COVID-19 FILM RESOURCES

Last Updated: September 22, 2020

GUIDANCE FOR PRODUCTIONS

Media Production is included in the Governor's Open Texas Order, which allows film, television and commercial productions to take place in Texas. Austin is currently open to production business as long as the mandatory safety protocols highlighted in the Governor's Open Texas Checklist for Media Production are followed. City of Austin Permits are also currently being issued.

The City of Austin and Travis County's coordinated Stay Home – Work Safe Order initially issued March 24, 2020 to prevent further spread of COVID-19. The Stay Home-Work Safe Order requires residents to stay at home, except for essential activities, essential businesses, and businesses reopened under the Open Texas Executive Order. During this unprecedented time, the health and well-being of our local community and industry professionals is vital, the Stay Home-Work Safe Order also reiterates the Governor's Executive Order requiring protective masks in public spaces. The City of Austin Stay Home-Work Safe Order has been extended through December 15, 2020 and is being enforced with strict fines.

The Governor’s issued an Executive Order limiting gatherings with over 10 people unless exemption is granted by the local jurisdiction. The City of Austin has issued a Permissible Outdoor Occupancy Exception to this order for Media Production taking place within the Austin city limits:

  • There is no occupancy limit outdoors, but it is mandatory that productions follow the local mask order and follow 6-feet social distancing between groups. All productions must follow the health protocols outlined in the Governor's Open Texas Checklist for Media Production.
  • Film, television and commercial projects are allowed indoors with up to 50% of total listed occupancy for soundstages and on-location Destinations (i.e. indoor practical locations). 

As of September 21, 2020, the Governor updated the Open Texas Orders, allowing the following indoor business entities to operate at up to 75% capacity:

  • Office-based employers - This is applicable to production offices and Production office personnel.
  • Manufacturers - This is applicable to media production mill spaces and construction crews.

OPEN TEXAS ORDER - MEDIA PRODUCTION

Under Governor Abbott's Executive Orders known as Open Texas, on-location film, television and commercial productions must follow the Open Texas Checklist for Media Production to be permitted.

Effective June 3, 2020, on-set/on-location media production may operate provided they can ensure at least 6 feet social distancing while working and comply with other safety recommendations. Because of the proximity between individuals and the collaborative nature of media production, stringent compliance with these protocols is strongly recommended. Generally, if the activity is outside, follow these protocols. If the activity is inside, follow the employer protocols except as modified in the checklist.

The Open Texas Checklist for Media Production are the minimum recommended health protocols for media productions choosing to operate in Texas. Media productions may adopt additional protocols consistent with their specific needs and circumstances to help protect the health and safety of all employees, crew, cast and independent contractors.

Media Productions should stay informed and take actions based on common sense and wise judgment that will protect health and support economic revitalization. Media productions are encouraged to complete the production registration form on the Texas Film Commission website, to ensure they will receive the most updated health and safety information and guidance. Productions should also comply with any applicable municipal production permitting requirements.

GATHERING RESTRICTIONS - LOCAL EXEMPTIONS

There are currently state-wide restrictions on outdoor gatherings of over 10 people. In addition to the City of Austin, a number of Central Texas counties have put processes in place for Media Production projects to apply for an exemption to the gathering restrictions within their jurisdiction. This allows for film, television and commercial productions to take place with a gathering of more than 10 people in unincorporated parts of each county. The following is an overview for each county's exemption process:

  • Bastrop County: Bastrop County has not receded the outdoor gatherings order, however Bastrop County Judge Pape continues to review exemption requests on a case-by-case basis for productions with safety plans and complying with the Governor’s Open Texas Checklist for Media Production. To request a potential gathering exemption for Bastrop County, please contact Adena Lewis with Bastrop County Tourism & Economic Development for more information.
  • Caldwell County: Caldwell County has not lifted the outdoor gatherings order, but Caldwell County Judge Haden will review requests for outdoor gatherings in excess of 10 people on a case-by-case basis. To apply, please fill out the Caldwell County gatherings request form and return the application to Judge Haden for review. Productions must also have a safety plan and comply with the Governor’s Open Texas Checklist for Media Production.
  • Hays County: Hays County has not lifted the outdoor gatherings order. Hays County Judge Becerra is allowing productions to proceed as long as they are in compliance with the Governor’s Open Texas Checklist for Media Production. Productions should connect directly with County Judge Becerra’s Executive Assistant Anita Collins for permission.
  • Travis County: Travis County has not receded the outdoor gatherings order. Travis County Judge Biscoe is allowing productions to proceed as long as they are in compliance with the Governor’s Open Texas Checklist for Media Production. Productions should connect directly with Judge Biscoe for permission. Please include Brian Gannon with the Austin Film Commission on your correspondence.
  • Williamson County: Williamson County Judge Gravell signed an order authorizing outdoor gatherings larger than 10 people in the unincorporated parts of Williamson County. Productions must comply with Governor Abbott’s Open Texas orders including the Governor's Open Texas Checklist for Media Production to film. This order allows for more than 10 persons to gather outdoors without application.

Productions looking to apply for an of the exemptions should make requests with County Judges at least 7-10 days in advance and be have safety plans and an outline of your shoot (crew numbers, location address, description of the shoot, etc). Much like standard filming permits, exemptions are not guaranteed.

For productions filming in any cities outside of Austin, you must contact the mayor in that city to apply for an exemption.

INDUSTRY GUIDELINES

The following are COVID-19 standard safety guidelines issued or endorsed by industry associations and unions for the film, television and commercial productions:

TESTING / HEALTH & SAFETY VENDORS

The following is a list of Austin area COVID test sites and the requirements for each facility as far as getting the test along with turn-around times and contact details. These test sites are for the general public but tests can also be gotten from some personal physicians and medical practices too.

The Austin Film Commission - Production Directory includes a number of new Health & Safety categories including: Safety Coordinators, PPE & Sanitation Suppliers, COVID-19 Testing, and Disinfecting & Cleaning. These local vendors and crew will make sure your production safe, clean and operating by the industry work safety guidelines. Please make sure you are hiring certified professionals.

If you are looking to get certified as a Designated Infection Control Officer, C.E. Solutions currently offers classes locally.

SAG-AFTRA has a full list of union endorsed testing centers and vendors included in their COVID Tools and Resources For Producers & Employers During COVID-19.

OCCUPANT LOAD CALCULATIONS

Under current City, County and State guidelines, some businesses, such as restaurants and retail operations, may resume operations at partial capacity – for instance studio, office and residential properties can be used at 50% occupancy for Media Production. Building capacity, or occupant load, is based on a number of factors identified on a facility’s Occupant Load. To apply for an official City of Austin Occupancy number for your business or estimate capacity with the Occupant Load Calculator, please visit the City of Austin Development Services Department resources page.

CITY OF AUSTIN RESOURCES

The City of Austin’s Public Health department is actively involved in the response to COVID-19. For the latest local news including COVID-19 statistics, safety information, emergency mandates and additional local resources, please visit: www.austintexas.gov/COVID19.

The City of Austin is offering free COVID-19 testing. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, you can use the link above to take an online assessment to preregister for free testing and schedule a no-cost, drive-through COVID-19 test at a local Austin Public Health facility.

ATXrecovers.com is the City of Austin’s one-stop resource to help individuals, businesses, and non-profits recover from the financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The website features up-to-date lists of resources for businesses and individuals; updates on local, state, and federal recovery policies; and economic indicators for the local economy.

STATE OF TEXAS RESOURCES

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) oversees the state's unemployment benefits system. If your employment has been affected by COVID-19, you can apply for those benefits. TWC will investigate why you lost your job and mail a decision explaining whether you are eligible for unemployment benefits. Applications are accepted via:

TWC is aware that there may be the long wait times due to the unprecedented increase in filings and are working diligently to accommodate these requests. TWC have set some recommendations to help ease the backlog in applying.

FEDERAL RESOURCES

On March 27, an emergency relief bill known as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act became law to help order to help bolster the U.S. economy through the following initiatives:

  • Through the Small Business Administration (SBA), there will be a Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) up to $10,000 that may convert to a grant. Click here to apply.
  • The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) authorizes up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses to pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. All loan terms will be the same for everyone. Click here to apply.

The US Department of Labor has issued new workplace protections through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

UNION RESOURCES

Directors Guild of America (DGA) – Loans & Waivers
The DGA is offering interest-free loans to members in need of financial aid and is waiving all patient costs for coronavirus testing for individuals that use the guild’s health plan.

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) - Relief Fund
IATSE National Benefit Fund has waived all fees for COVID-19 testing for a number of membership health plan levels and is extending its annuity hardship withdrawals to include members who need Coronavirus financial aid from job losses. 

Producers Guild of America (PGA) – Members Relief Fund
The PGA Members Relief Fund is being administered through The Actors Fund which offers resources and assistance for entertainment professionals in all areas of the industry.

Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) – COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund
The SAG-AFTRA Disaster Relief Fund aids members with basic expenses, including rent, mortgage payments, medical bills, and utilities.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

RELIEF FUNDS

FAQ

What actions are being undertaken in Austin, following news of the positive cases?
Austin Public Health is closely monitoring the rapidly evolving situation in coordination with the Texas Department of State Health Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and local and regional public health and healthcare agencies. APH has developed a five-phase plan to coordinate COVID-19 response activities. We are currently in Phase 3:

  • Phase 1: Persons Under Monitoring
  • Phase 2: Persons Under Investigation (Testing in Progress)
  • Phase 3: Confirmed Case(s) (No Person-to-Person spread)
  • Phase 4: Limited Person-to-Person Spread (Close/Household Contacts)
  • Phase 5: Sustained Person-to-Person Spread in the Community

Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in an area, including some who are not sure how or where they became infected.

APH has also activated our Department Operations Center to allow for enhanced response coordination, provided symptom monitoring for residents returning to Austin/Travis County from travel abroad, and provided prevention messaging to health care professionals, businesses, schools, and the general public. Additionally, the Austin-Travis County Emergency Operations Center (ATCEOC) has been activated.

What the public do to help prevent the spread of COVID-19?
The CDC recommends these everyday actions to help prevent the spread of COVID‑19:

  • Wash hands often for 20 seconds and encourage others to do the same. If no soap and water are available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Practice social distancing. This includes avoiding crowds and minimizing physical contact. Stand at least 6 feet apart.
  • Avoid touching your face. 
  • Cover your face around others. Cough and sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue away.
  • Disinfect surfaces, buttons, handles, knobs, and other places touched often.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home if you can.
  • If you are sick and think you have been exposed, stay home and contact a healthcare provider for advice.

Where can I go with urgent questions related to COVID-19?
If you think you are sick with COVID‑19, read more here about what to do. Should you have urgent questions for Austin Public Health about coronavirus information which haven’t already been addressed online or through regional updates, please call or email their team at 512-974-2000 / austin311@austintexas.gov.

The film and television industry is hurting. How can I help?
Though it does not seem like it at times, taking part in Stay Home-Work Safe is helping stop the spread of COVID-19.

You are right, the film industry supports many local businesses and jobs. If you can, please take a few minutes to fill out the American for the Arts: Economic Impact of COVID-19 Survey to support the entertainment industries. The survey is designed to collect information about the financial and human impacts that the spread of the coronavirus have had on workers within the industry parsed by specific geographic regions, artistic disciplines, and budget categories.

Support your local businesses! Now is a great time to buy a gift certificate or membership for one (or two, or three) of the local cinemas temporarily shuttered due to COVID-19. Get a badge for one of the over 30 amazing annual film and television festivals that are held right here in Austin. Maybe you have the itch to create... If it's time to buy or rent equipment to make a your movie, get your filmmaking tools from one of the many amazing Austin-based vendors!

Now is also the time to update or create your Austin Production Directory listing, be it a for your business or your freelance crew member entry. The listing is free! Market yourself for those employment opportunities are around the corner. Get your contact details out there and let producers know about your skills and previous credits. The directory is also very helpful for us to track industry freelancer and businesses in the region, so when we are working with legislatures to get a more competitive film incentive, we can let them know how many constituents are impacted.

So I am stuck at home... What do I watch?
Austin content of course! For over 50 years, feature films and television series have been produced in Austin. We have a rich history of big and small screen stories told by Austinites and made by hard working, talented local technicians who are our friends and neighbors. There are hundreds of those titles streaming online. There is literally something for everyone. Keep Austin state of mind. Be sure to share with your friends and family too! Here is where to find Austin streaming titles online:

Food and film go hand in hand! Make it dinner and a movie if you can, please support your favorite local restaurants offering take out and delivery options!