U.S. TV Production In Vancouver Largely On Pause Over COVID-19 Test Results Delays

EXCLUSIVE: A month after U.S. series began to resume production in Vancouver with COVID-19 protocols amid the pandemic, a number of them have suspended filming. Like was the case when restart of production was delayed in August, the issue has to do with testing.

I hear a slew of series from multiple studios have been idle for several days now because of a delay in receiving COVID-19 test results for their casts and crew. I hear a local lab did not meet deadlines, leaving productions in the dark. There is no indication that there are any positive cases but, without definitive test results, studios have had no choice but to halt production. I hear the suspension of filming is done day by day and still ongoing. Additionally, I’m getting accounts of possible test shortages, which would compound the problem. “It’s a mess,” multiple industry insiders said of the situation.

There has been a recent spike of COVID cases in British Columbia. That likely contributed to the delays as labs prioritize tests of local citizens over businesses who need testing for commercial purposes. Word is that more testing capacity is being added to help resolve the bottleneck and prevent another one in the future.

That has been an issue since mid-August when Deputy Provincial Health Officer Dr. Reka Gustafson admitted there had been delays in ramping up testing capacity, leading to delays.

An escalating standoff with the BC Council of Film Unions over COVID-19 safety protocols related to testing culminated in Vancouver-based The Good Doctor shutting down pre-production on July 31.  The local guidelines in British Columbia — testing actors twice a week, crew members in close interaction with them once a week and no testing for the rest of the crew — did not meet the safety requirements set by SAG-AFTRA. The U.S. guild got involved, threatening to withhold services in Vancouver.

One of the issues in the standoff was related to the volume of testing, how the information would be handled and who would have access to it. Because of the large number of tests that would be required, Hollywood studios had been planning to contract their own private labs. (Just a couple of show’s tests would exceed the number of test performed daily in the entire BC province, just over 1.5K a day before U.S. shows started filming.) There were concerns by Canadian officials and unions that BC privacy laws could be violated in the testing process as private companies are brought on-board and on-set, and Canadian laws also prohibit the testing of samples to be done in the U.S.

In the end, Hollywood studios and British Columbia unions agreed on rigorous testing according to the SAG-AFTRA guidelines, with individual shows starting to reach agreements in mid-August. U.S. studios with shows filming in Vancouver include Disney TV Studios, Warner Bros. TV, Netflix and Sony Pictures TV.

 

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