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Paramount Pictures In The Pandemic

Like many other difficult times in history, entertainment is what keeps people going. People are willing to pay a buck to laugh, cry, forget their worries and immerse themselves in another world that’s not their own for a few moments. 

Paramount Pictures Corporation has continued to film projects with implemented safety guidelines to protect production staff and actors. Safety precautions extend anywhere from mandatory zones with corresponding wristbands to being COVID-19 tested every other day. 

“COVID compliance is a pain in the ass, but my friends and I constantly remind each other that the studio is just trying to keep us safe,” Michyl-Shannon Quilty, who is a production supervisor at Paramount Pictures, said.

Paramount Pictures works directly with an Atlanta-based COVID-19 compliance company to fill out paperwork and plan filming procedures to ensure everyone stays safe on the set. 

Before projects could commence, either in short or long-form, paperwork had to be completed beforehand. Short-form paperwork cleared smaller activities such as wardrobe pickups from their Atlanta warehouse while long form paperwork cleared activities such as filming projects.

Both paperwork sets had to ensure that COVID-19 testing was taking place for everyone involved and that a coronavirus precheck was being issued and completed before anyone left their homes. Long-form paperwork was required to include the COVID-19 protocols for any and all vendors used in production. They had to be submitted and approved by the labor relations team before anything such as car services and hotels were used. 

“There was a lot of paperwork to do as far as telling Paramount’s Labor Relations and Paramount Safety exactly what was going on and they worked hand in hand with the COVID compliance company. We would have to submit one long form for the lawyers and on that form we had to exactly state everything going on and do major planning ahead of time,” Quilty said. 

COVID-19 testing occurred regularly for everyone before they start work. The workers must be tested negative before they are around other people. 

A typical day coming to work on set always began with completing a precheck before leaving your house in the morning. This is similar to UCI’s Living Well Daily Symptoms Check. If you are cleared via your precheck, meaning you have not marked yes to any symptoms, you are allowed to proceed to the studios. Everyone coming to work on set or preparing on location was required to have completed a precheck before leaving their home. 

Anyone traveling before filming was required to have a negative COVID-19 test before traveling and were mailed personal protective equipment (PPE). They were then instructed on how to use it while traveling. In addition, as soon as they got off the plane they were required to complete another coronavirus test. 

“We had two people traveling, one was an actor and one was the director of photography and we FedExed them the tests they took before they traveled and they would FedEx them to the lab,” Quilty said.

When you arrived at the security booth on the Paramount Pictures lot, you had to present your COVID-19 precheck results and then have your temperature checked. 

“Where the guard shacks are they don’t even come near you. They didn’t even ask me for my ID, but I kept trying to give it to them and they would say no-no, I’ve got your name,” Quilty said.

After successfully making it through security you were met by a coronavirus compliance officer who would provide Paramount Pictures-funded PPE, which included items such as masks, face shields, gloves, alcohol disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol). You were also provided with a wristband that corresponded to your assigned zone for the day. 

Like UCI Zot Pods, on set production staff and actors were all divided into zones with corresponding wrist bands to ensure everyone stayed in their zone. For example, Zone A was for the cast and those who directly came into maskless contact with the cast, such as the director or producer. Zone B contained those who could go on to set, but would not be allowed to be in direct contact with the cast without a mask. 

Picture Provided by Paramount Pictures Production Supervisor Michyl-Shannon Quilty

Each Zone had a different testing schedule to comply with to ensure safety. Zone A was required to be tested every other day, while Zone B tested biweekly and Zone C was tested only once a week. 

Most people like Quilty had to leave work and go to the lab to get their COVID-19 test done, while others like the producer or director would have a test picked up and dropped back off for them. 

Once all of these precautions were taken, production could take place. 

With a new world comes new challenges and a new normal. It is in this period that we are learning what works and what doesn’t. Quilty emphasizes how tough it was when everything went remote because of the drastic shift from a lively social environment to a quiet world filled with emails.

“Everything went remote. I worked at my house, my assistant worked in my house, my PA drove around and he hasn’t even met my assistant who he had worked with for a month . . . it’s really hard to go from being in an office surrounded by everybody on a show to being in your home office or living room surrounded by no one,” Quilty said.

Filming may now be difficult and more complex, but this is a new normal and a new reality that probably won’t be going anywhere, anytime soon. The way COVID-19 is handled in production can no longer be an afterthought or an addition, but must be an integrated way of work and normalcy. 

Claire Desenberg is an Entertainment Intern for the fall 2020 quarter. She can be reached at cdesenbe@uci.edu.