Mask mandates are no more in California and New York, where COVID-19 cases have plummeted — and so much of the entertainment industry is based. Now Hollywood is largely in soft-launch mode, not for the premiere of a particular film but for its biggest comeback yet: itself.
While television and film productions have adhered to their own set guidelines for some time due to the global pandemic, corporate entertainment offices are generally adopting an approach that will see their white-collar workers return in fuller force after Labor Day, with the option to start shuffling into the office after July 4. The Walt Disney Co., for instance, will start welcoming a fraction of its U.S. employees back after Independence Day amid a phased reopening.
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On the corporate side, NBCUniversal, like many of its entertainment peers, is offering an optional return to the office this summer, with a full reopening planned for the fall. Logistically, resuming work in dozens of office buildings across multiple cities and time zones is an enormous feat. Pre-pandemic, NBCU’s New York offices normally had 6,000 to 8,000 staffers toiling within, with around 14,000 in its Los Angeles office. Domestically, excluding its theme parks, NBCU has a total of around 25,000 staffers.
The company is following local guidelines in each jurisdiction: For returning, fully vaccinated office employees, that means no masks or distancing in the work- place will be necessary. And NBCU is offering some flexibility and remote work opportunities to those whose roles allow it.
Also no masks for the vaccinated at ViacomCBS, which has long been public about its plans to have nearly 80% of its more than 20,000 staffers return to a hybrid post-pandemic work environment. A plan for “agile workspaces,” a model in which employees do not have assigned desks and can work remotely, is part of the plan, though not yet being implemented at this time. For the still fairly newly merged Viacom and CBS, that is likely to prove helpful in trimming real estate costs as the conglomerate looks for those kinds of post-M&A synergies over the next few years. ViacomCBS, too, is allowing an optional return over the summer.
Fox Corp., on the other hand, earlier this spring set the first phase of its reopening to no sooner than Sept. 7 — just after Labor Day — with CEO Lachlan Murdoch in a March memo calling his workforce’s health safety a “priority” and the “guiding principle” for returning to work. Even as California’s businesses are reopening, Fox’s previously announced plans remain in place.
Sony Pictures Entertainment staffers started to head back to the company’s Culver City lot at the start of June and will trickle in gradually over the summer. The neighbors in the area, Amazon Studios and Apple TV Plus, likely aren’t looking to Hollywood counterparts but to their tech titan parents for guidance. According to widely reported memos from each company, Amazon is allowing its employees to work remotely up to two days a week, with three days in office, while Apple is similarly looking at a three-day-a-week return.
At the talent agencies, CAA offices are opening in early July for employees who voluntarily wish to head back to the office. Meanwhile, WME is mandating that all stateside employees return to the physical workplace on July 12, according to a source familiar with the matter, with exceptions for those with health, religious or personal reasons; those will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. But staffers will be given half days and work virtually every Friday — monikered Refresh Fridays — when the offices will be closed for deep cleaning.
UTA, which reopened in mid-June, is also closing its physical U.S. offices on Fridays. The agency’s London office reopens on Aug. 31, while its New York corporate location unlocks its doors Sept. 7. Returning to the office is voluntary at that stage, and outdoor areas have been set up for meetings and meals, with a complimentary lunch service offered to workers.
ICM Partners remains on the more cautious end of the spectrum — it has not set a reopening date. For those who choose to come to the office, the agency’s strict protocols continue to be in place. Hallways are one-directional, so that execs, agents, assistants and all others do not pass each other and potentially make contact. Employees will still have to do temperature checks with their Kinsa-branded smart thermometers before they go into the office — ICM has a contract with the company for 600 thermometers — as well as wear masks and limit elevator occupancy to no more than four people at a time.
Whether TV and film sets will operate differently soon is another question — a COVID-era return-to-work agreement between the AMPTP, DGA, IATSE, SAG-AFTRA and Teamsters expires June 30. But one thing appears clear: In contrast to the simmering anxiety and uncertainty of last summer, the industry is gearing up to get back to business.
Says one UTA insider of the reopened agency, “There was a great energy. People [were] clearly excited to be back together, especially after so long.”