For months, the entire entertainment industry has monomaniacally focused on how to return to work amid the coronavirus pandemic. Reams of health and safety protocols have dictated everything from proper PPE attire to testing schedules to how many people can be on a set, and by July and August, a small handful of major productions — like “The Matrix 4” and “Jurassic World: Dominion” — began to put those guidelines through their paces. While a few people have tested positive, barely any outbreaks have been reported, and no productions have had to stop completely. It started to seem like maybe Hollywood’s full pipeline could finally start flowing again.
And then Batman got COVID-19.
The news that Robert Pattinson had tested positive just two days after “The Batman” resumed production at Leavesden Studios in the U.K. has presented the industry with the first real-world example of the true hazards of making a movie at this scale amid a pandemic. When the first person on the call sheet of a movie this massive tests positive, the ripple effects are profound for the production. How what’s happening with “The Batman” will affect the wider industry, however, remains to be seen.
According to a source familiar with protocols for U.K.-based productions, anyone with a positive coronavirus test needs to quarantine for a minimum of 10 days. Then they can be cleared for work if a subsequent test comes back negative and they’re asymptomatic. Other productions have required at least two negative tests, and no COVID-19 symptoms for at least 72 hours.
Furthermore, anyone who came within six feet of Pattinson for more than 15 minutes would need to be immediately isolated for 14 days, regardless of whether or not they test positive. That would likely mean any actors or stunt performers who appeared on camera with Pattinson without a mask, along with any crew members tasked with supporting Pattinson through the shoot — including director Matt Reeves, if he didn’t remain socially distant with Pattinson. If any of those people also test positive, further quarantining of individuals within their respective orbits would be necessary as well.
As a physical production executive at another studio puts it to Variety, “It’s probably the worst case scenario you could have.” (A spokesperson for Warner Bros. declined to comment for this story, citing privacy concerns.)
The news also comes at a critical moment for an industry that needs to convince its top-tier talent that returning to work will not put their health in undue jeopardy. Other productions have mitigated those concerns by effectively isolating talent within an all-encompassing bubble of safety. On “Jurassic World: Dominion,” which is also shooting in the U.K., Universal famously bought out a luxury hotel to house the film’s stars, director and key production staff when they’re not working. Everyone at the hotel, including hotel employees, are tested for COVID-19 three times a week.
It’s unclear whether “The Batman” has followed similarly rigorous procedures.
The situation isn’t completely dire for Warner Bros., however. Since “The Batman” started production before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, its current production delay should still be covered by insurance. But Pattinson’s positive test does underscore why insurers have refused to write any new policies that would cover costs due to COVID-19, or any other communicable disease for that matter. No insurer wants to be on the hook for millions in production overruns if they can possibly avoid it.
That continues to pose a serious obstacle to a full restart of production — both for major studios and for independents. If independent producers did not have insurance in place by March, they will find it next to impossible to get a completion bond.
“On the independent side, it is the case that brand-new projects that presumably didn’t have insurance written in March are moving very slowly,” said Jean Prewitt, CEO and president of the Independent Film and Television Alliance. “But the studios are not going to fare any better next year than the independents do.”
The Motion Picture Association has urged Congress to provide a federal backstop for COVID insurance. But with Congress unable to even pass an unemployment extension, an insurance bailout for Hollywood (and other industries) is not likely any time soon.
The next film set to shoot at Leavesdon after “The Batman” is DC Films’ “The Flash,” which isn’t scheduled to start until next spring, so this delay also won’t likely disrupt Warner Bros.’s production pipeline.
The industry’s reaction to Pattinson’s positive COVID test is trickier to pinpoint.
“No one wants to admit this can happen to them,” says a top industry executive. “Everyone in production is white-knuckling it to get it done. The attitude seems to be, ‘I’m sorry it happened to them, but if it doesn’t happen to me, that’s great.’”
It remains unclear how or where Pattinson could have contracted COVID-19, and that uncertainty could also feed into a greater sense of denial.
“I think they’ll try to find out where the exposure was and try to rectify that,” says the production executive. “The problem is unless that studio divulges exactly where the exposure might have come from or where they felt there was an issue, we’ll never know where exactly he might have contracted COVID from.”