Production for several Hollywood series shot in British Columbia has been suspended because of a dispute over COVID-19 testing, a move affecting hundreds of jobs in a sector that is just rebounding after a pandemic-linked shutdown.
Six Warner Bros TV series, including Batwoman, The Flash, Riverdale and The Maid are among those that have been paused, according to the studio.
The situation comes as B.C.'s production sector, one of the busiest in North America with $3.2-billion in spending in 2018-19, has resumed operation with stringent new rules aimed at combatting COVID-19 after a months-long shutdown.
LifeLabs, which conducts widespread COVID-19 testing in the province, said it’s doing its best to deal with increased demand for the tests because of a recent surge in cases.
Asked by The Globe and Mail about its role in dealing with the film industry, LifeLabs said in a statement: “We are making additional investments to expand our testing capacity and anticipate returning to our standard turnaround times by the end of the week. … In the interim, turnaround times for non-public health testing to support business and travel needs have been impacted.”
Early in the pandemic, B.C. Premier John Horgan said U.S. film producers were paying close attention to the province’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and looked “very favourably” on its approach.
On Wednesday, details of the testing issue were scarce with little detailed comment from stakeholders in the industry.
“We are aware of the various production issues with securing results in a timely manner, but it’s difficult to say how many productions and workers this affects as the lab has been working to clear their backlog,” said Phil Klapwyk of IATSE Local 891 of the B.C. Council of Film Unions.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, a backlog at local testing labs is central to the situation.
The publication reported on Wednesday that a bottleneck in virus-testing capacity caught producers of the affected series off guard.
The U.S. publication Variety reported that Disney TV Studios has paused production on the new ABC series Big Sky, from the creator of the classic late-1990s era series Ally McBeal, because of testing issues.
According to the publication, producer David Kelley told a virtual news conference Wednesday for the Television Critics Association that, “There were some delays in test results, so out of caution, we shut down yesterday and today. We expect to resume production either tomorrow or Friday.”
In a statement, the arm’s-length Creative BC agency, which works with the production sector, said it is dealing with government on behalf of the industry to address the problem.
“We understand there are challenges with testing capacity and parties are working to manage the volume. We understand the situation is temporary.”
The agency’s In Production list says 25 series are up and running in the province at this time.
Last month, production on the high-profile U.S. TV series The Good Doctor, shot in the Vancouver region, was similarly suspended because of a dispute over COVID-19 testing.
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