Hollywood executives defended the continued operation of film crews during the COVID-19 pandemic while other Los Angeles-area businesses like bars and restaurants need to shut down.
The issue came to the fore this past weekend when a restaurant owner from Sherman Oaks blasted Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and California Governor Gavin Newsom for shutting down her outdoor eatery while allowing a film crew to set up a large tent and dining area just a few feet away.
The clip by Angela Marsden, the owner of the Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill, shows her pointing out that her outdoor patio had tables that were socially distanced while the nearby filming site did as well.
Angela Marsden, the owner of the Pineapple Hill Grill & Saloon in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, posted a video that went viral on social media on December 5
She blasted Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for allowing a company filming a movie to set up a tent with an outdoor eating section right next to her own bar, which was forced to shut down its outdoor dining area due to the recent lockdown measures
Marsden pointed out that her own patio (seen above) was socially distanced and that her bar had taken measures to protect customers from the spread of the coronavirus
‘Tell me that this is dangerous but right next to me, as a slap in my face … this is safe?’ a tearful Marsden asks in the video.
‘Everything I own is being taken away from me, and they set up a movie company right next to my outdoor patio.’
The state and Los Angeles County imposed stricter lockdown measures that banned in-person dining, including outdoor dining, last week due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Marsden’s video went viral and her plea generated significant media attention and highlighted the fact that California has designated film and television production as ‘essential’ businesses, exempting it from lockdown measures.
Addison Rae and Tanner Buchanan (pictured in light green shirt) get ready to film He’s All That in Los Angeles on Tuesday
He’s All That is a gender-flipped reboot of the 1990s hit classic starring Freddie Prinze Jr. Addison Rae (right), the TikTok star, is seen above on the set of the film in Los Angeles on Tuesday with co-star Buchanan (second from left)
The film stirred controversy after it was learned that a COVID-19 testing site at LA’s Union Station paused testing due to filming in the area earlier this month. In response to the backlash, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti intervened and kept the testing site functioning
The stricter lockdown measures currently in effect in much of California were imposed after ICU capacity at local hospitals fell below 15 per cent in the designated statewide areas, including Los Angeles County.
Many Californians believe it is unfair that filming can continue while hair and nail salons, restaurants, bars, schools, public playgrounds, sporting events, concerts, and other businesses are shuttered.
But Hollywood executives said that the movie industry cannot be compared to restaurants and bars because the risk of virus transmission on a film set is much lower than those of eateries and pubs.
‘We are not a bar where everybody sits around with their masks off,’ Momita Sengupta, Netflix’s vice president of physical production, told The Hollywood Reporter.
Sengupta noted that film and television sets require staffers and crew to follow strict health protocols that were agreed upon by the studios, the unions representing the actors and behind-the-scenes people, and epidemiologists.
Aside from mandatory mask wearing and physical distancing, other mitigation measures have been put in place.
Film sets are closed off to visitors, shooting days are limited to 10 hours per day so as to allow time for extra precautions to be put in place, and the people working there must be tested at least three times per week.
Local residents have chafed at the film sets that have continued operating during the lockdown while schools, barber shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, sporting events, playgrounds, and other venues have been forced to shut down
California Governor Gavin Newsom (left) and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (right) have come under fire for granting the entertainment industry an exemption to allow film sets to continue operating during the lockdown
Actors who are in close contact with each other on set could be tested as much as once a day.
The strict protocols were agreed upon after the film industry was forced to shut down for months at the start of the pandemic.
‘It’s not a public-facing industry, and there are low transmission rates on set,’ a California government source said of the film industry’s operations during the pandemic.
But most of the public is not aware of the strict health protocols put in place by Hollywood film sets, which could lead local residents to angrily wonder why filming is allowed to continue while schools, restaurants, shops, and other businesses must close.
‘I think it’s a reasonable question to ask if one is unfamiliar with the rules that go into making a film set safe,’ FilmLA spokesperson Philip Sokoloski told THR.
The film industry has not been shy about using its clout to force regulators to back down.
Los Angeles County has imposed stricter lockdown measures in recent weeks due to the surge in COVID-19 cases
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have reached record levels in Los Angeles County and much of the rest of California
On Tuesday, the county recorded its 8,000th death. It is now averaging about 9,000 additional cases a day, more than double what it was two weeks ago
Just before Thanksgiving, LA County imposed a one-month ban on shootings or setups between 10pm and 5am – in accordance with a limited stay-at-home countywide curfew.
Hours later, FilmLA told production companies that the county walked back the ban, which was put in place to ‘maintain public support for filming happening during a time when others are being asked to stay home,’ according to Sokoloski.
The order was rescinded and Hollywood film studios were urged to ‘be mindful of the community impact’ if they film while the stay-at-home order is in effect.
Public anger at the film industry reached a peak in late November when a COVID-19 testing site in LA’s Union Station said it needed to reschedule some 500 tests due to an ‘event being held’ at the location.
It turned out that the ‘event’ was a film shoot for He’s All That, the reboot of the hit 1990s film She’s All That starring Addison Rae of TikTok fame.
The fierce public backlash prompted the mayor, Garcetti, to intervene and keep the testing site functioning.
Film reps insist that the mishap was an unfortunate result of miscommunication.
Newsom has imposed a sweeping stay-at-home order for most of the state due to a surge in COVID-19 cases
‘Had it been brought to our attention as an either-or question, we would have said that the testing has to take priority and the filming may not proceed,’ Sokoloski said.
‘It’s a very unfortunate situation that has been positioned as making the film industry a priority over the needs of Angelenos who sought testing – and that was never really the case.’
California government officials are mindful of the fact that other states that have more relaxed COVID-19 restrictions, like Georgia, could possibly lure film studios to shoot in their areas.
In recent years, Georgia has emerged as a hub of filming for the entertainment industry thanks to tax breaks offered by state and local governments.
If film studios were to abandon LA, it could have an adverse impact on the local economy.
‘The [entertainment] industry is a crucial economic engine that is very well-served by the fact that over the course of several months they have been exemplary,’ one official told THR.
‘The real hope and anticipation is that this can be maintained.’
Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations have reached record levels in Los Angeles County and much of the rest of California.
LA County is the state’s largest with some 10 million residents and has a disproportionately large number of California’s cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
On Tuesday, the county recorded its 8,000th death. It is now averaging about 9,000 additional cases a day, more than double what it was two weeks ago.
More than 30,000 restaurants in Los Angeles County were closed to diners for months after a statewide shutdown order in March relegated them to offering takeout.
They never fully recovered as they tried to navigate ever-changing regulations for reopening that eventually allowed dining on patios and makeshift seating areas in alleys, parking lots, sidewalks and blocked-off streets.
But as cases surged last month Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer cut the outdoor dining capacity in half and said it would be banned altogether if daily case counts exceeded 4,000.
Ferrer didn’t anticipate the county hitting that number for weeks. It instead took just a few days. Now only takeout and delivery meals are allowed.
Bars and restaurants did receive a bit of good news on Tuesday.
A state judge ruled that Ferrer acted ‘arbitrarily’ and didn’t prove the danger to the public when she banned outdoor dining at restaurants as coronavirus cases surged last month, a judge ruled on Tuesday in a case other businesses may use to try to overturn closures and restrictions.
The county failed to show that health benefits outweigh the negative economic effects before issuing the ban, Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote.
He also said the county did not offer evidence that outdoor dining presented a greater risk of spreading the virus.
‘By failing to weigh the benefits of an outdoor dining restriction against its costs, the county acted arbitrarily and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end,’ the judge wrote.
Chalfant limited the outdoor dining ban to three weeks and said once it expires on December 16 the Department of Public Health must conduct a risk-benefit analysis before trying to extend it.
It was the first victory for California restaurants challenging health orders that have crippled their industry.
But there was no immediate relief for LA county restaurant owners because a more sweeping shutdown ordered by Newsom now is in effect.
The California Restaurant Association, which brought the lawsuit, had hoped the judge would lift the ban but still was pleased with the result.
‘I do think that this is going to hold the county’s feet to the fire when they decide to close down an entire sector of economy,’ association lawyer Richard Schwartz said.
‘You can’t have a cure that’s worse than the disease.’
Chalfant’s ruling clears the way for restaurants to return to operation when Newsom’s order expires.
However, it’s not clear when that will happen since the governor’s order is in effect until ‘at least’ December 27.
The association didn’t say if it would challenge the state order in court. Lawyers for the county didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.