Hollywood execs get defensive amidst criticism they are operating while restaurants, businesses are closed

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LOS ANGELES, CA – LA business and restaurant owners are claiming a double standard when it comes to who gets shut down by pandemic restrictions in Los Angeles, where Mayor Eric Garcetti has shuttered bars and restaurants while Hollywood movie sets continue to operate unabated.

Hollywood executives pushed back on criticism of the arrangement, the Daily Mail reported.

Hollywood brings a lot of money to cities such as Los Angeles, where a number of television programs and movies are produced.

Small restaurants contribute (in comparison) a minuscule amount to the economy of the city, although they do employ, in some cases, dozens or maybe hundreds of people.

The issue has come to the forefront this past week when a Los Angeles-area restaurant owner slammed Garcetti and California Governor Gavin Newsom for forcing her restaurant to shut down and banning her indoor and outdoor seating areas, which are literally twenty feet away from where a film crew set up an outdoor cafeteria that resembles her restaurant’s outdoor seating area.

Angela Marsden, the owner of the Pineapple Hill Saloon & Grill, filmed a video in which she, clearly despondent, pointed out that her outdoor patio tables were set up in compliance with social distancing guidelines nearly mirroring that of the Hollywood filming canteen.

Marsden, reduced to tears, says in the video:

“Tell me that this is dangerous but right next to me, as a slap in my face…this is safe? 

“Everything I own is being taken away from me, and they set up a movie company right next to my outdoor patio.”

 

Last week, California, and specifically Los Angeles County, implemented stricter COVID-19 guidelines which banned in-person dining as coronavirus cases surged throughout the country.

The video, filmed by Marsden, went viral and received considerable media attention. Moreover, it showed that California apparently has designated film and television production as “essential” businesses which exempt it from lockdown restrictions.

The lockdown measures were put in place after intensive care unit capacity fell below the magic number of 15 percent in designated areas within the state, including in Los Angeles County.

Some people in California are saying there is an obvious conflict with the restrictions and inherent unfairness in the fact that filming of television programs and movies is allowed to continue. 

Conversely, hair and nail salons, restaurants, bars, schools, public playgrounds, concerts, sporting events, and other businesses remain closed. In fact, the San Francisco 49ers have been forced to play the rest of their home games in Arizona due to the restrictions.

However, Hollywood movie moguls and television executives have defended the obvious disconnect, claiming that the movie industry cannot be compared to restaurants and bars. They claim that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 is much lower than those of eateries and pubs, while clearly missing the point that canteens on movie and television sets are exactly the same setup as restaurants.

Momita Sengupta, Netflix’s vice president of physical production, said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter:

“We are not a bar where everybody sits around with their masks off.”

He said film and television sets require staffers and crew to follow strict health protocols (not unlike restaurants and bars) that were agreed upon by studios, unions representing actors and behind-the-scenes people, and epidemiologists.

They claim that aside from mandatory mask-wearing and physical distancing (not sure if you’ve seen the new television season yet, but nobody’s wearing masks), other mitigation measures have also been implemented.

He also said that film sets are closed off to visitors, shooting days are limited to only ten hours a day, and anyone involved with the production is tested for COVID-19 a minimum of three days per week. They also claim that actors “in close contact with each other” could be tested daily.

Officials said strict protocols were agreed to after the industry was shut down at the beginning of the pandemic last spring.

Still, residents question why filming is still allowed while restaurants, schools, shops, and other businesses remain shuttered. FilmLA spokesman Philip Sokoloski told The Hollywood Reporter (THR):

“I think it’s a reasonable question to ask if one is unfamiliar with the rules that go into making a film set safe.”

The Hollywood film industry, no doubt backed by a bevy of campaign donations, has been able to circumvent many of the restrictions put in place by Los Angeles County.

In one example, just prior to Thanksgiving, L.A. County imposed a ban on shootings or setups between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., which was to last one month in accordance with a limited stay-at-home countywide curfew.

Within hours, the county had walked back the ban, initially put in place to “maintain public support for filming happening during a time when others are being asked to stay home,” Sokoloski said.

After the order was rescinded, studios were reminded to “be mindful of the community impact” if they film during the stay-at-home orders.

To further demonstrate the disconnect between Hollywood and small businesses, in late November there was to be a COVID-19 testing site at Union Station in Los Angeles, which was canceled because there was an “event being held” at that location.

The “event” was filming for a reboot of the 1990’s movie “She’s All That.”

After the public went ballistic over the clear lack of priorities, Garcetti intervened and kept the testing site active.

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According to the Hollywood film industry, the conflict was an “unfortunate result of miscommunication.” Sokoloski said:

“Had it been brought to our attention as an either-or question, we would have said that the testing has to take priority and the filming may not proceed.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation that has been positioned as making the film industry a priority over the need of Angelenos who sought testing—and that was never really the case.”

Driving all of this is California’s economy. According to California government officials, they are concerned that film studios could be lured to other states like Georgia, which have more relaxed COVID restrictions.

Georgia offers tax breaks from state and local governments that make filming in that state cheaper for movie and television studios.

Clearly, if film studios abandoned Los Angeles, it would have a significant impact on the economy. It is really a matter of the city (and state) picking the winners and losers. And unfortunately, small businesses such as Pineapple Hill are second fiddle to Hollywood.

An unidentified county official told THR:

“The [entertainment] industry is a crucial economic engine that is very well-served by the fact that over the course of several months they have been exemplary.

“The real hope and anticipation are that this can be maintained.”

After a statewide shutdown order in March, more than 30,000 L.A. County restaurants were shuttered for months after they were restricted to takeout. They have never fully recovered.

After cases surged last month, outdoor dining capacity was cut in half, with the public health director saying it would be banned altogether if the daily case count exceeded 4,000.

The restaurant industry may have caught a break last week, however, when a judge ruled that the health director had acted “arbitrarily” and did not prove a danger to the public when she banned outdoor dining at restaurants.

Superior Court Judge James Chalfant wrote that the county had failed to show that the health benefits outweighed the negative economic effects prior to issuing the ban.

He also said the county didn’t offer evidence that outdoor dining presented a greater risk of spreading the virus. Judge Chalfant wrote:

“By failing to weigh the benefits of an outdoor dining restriction against its costs, the county acted arbitrarily, and its decision lacks a rational relationship to a legitimate end.” 

In his ruling, Chalfant limited the ban to three weeks, which will expire on December 16. Prior to extending it, he wrote, the Department of Public Health must conduct a risk-benefit analysis.

The California Restaurant Association brought the lawsuit and contended that while they hoped Chalfant would lift the ban immediately, they were still pleased with the outcome. Association lawyer Reichard Schwartz said:

“I do think that this is going to hold the county’s feet to the fire when they decide to close down an entire sector of the economy.

“You can’t have a cure that’s worse than the disease.”

 

 

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