Hollywood Ends COVID Production Restrictions, While Also Extending Them

The last bastion of pandemic pantomime refuses to surrender

Hollywood was supposed to expire extended COVID protocols, which placed the industry in an expensive straightjacket for years, on April 1. And they did. But they also didn’t. Last Friday, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, along with Hollywood’s unions, announced that the protocols will actually expire on May 12. They didn’t give a reason for the several-week extension, but then again, they’ve extended the “Return To Work Agreement” nearly a dozen times, and even expanded it, adding a vaccine mandate in June 2021. The agreement made some sense when they enacted it in September 2020, as COVID, and the resulting lockdown mania, plowed through the world at its height, but it feels like a relic now.

What’s more, the restrictions don’t even fully expire on May 12. If a TV show season or film goes into production before then, the Return To Work Agreement still applies. So if you’re a below-the-line worker on the new Seth Rogen movie, or Abbott Elementary, or whatever Marvel or Star Wars product is currently under production, you’re out of luck. If you want to earn a paycheck, masks and nasal swabbing may still be in your future.

Stadiums are full of basketball and Taylor Swift fans. There are no travel bans. Airlines and airports no longer require masking. Vaccine cards are as irrelevant as draft cards. I don’t even have to wear a mask at the doctor’s office anymore. And yet if you work as a key grip on Blue Bloods, you’d better mask up until next season if you want to keep earning your pay and health insurance.

So why is Hollywood still playacting the pandemic? It’s a union town in addition to being a company town, and the unions want to signal that they’re keeping their members “safe,” though the second any one of those members sets foot in a maskless Trader Joe’s after work, all safety protocols go out the door. Hollywood productions are the cap of an entertainment bureaucracy rife with virtue signaling that no one who issues the paychecks will question. And there’s no greater symbol of pointless virtue signaling than COVID safety policies in 2023.

There’s also the matter of money. While the COVID restrictions have been absurdly expensive, they’ve making some people very rich. Those testing companies and mask providers, not to mention Big Pharma, want their money. And Hollywood is their biggest mark.

Some dissent has emerged. The working grunts on set can’t say anything because they need their jobs. But some higher-up left-wing actors with integrity have spoken out. Tilda Swinton made ripples at South By Southwest when she said she would refuse to wear a mask on the set of her new movie now filming in Ireland. “I was told to wear a mask at all times, and I’m not,” she said. Swinton has suffered several COVID infections, and even gave an interview about the severity and persistence of her symptoms. But she is a grown-up, and can see that the restrictions, especially now, do nothing and help no one.

Fran Drescher, the current President of SAG-AFTRA, apparently has no say over whether or not Hollywood should extend COVID protocols. She gave a speech last month celebrating the end of the national COVID emergency and posted a video on Twitter calling vaccine mandates “an infringement on the disabilities act, the freedom of religion act and body sovereignty.” Tim Robbins has been speaking out against the restrictions as well, calling them a “charade.”

But no one went harder in the paint against entertainment industry COVID restrictions than Woody Harrelson. In an interview with the New York Times to promote his terrible new Peter Farrelly movie, he said, “I don’t think that anybody should have the right to demand that you’re forced to do the testing, forced to wear the mask and forced to get vaccinated three years on. I’m just like, let’s be done with this nonsense. It’s not fair to the crews. I don’t have to wear the mask. Why should they? Why should they have to be vaccinated? How’s that not up to the individual? I shouldn’t be talking about this shit.”

Then there was his now-infamous SNL monologue, where he talked about an imaginary script that he’d read while high in Central Park.

“So the movie goes like this…The biggest drug cartels in the world get together and buy up all the media and all the politicians and force all the people in the world to stay locked in their homes. And people can only come out if they take the cartel’s drugs and keep taking them over and over. I threw the script away. I mean, who was going to believe that crazy idea? Being forced to do drugs? I do that voluntarily all day.”

If Harrelson had come out and said that two years ago, the industry would have exiled him to his island home permanently. But not only did he get away with it this time, the world praised him. Because most people agreed with him, and because he was right.

The COVID emergency officially ends May 10, according to the Biden Administration, but for most people, it ended a long time ago. And yet still Hollywood will continue with its absurd mandates and restrictions for at least another five weeks, and longer if you happen to be unfortunate enough to work on something in production the week of May 8. If you need to do that to keep your job, no one will fault you. But if you don’t, and you’re not speaking up against it (and never did) we have to ask, as Tim Robbins repeatedly did in his 1999 movie The Cradle Will Rock: Which side are you on?

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 12 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

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