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Location filming in L.A. slows as coronavirus fears spread

Filming for a movie at Northridge Fashion Center in the San Fernando Valley.
Filming for a movie at Northridge Fashion Center in the San Fernando Valley.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Some local film projects are rearranging production plans and unions are stopping face-to-face meetings in Los Angeles as the entertainment industry continues to grapple with the effects of the spreading coronavirus.

Although no permits have been canceled, a few local productions have voluntarily modified filming schedules due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19, according to FilmLA, the nonprofit group that handles film permits for the city and the county of Los Angeles.

The volume of permits for on-location filming in the last two weeks has dropped 7% to 8% compared with the same period a year ago but with no explicit link to the coronavirus, said FilmLA spokesman Philip Sokoloski.

“So far, there is no official order to shut down or limit on-location filming,” FilmLA said in an a production alert. “Film sets, like other workplaces, are scenes of elevated precaution, not panic.”

The alert is one of the ways Hollywood is starting to respond to the deadly viral outbreak. Some high-profile movies have already halted filming overseas or had their release dates postponed.

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The film and television industry is a huge driver of the local economy and is experiencing a boom in production linked to the advent of new streaming services.

FilmLA cited Los Angeles County Department of Public Health directives, listed on its coronavirus website, with specific guidance for employers and travelers, among others. Those instructions include the warning that the cancellation or modification of public events may be necessary to counter a significant community spread of COVID-19. Filmmakers, like all employers, should prepare for this possibility, FilmLA said.

One case of COVID-19 on a film set has already been reported, according to SAG-AFTRA late Tuesday. The union said Walt Disney Television had notified cast and crew of the Chicago-based show “neXT” that a production member had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“That person came into contact with other cast and crew at Cinespace and possibly elsewhere,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement. “We are working with the production company regarding this matter to determine the timeline and scope of potential exposure to members and others.”

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FilmLA staff typically canvass neighborhoods to deliver so-called notices of filming, and production companies go door-to-door to conduct community filming surveys. The organization said it would honor requests from residents who did not wish to receive such notices.

The FilmLA announcement follows a move by SAG-AFTRA, Hollywood’s biggest union, to cancel or rearrange any in-person meetings. The Writers Guild of America also said it was canceling its general membership meeting, raising uncertainty over whether the unions will be able to proceed with face-to-face negotiations planned in the coming weeks.

The guild, which had scheduled the meeting at the Hollywood Palladium, said the decision was a precaution against COVID-19.

“In lieu of face-to-face meetings, the negotiating committee will share information about the upcoming negotiations via email over the next two weeks,” the WGA said in a note to members.

The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are scheduled to begin bargaining March 23 in meetings usually attended by dozens of representatives on both sides. SAG-AFTRA has yet to set a date for its meetings.


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