Is COVID putting Alberta film production at risk?

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The head of Calgary’s biggest film workers union says COVID vaccination requirements need to be toughened on Canadian film sets after several cases in the industry have forced productions to alter filming schedules.

Damian Petti, president of IATSE 212, could not speak about the status of specific projects due to non-disclosure agreements. But actor Andrew Garfield made headlines earlier this week when he appeared remotely on the American talk show The View and said he couldn’t appear in person because of a COVID-19 outbreak on the set of Under the Banner of Heaven, currently being shot in southern Alberta. He said he was self-isolating in Calgary.

“We had a few breakthrough cases in our crew and so a few of us are having to quarantine and self-isolate, so, unfortunately, I couldn’t fly,” Garfield said while on the program to promote a different film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

Petti couldn’t give numbers of cases but said the schedules of other locally shot productions have also been affected by COVID-19. So far, no production has had to shut down because of COVID.

“The policies always come from the employers,” said Petti. “We’ve seen the studios and streamers in the States have rolled out (full vaccination) requirements but I think they have some legal hurdles in Canada. But I’m all for the full-vaccination requirement. Alberta has the worst rate of spread in Canada right now.

“It can’t come quickly enough, in my opinion,” he added. “Look at what’s happening. It’s very expensive to reschedule your shoot days and it’s not conducive to business.”

Alberta’s film industry is having a busy summer with a number of productions shooting in the province or recently wrapped. Right now, that includes the high-budget HBO series Last of Us, the American western series Billy the Kid, Paramount’s Joe Pickett and the 15th season of CBC’s Heartland. Skulls, which is the fifth instalment of the Predator film series, just wrapped on Monday. Other projects that have filmed during the pandemic include Wynonna Earp, the third season of CTV’s Jann, the reboot of Fraggle Rock and CBS’s Guilty Party with Kate Beckinsale.

There is also a 30-day shoot currently underway for the locally produced horror film Dark Woods in Kananaskis Country directed by Berkley Brady. Producer Mike Peterson said all cast and crew are required to be double-vaccinated to work on the production.

Under the Banner of Heaven is based on the true-crime book of the same name by Jon Krakauer and also stars Daisy Edgar-Jones. According to Deadline, Ron Howard and Brian Grazer are among the executive producers.

Petti says productions have cast and crew members who work closely with them to undergo frequent testings. Depending on the size of the production, the testing is done one to three times a week.

With files from World Entertainment News Network

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