British Columbia

B.C. film industry ready to roll again, with new coronavirus safety guidelines

It is estimated that film and TV production contributes more than $3 billion annually to the provincial economy but all that was put on pause by the coronavirus pandemic.

WorkSafeBC guidelines offer specific direction but many choices up to each production, department

WorkSafeBC has released new safety guidelines for the B.C. film industry to help control the spread of the coronavirus, while getting workers back on set. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

In 35 years as a film and TV costumer, Lorraine Carson of Vancouver has seen a lot of garments.

These days, she's adding a few items to her wardrobe: gloves, masks and face shields.

That's because many in the industry are getting ready to head back on set now that coronavirus pandemic safety guidelines have been formulated by WorkSafeBC.

"I think that every precaution we can take should be taken," Carson said. "Everyone's excited to go back to work and hopes that we can do that very soon."

Lorraine Carson on location for the pilot of Siren, a drama made for the U.S. Freeform channel and shot in B.C. (Lorraine Carson)

Creative B.C., a provincial organization that supports a range of creative industries, has estimated that film and TV production contributes more than $3 billion annually to the provincial economy.

Workers in the industry say they are ready to embrace the new guidelines and get back into action.

Communal activity

WorkSafeBC's directions leave many details up to individual departments on set and individual productions, but there are some universal guidelines.

Limiting gatherings of cast and crew is advised, as is staggering departments working on-set. 

WorkSafe advises the use of two-way radios and cellphones to limit in-person communication. Outdoor shooting is preferred for additional physical distancing. 

Trailers should be disinfected before being assigned to a new performer and the use of extras should be limited, where possible, and they should provide and wear their own clothing.

Phil Klapwyk, business representative for IATSE 891, a local union representing 14,500 artists and technicians, said creativity will be needed.

Many filmmaking activities are communal and require close proximity. Increasing physical distancing and hygiene will be the challenges.

Some productions are rewriting scripts to limit contact between actors, for instance.

"We have a lot of situations where the performers are at risk, where you ask them to actually kiss," Klapwyk said.

"They don't know each other, so they're really making a leap of faith when you do that."

Lorraine Carson, bottom, helps actor Steve Zahn during a costume fitting for the 2019 National Geographic series Valley of the Boom. Carson said when the local film industry goes back to work, many aspects will change, especially to limit close contact between performers and crew. (Lorraine Carson)

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she hasn't seen the WorkSafe guidance for the film and TV industry but noted that the issue of non-essential workers looking to travel to Canada will need to be addressed.

In B.C.'s four-phase restart plan, film and TV production were listed alongside hotels, resorts, parks and theatres as part of Phase 3 reopenings.

Blockbuster 2020

The province's film industry was on pace for a blockbuster 2020, according to Klapwyk, but everything came to a halt once a person on the set of the WB series Riverdale was exposed to a COVID-19 patient and series production was halted on March 11.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the issue of international travellers will need to be addressed as the film industry restarts. Many of the productions filmed in B.C. involve Americans, both in front of the camera and behind it. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

By March 13 — "a day that will go down in infamy," he said — all productions had wrapped.

"It was astounding, actually," he said.

Before mid-March about $15 million a week in salary was being paid to IATSE 891 members, Klapwyck said.

Now, it's only $24,000 to $25,000 and unemployment in the field stands at around 95 per cent.

"That's a lot of mortgages not getting paid. That's a lot of rent and groceries," he said. "We were on track for our best year ever."

The new standards are good news, Klapwyk said. Already, he's getting calls from producers who are eager to begin shooting again once they have plans in place.

Carson said she  already has a costuming job lined up for Aug. 1, but in the meantime has been having meetings and doing prep work over video chats.

"A lot of Zoom meetings," Carson said. "I've gotten really good at those."

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at

With files from Tanya Fletcher, The Canadian Press


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