Returning to Set: The Agreement Between the Unions
The AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) and the various Unions have released a new agreement as of September 21st, 2020 to offer a document of expectation, consistency, and accountability between productions. Personally, I'm one of the fortunate actors who is currently back on a SAG-AFTRA set as the industry is starting to open back up under the current knowledge. This blog post will serve as a professional glimpse into this document, as well as personal account of what I've experienced so far on set.
Download the Return to Work agreement here (I've highlighted key terms that I feel are noteworthy for actors but I recommend reading the whole thing in its entirety)
So, let's get personal first. I've felt great on set! Granted, I'm working on a very high-level production but, if other productions are striving for this level of efficiency and communication, we'll be in very good hands.
Testing and PPE
I've had 4 COVID-19 tests before being allowed to work. This may not be the standard, but I've gotten tests M, W, F, and the following Monday before working on Tuesday. In the document, all ongoing employees are required to test 3 times per week.
Not 1 but 2 departments have reached out to me for scheduling these tests and being very clear about what to expect. Communication, in general, has been phenomenal.
All tests are drive-thru with no contact.
Production has provided me with 2 reusable masks that are production-approved. They also provided hand sanitizer, a personal thermometer, and a checklist of what to do each day.
I register my test on an app and have a result delivered via email within 48 hours.
According to the document, all actors will receive a $250 stipend for each COVID test on days when the actors are not already working.
When I arrived to my fitting, my temperature was taken before I was allowed on the lot.
All crew wore masks and face shields (and anyone within 6 feet of actors will always have both.)
Before my fitting, I was met by a Health and Safety Representative who handed me my goodie bag of PPE and verbally explained everything I should expect while interacting with folks on set.
Rooms were completely sanitized and aired out in between fittings.
Any time skin-to-skin needed to happen during the fitting, the crew member was wearing gloves.
Production requires each new employee go through a virtual training seminar before working.
The seminar was 45 minutes long and consisted of slides, movies, and a Health and Safety Representative walking us through everything and answering questions.
The training practically consisted of everything laid out in the document (broken down below).
Again, no one is allowed to work without having a negative test result within 48 hours.
Temperatures taken before stepping foot on the lot.
One of the biggest new strategies is that actors will only work for 15 minutes at a time. After that, everyone disperses, the stage is aired out, people have a chance to socially distance and remove their masks, and then everyone comes back for another session.
I expect to see this reflected in more and more scripts that we will not see long scenes between actors, especially those who are not series regulars.
Anyone within 6 feet of an actor must wear a mask and face shield at all times.
Gloves are worn for skin-to-skin contact.
Things move efficiently, there are "Pods" (learn more about that below) to minimize contamination, amd there is a sense of everyone being grateful to be back at work.
In general, all of the rules applied have had significantly more pros than cons, from this actor's perspective. Now, let's talk about the document.
The Reason Why
The agreement starts off by saying that these actions will only be effective if all productions and departments hold themselves to the highest standards, both during work and in our personal lives between work days.
This is a temporary agreement, starting September 21st 2020 and tentatively active until April 30th, 2021. At that point, it will be revisited and extended/adjusted as needed.
In short, producers agree to follow the guidelines laid out in this agreement but may also choose to enforce additional guidelines.
All employees must have a negative result within 48 hours of starting employment.
A Pre-Employment test is not required for VO, ADR, or another session where you're alone while recording and not required to come within 6 feet of someone else for longer than 15 minutes.
During employment, "Zone A" (cast) employees are required to test at least 3 times per week. (Less if you're not working weekly)
If you test positive, Producers will follow CDC guidelines resulting in re-testing, quarantine, self-isolation, or other. Any other employees who may have been exposed will also comply with those guidelines.
These are not antibody tests.
Testing may be done on- or off-site and you will need to fill out a consent form prior to testing.
Not allowed on the premises with temperature checks. If you are too hot, you'll be given 15 minutes to rest in a controlled environment and re-tested.
Any non-background actor who travels to test on a non-workday will receive a stipend of $250.
If you're already working, it's considered part of your work day.
Different departments are being zoned into "zones" or "pods." This is to keep cross-contamination of departments to a minimum.
Not all Pods have access to all parts of set or will interact with other Pods.
Each Pod will have a COVID-19 Compliance Supervisor who can ensure that everything is working smoothly.
They also report concerns and may enforce violations.
No employee shall be disciplined for refusing to work on a job that they feel exposes them to danger.
Each producer is tasked with creating a training program, which will be required before employment.
There may be additional pay provided for training.
Producers provide face covering that are to be worn at all times, except when eating, drinking, or when job duties prevent it.
Anyone within close contact (within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more) shall be required to wear a face shield and maybe also goggles.
Temporary Sick Leave
If you miss work due to a COVID-19 event, you're eligible for up to 10 days of paid sick leave (when applicable).
The rates are laid out in the document, but most are broken down into a day rate.
VO actors get paid the session fee.
Such payments shall be subject to pension and health contributions and shall not impact any calculation of residuals.
You may be required to present a "doctor's note" to be eligible.
You don't get paid for unused sick leave.
If you're on distant location and unable to get home due to a COVID-19 event, producers shall provide you with lodging and per diem.
You can be reinstated, if your role hasn't been recast.
Meals and snacks are individually packaged. Buffet style food service or anything that requires sharing of utensils will not be allowed.
There are several other key points in the document, including what happens if the director is sick or if you're required to work in your home (VO, ADR, etc) and I recommend you read the doc fully to understand all of those minute points.
Again, this is a working document and will be adjusted as the industry learns more about how to work under certain circumstances. But it's a good place to start to get informed about how you fit into this environment!
As always, do your research. If you have questions, reach out to someone who can help. We're all looking to find a solution and, like they said at the beginning of the document, that's only going to happen when we're all on the same page. Both at work and in our personal lives.
Jordan Woods-Robinson is an Actor and Head Honcho at Book From Tape Acting Studios in Orlando, FL. He challenges his actors to harness impulse as a tool, to trust their guts, to work on their feet, to break rules, and, overall, to make bold choices that make a lasting impression through tape. Email Jordan