Lights, Camera and Return to Action: Georgia TV and Film Production in the Wake of COVID-19

Georgia’s film and television industry is poised to return to work. On April 27, 2020, Governor Brian Kemp issued an Executive Order, which cleared the way for most Georgia businesses to re-open following a four-week shelter-in-place mandate. In the following weeks, the Governor issued a follow-up order that sanctioned the re-opening of the remaining businesses subject to various limited exceptions. As closure orders lift, business owners face new realities and considerations before opening their doors, including how to open and operate in a manner that prioritizes the safety of their customers and employees. Among the businesses facing these questions surrounding re-opening are the film and television industries that continue to call Georgia, “home.”  In efforts to alleviate such safety concerns, the Georgia Film Office (together with various studio and production companies in Georgia) issued health and safety guidance for the film industry entitled, “Best Practices to Reduce Contagion of Covid-19.” These guidelines along with guidance from the CDC and OSHA should be used, in conjunction with labor and employment best practices, to establish internal policies and procedures that will apply to production sets and related activities as we settle into the “new normal.”

Among the suggested practices, productions are advised to adopt prescribed sanitation and disinfection protocols, employ the use of protective equipment and touch-free technologies, limit close contact between talent, crew and vendors, maintain written records that report activities and interactions that occur on set, and limit or prohibit unnecessary activities such as in-person casting calls, self-serve catering, group transportation and site scouting services. The guidelines provide specific and granular suggestions for a wide range of production-related activities and services ranging from set and location safety, talent and background actor engagement, art, wardrobe and design activities, and crew, electrician and grip strategic measures. As a general theme, the guidelines are premised upon the self-regulated, personal responsibility exercised by all production participants. Put simply – we are all in this together and the path forward is rooted in the maximization of safety. As such, the most effective policies will be those that take into consideration the unique and subjective realities of a production’s specific activities.

While the guidelines are considered “suggestions” and are not enforceable as law, it is advisable to adopt as many of these practices as possible as they (along with CDC and OSHA guidance) are certain to establish the presumptive standard for what is considered, legally “reasonable.” In addition to the guidelines, productions might consider providing detailed questionnaires and informational surveys to their employees and contractors, which requests are designed to identify and flag potential safety issues and on-set contagion risks. The specifics of any such questionnaire program, similar to the substance of safety protocols, should be tailored to meet and address the requirements and peculiarities of each production.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 closure cloud and “return to action,” it is imperative that we create a work-environment that prioritizes the health and safety of all persons with whom we work and share close, personal space. The realities of the film and television production industry are such that “working remotely” is simply not a feasible option. Human connection is, literally, both necessary and indispensable. To best achieve this end, we suggest that each production consider the guidance of the Film Office, together with suggested practices communicated by CDC and OSHA, to develop a custom, production-wide program designed to maximize the safety for all.

Henry M. Perlowski is a partner in the firm’s Litigation practice and has substantial experience in contract and insurance coverage matters.

Matthew V. Wilson is a partner and co-chair of the firm’s Sports and Entertainment industry team.

Edward P. Cadagin is an associate in the firm’s Litigation practice and has substantial experience in employment counseling.

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