Hollywood Is Leaving COVID Safety To Ill-Prepared Assistants Who Say They Have No Idea What They’re Doing

“Testing is important and extracting people who test positive is important, but people rely too heavily on testing. They’re lulled into a false sense of security by thinking that everyone on set is tested so they are safe, when the testing is only a snapshot. It’s just a moment in time,” the Warner Bros. employee added. “I can test negative in the morning and be positive in the afternoon. This is not a worry-free environment. You should be worried.”

It may be unrealistic to expect a standard for COVID safety across television and film sets given how different each production is, but the Amazon Studios employee said there should at least be clear guidelines on each show. When it comes to the Amazon production, the assistant said, “The way I’ve been told to handle things changes depending on who I’m speaking to.”

“No one is on the same page,” the employee said. “There’s not a lot of clear communication going on. I don’t know if my superiors have even properly communicated with each other.”

According to the Amazon Studios employee, main cast members also “operate under a different set of rules” because they’re tested more often. And the power dynamics with more senior colleagues don’t help.

“Some people act frustrated when I try to just do my job — it’s very much an ego thing in that regard,” the employee said. “I try to calmly reiterate and explain what I’ve been tasked to do, which also isn’t much. I’m just trying to operate on the minimal instruction I’ve been given.”

Another production assistant in charge of COVID safety on a documentary about Britney Spears over the summer also said they didn’t receive any training on how to keep everyone safe, and that it was uncomfortable to enforce what guidelines there were when everyone was their superior.

They recalled someone on set who kept refusing to wear a mask, even coming over at one point to “go on and on saying, ‘More people die from the flu [than COVID-19] every year.’”

“And I can’t say anything back because I’m a PA,” the assistant said. “I just responded, ‘Interesting, I didn’t know that.’ He would only wear his mask for maybe 10-minute increments, and we’d have to keep reminding him.”

Now, with Los Angeles County continuing to be a coronavirus hot spot — the average number of new COVID cases per day was recently about 7,000 — the assistant said they’re avoiding in-person work “because of how terrifying LA is right now.”

But not all share their sentiment. A COVID safety officer who recently worked on a CBS sitcom said they had a mostly positive experience working on set and are prepared to eventually return.

“Universally, this is something every industry is going to have to learn,” the employee said. “We’re trying to make this work as much as possible, and from what I saw, people were more angry and disillusioned at hearing that the production was in danger of getting shut down because other people weren’t being safe than they were angry about having to abide by the rules we created.”

The assistant, who also declined to be named, said there was a learning curve for crew members and talent to get used to the show’s strict set of rules, but staffers “changed their mindsets and embraced the new normal” because they wanted to keep their jobs.

“We didn’t want to come from a place of, ‘You have to do this,’ but we explained the reasoning behind it,” the employee said. “Putting a cotton swab up your nose for 10 seconds every day is a heck of a lot better than potentially contracting a deadly virus and spreading it to your friends and family.” ●

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