with the exception of projects that are in production as of today, for which a mandatory vaccination policy has already been put in place in Zone A. In these cases, the mandate can remain in place for the duration of the production.
And from May 12 through July 31, performers working in scenes that require close or intimate contact or extreme exertion can still have a self-administered Covid antigen test for themselves and other artists they work with in those Scenes will work together, apply.
Also the Covid tests end today, although SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP have agreed to continue testing through July 31. During this period, cast and background actors working in scenes involving close or intimate contact or extreme exertion have the right to request a self-administered Covid antigen test for themselves and other cast and background actors with whom they are in close or close contact will work together.