COVID testing issues stall The Good Doctor’s production restart

FIONA GUBELMANN, RICHARD SCHIFF, ANTONIA THOMAS, HILL HARPER, PAIGE SPARA, FREDDIE HIGHMORE, JASIKA NICOLE, NICHOLAS GONZALEZ, WILL YUN LEE, CHRISTINA CHANG
The U.S. medical drama had been slated to start production today, however a disagreement between local unions and U.S. studios has put those plans on hold.

While British Columbia had looked set to be the first Canadian province to restart production in a significant way since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March, issues surrounding COVID-19 testing have raised questions over the timeframe for a province-wide return to set and stalled the production restart for Vancouver-shot U.S. series The Good Doctor.

Season four of the ABC/Sony Pictures TV medical drama had been scheduled to resume production today (Aug. 10), however a dispute between local unions and U.S. studios over the frequency of COVID-19 testing has put those plans on hold. The entire crew has been temporarily laid off and pre-production put on hold while the issue is being addressed.

A spokesperson for Sony Pictures Television told Playback Daily that an “issue with COVID-19 testing” had been the cause of the delay, adding that the studio is working with the BC Council to resolve the problem.

While the spokesperson did not elaborate on the nature of the issue, it is believed that local unions in British Columbia are calling for fewer tests for crew members, which falls in line with provincial recommendations that random testing for individuals not displaying symptoms is not beneficial due to the low number of cases. (In total, the province has had 3,934 cases of the novel coronavirus and 195 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.)

This stands at odds with the recommendations put forth by the U.S. actors guild, SAG-AFTRA, which calls for all crew members be tested once a week and actors three times a week.

Though a number of B.C.-shot productions have already resumed, including Nomadic Pictures-produced Van Helsing and a number of MOWs, The Good Doctor had been expected to be the first major U.S. studio series to restart in Vancouver, while a raft of others had been expected to follow suit before the end of the month. However, with all major U.S. productions falling under SAG-AFTRA’s purview, the current impasse surrounding The Good Doctor could have implications for a number of other shows hoping for a late-summer restart.

Phil Klapwyk, business representative for IATSE Local 891, declined to comment on the specifics of the situation when reached by Playback, saying only that all the parties involved hope to have a resolution soon.

The delay comes two months after WorkSafeBC released a list of minimum industry reopening standards. In addition, a coalition of B.C.-based industry organizations is expected to release a more comprehensive set of guidelines in the coming weeks. The BC Motion Picture Industry COVID-19 Pandemic Production Guide will include industry-specific safety suggestions that use the WorkSafeBC framework to help producers in the creation of COVID-19 safety plans.

The total volume of film and TV production in Vancouver stood at $3.4 billion in 2018/19, according to the CMPA’s annual Profile report, with around $2.8 billion of that being attributed to foreign location and service production.