COVID-19 costing film producers time and money in Alberta protecting actors and crew

Actor Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge, The Amazing Spiderman) told hosts of the syndicated program The View he was unable to be on the show in person Monday because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the set of the television series he's shooting in southern Alberta.

"I’m shooting up in Calgary, I'm shooting a really interesting mini-series based on the Jon Krakauer book Under The Banner of Heaven.” Garfield told host Joy Behar.

"I was supposed to come down (to Los Angeles for The View)  and then we had a few breakthrough cases (of COVID-19)  in our crew,  and so we were,  a few of us, having to quarantine and self-isolate, so unfortunate I couldn't fly.”

Under The Banner of Heaven is the largest of several film and television productions currently shooting in the province. It is shooting in Calgary and in smaller communities throughout south central Alberta.

The story follows a devout Mormon detective, whose faith is challenged while investigating  a savage killing that appears connected to a prominent Utah family’s LDS fundamentalist beliefs.

Garfield plays Pyre, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) elder, who  begins to question the Church’s teachings as he maintains contact with the murder suspects.

The production began shooting in early august and is expected to wrap in October.  It has a production cost estimated to be $100 Million.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 212 represents film and stage technicians in Alberta. Union representative Craig Coolahan said Monday that no Alberta productions have been forced to shut down as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are aware of some productions that have had to reschedule as a result of COVID there's been no shutdowns, but there has been some rescheduling," he said.

"All in all, though, the productions have been very good with their protocol is very good with their testing and kept sets very safe."

Coolahan says thus far most productions have not been demanding proof of vaccination, instead relying on extensive rapid testing to maintain health and safety on set.

“The Zone A, which is the actors and the talent, that zone is getting tested every day on most productions.”

Coolahan added film and television production staff are generally broken into zones, A through C, depending on how close the staff are to the actual production floor.

"Some of the zones further out from (zone) A don't need to be tested every day. I think some of them are testing weekly though.”

That may be beginning to change though, as Coolahan notes one smaller (under $20 million) production that is set to shoot in Calgary has required proof of vaccination for its crew. 

“So we do anticipate that coming down from some of the larger productions, and it is in full support of vaccinations and hiring vaccinated employees," said Coolahan, noting COVID-19 protection has boosted the cost of production by close to 15 percent.

Coolahan says there have to date been no cases of COVID-19 being transmitted on set.

“'It’s being brought onto the set. So it's not spreading the testing is identifying the COVID cases, and getting them isolated," he said.

"I think they are confident that they can keep their sets safe. But even if there is an outbreak in the community, I honestly, the way they've been doing things, it's been so stringent, so well done."

Coolahan notes IATSE is in favour of vaccination and will work to provide producers with fully vaccinated crews when requested. They are advising members to vaccinate in an effort to ensure the currently booming film and television industry in Alberta continues its upward trajectory.

IATSE’s website lists eight productions currently underway in Southern Alberta:

  • Dark Woods (feature);
  • Under the Banner of Heaven (series);
  • Last of Us (series);
  • Joe Pickett (series);
  • Skulls (feature);
  • Billy the Kid Season 1 (series);
  • Heartland Season 15 (series), and;
  • Left Behind (feature).