National Post (Latest Edition)

B.C. film industry at a halt

Crews forced to wait for COVID tests, results

- Ryan Tumilty

OT TAWA • British Columbia’s film industry is being hit by a shortage of COVID tests, grinding a multi- billion dollar industry to a halt.

Superheroe­s are hanging up their capes, romantic leads are going uncourted and murder mysteries remain unsolved because testing delays means production­s can’t continue shooting due to union contracts.

CW Ne tw o r k ’ s shows including Riverdale, Batwoman, Nancy Drew and Charmed, along with an upcoming ABC show called Big Sky, have all temporaril­y shuttered production, industry publicatio­n Variety reported earlier this week.

T he CW’S shows T he Flash, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow are also on hold due to a testing shortage.

Collective bargaining contracts in the industry require performers and crew to be tested several times a week due to the pandemic. Production­s that brought in talent from the U. S. also had to have those actors quarantine for 14 days before shooting could begin.

In B.C. the tests have become difficult for film crews to obtain and there are now long delays to get results.

An industry source speaking to National Post confirmed the production­s had been temporaril­y paused and said testing delays were at the heart of the issue.

Creative B.C., which promotes the industry, estimated the value of film production to the local economy last year at $3.2 billion.

Alberta’s Jobs Minister, Doug Schweitzer, posted about the situation on Twitter Wednesday and tagged the accounts of several major studios, highlighti­ng his province ample testing capacity.

“We just completed over 30,000 COVID-19 tests for the NHL Hub in Edmonton,” he wrote. “We’re open to opportunit­ies in Alberta to get these production­s moving.”

NHL players were tested every other day for COVID-19 during the Stanley Cup playoffs, which ended earlier this week.

Due to the ongoing election, no one from the B. C. government was available to comment Thursday, but a source speaking on background stressed the government does not recommend testing of people who do not have symptoms.

“Public Health recommends only people with symptoms or people otherwise identified by a health profession­al should be tested for COVID-19. Routine testing of asymptomat­ic people is not recommende­d as a condition of employment.”

Private testing of asymptomat­ic people has to be paid for by the film and television production­s and is not being covered by public health.

The government has a testing capacity of 10,000 tests a day including with support from private laboratori­es and the source said they have averaged around 6,000 tests per day. On Tuesday, the province performed 9,752 tests however, and there have been several days in the last week with testing volumes over 8,000 tests.

The government sources said B.C. hopes to continue expanding testing capacity until it can complete 20,000 tests per day.

Private firm Lifelabs, which is helping the B. C. government and is also doing private tests, said it has seen a big increase in demand.

“Many provinces have now entered the second wave of the COVID pandemic as we continue to see a spike in positive COVID-19 cases. As a result, Lifelabs is experienci­ng an increased demand for COVID-19 testing,” said the company’s communicat­ion manager Roy Saad in an email.

Saad said the company is putting public health tests upfront, but also wants to help the film industry and other businesses.

“Testing specimens to support public health efforts to control the pandemic continues to be Lifelabs’ priority. We also understand and appreciate the importance of non- public health testing to support business and travel-related needs.”

Saad said the company was ramping up its capacity and hoped to be able to return to normal turnaround times this week.

Phil Klapwyk, with the Internatio­nal Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, a major industry union, said it is hard to estimate the impact locally, because there is work being done that doesn’t require testing.

“There’s a tremendous amount of pre- production going on right now, and a great deal of the membership aren’t impacted by the shutdown of the shooting crews,” he said in an email.

He said they’re hopeful the delays won’t last long.

“We hear the backlog will be cleared up within the next day or two, so this situation should be temporary.”

 ?? Don Denton / THE CANADIAN PRESS files ?? Film crew production staff wear masks as they conform to new pandemic safety rules and regulation­s for the movie industry in British Columbia this summer. The crew were filming a movie called Deliver By Christmas.
Don Denton / THE CANADIAN PRESS files Film crew production staff wear masks as they conform to new pandemic safety rules and regulation­s for the movie industry in British Columbia this summer. The crew were filming a movie called Deliver By Christmas.

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