Gavin Newsom, Ted Sarandos, Ava DuVernay talk production timetables

Gavin Newsom, governor of California, has revealed via a virtual industry roundtable that the state will be issuing guidelines for resuming production during the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, May 25, ...
May 21, 2020

Gavin Newsom, governor of California, has revealed via a virtual industry roundtable that the state will be issuing guidelines for resuming production during the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, May 25, but that not all counties will be able to move at the same pace.

In a roundtable that was part of his “Economic Recovery and Reinvention Listening Tour”, Newsom said the state government was drafting guidelines for the sector “in real time” with the aim to roll out guidelines so that “counties that are in better condition than some of the others can begin to move forward.”

Among those taking part in the roundtable, taped and posted on Wednesday (May 20), were Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, who discussed how the global streaming service is in production on myriad projects in territories across the globe, including South Korea, Sweden and Iceland. “The thing we’re finding out is that there are no ‘one size fits all’ solutions to production,” he said. For example, in Sweden, Sarandos said they are not doing testing but are doing voluntary quarantine in the weeks leading up to and throughout production. In Korea, however, “anyone with a symptom is tested and production is shut down until you get the results.” Meanwhile, in Iceland, there is no ride-sharing to sets.

The one constant in the revamped production model in assorted territories, according to Sarandos, is that the production environment is “very controlled.” But he emphasized that all workers on productions “have to feel safe in order to do the work of their lives” and stressed the value of such capabilities as “fast, dependable testing at scale”.

Sarandos also spelled out the differences in production dynamics between genres, saying that post-production ramped up remotely quite quickly, with approximately 220 Netflix productions in various states of post. He said documentary production could lend itself well to small two or three-person crews, “shooting one person in a confined space or even better, outdoors, where you can easily practice social distancing.”

He also said the streamer is continuing to pay crews who have been on hiatus on shutdown shows out of a US$150 million-plus pot. “There’s a level of commitment to people that you’ve got to make… it’s a mutual investment in one another, and to know this is temporary.”

Also taking part in the roundtable was Ava DuVernay, director, producer and head of film distribution and content collective ARRAY, who pointed to a few positives emerging from the pandemic such as virtual writers rooms and remote methods of working. She also stressed the importance of ensuring that despite the current challenges facing the industry, procedures and policies can be put into place to guarantee that “doors are remaining open for women and people of color and that we don’t constrict in our fear.”

The session also featured representatives from the crewing sector, including hair and make-up artist Stacy Morris and IATSE Local 80 member and key grip Danny Stephens.

Newsom said the guidelines will reflect how counties need to meet certain criteria with “at least” 53 of the 58 counties in the state potentially being able to re-open in some capacity if they can meet that criteria. “The good news is we are starting to see some light,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean the light goes on everywhere,” he said, pointing to LA County as a particular region that “remains a challenging part of the state for us still” which might be a few weeks behind other counties in terms of resuming production due to the continuing impact of the virus in the county, with a “disproportionate” number deaths related to the virus still being reported.

“Anyone who is rushing or taking shortcuts on safety, it’s going to have terrible long-term effects on them,” added Sarandos.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.