Hollywood is booming despite Delta variant as production surges past pre-pandemic levels

  • On the set of “NCIS: Los Angeles” (Robert Voets/CBS/TNS)

Hollywood is back in business.

Even as a new infectious variant of COVID-19 threatens Californians, the film and television industry recorded 9,791 shoot days in the second quarter of 2021 — up 4,947% from the 194 shoot days for the same period last year and up 40% from 7,011 shoot days in the first quarter of this year.

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Shoots for FX’s “American Crime Story: Impeachment” and the new Steven Spielberg movie “The Fabelmans” for Universal Pictures powered the biggest second quarter of location filming in the Los Angeles region since 2016 (when there were 9,937 shoot days), according to FilmLA. The nonprofit group handles film permits for the city and county.

“By almost any available measure, the second quarter was good for filming in Los Angeles,” FilmLA. President Paul Audley said in a statement. “With local COVID-19 cases rising, it’s not clear whether that will be sustainable, but the industry’s commitment to community, cast and crew safety remains firmly in place.”

Last month, leading entertainment industry unions including SAG-AFTRA and Teamsters Local 399 agreed with an alliance of major film and TV producers on a new set of measures for safely filming during the pandemic. Under that deal, productions were allowed to require that cast and crew in high-risk areas of sets be vaccinated.

In the second quarter, L.A. County Department of Public Health orders that imposed testing and other safety measures on nonunion, commercial or reality TV productions were dropped. The only COVID-19 safety mandates that are now necessary, besides CAL/OSHA workplace requirements, are those required by the unions. That has helped production speed up in the region as costly and laborious social distancing, testing and sanitization requirements were loosened.

So far, the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which has led to a surge in infections, has not dented the pace of recovery in on-location film production, one measure of production activity. Some shows, such as Fox’s “The Masked Singer,” have reported outbreaks of the virus and been forced to pause while others were able to keep cameras rolling.

The second quarter of 2021 was the most active quarter by shoot days since the fourth quarter of 2019, when there were 9,839 shoot days.

The nonprofit permitting organization estimated that the level of activity in the second quarter was up 7.2% from 2019 pre-pandemic levels, when the average number of shoot days in a quarter was 9,135.

The most active area this latest quarter was commercials shoots, up 55.5% over the first quarter to 1,544 shoot days. Feature films were up 43% to 824 shoot days and television rose 30% to 4,913 shoot days in the second quarter. A shoot day is defined as a crew’s permission to film in a single location during a 24-hour period.

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“The industry’s robust safety guidelines remain firmly in place, and these have so far proven effective for keeping business moving safely,” FilmLA’s Audley said.

Television remained a key driver for production, fueled by TV dramas and reality programming, with shows such as CBS’ miniseries “Ghosts” and the new Starz drama “Gaslit” filming in the period. Shoot days for television increased 82% in the second quarter compared to a five-year rolling average, FilmLA said.

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