You have screeched to a shuddering halt after an exhilarating three months of principal photography. Your fuel gauge reads “Empty,” presumably because you have given your heart, soul and virtually every other organ and limb to this film. You look back at the blur of months wondering how you got through it all, but now there’s only one thing on your mind: the wrap party. This is your chance to release some pent up steam, and maybe network your way into your next big gig.
But what exactly are the risks of a wrap party in this protracted pandemic? To get to the bottom of this, I got on the phone with two leading Health & Safety experts in the film industry: Maureen McGrath, a battle-hardened COVID consultant and registered nurse whose time in the trenches includes feature films, such as The Adam Project and television shows, such as Julia, as well as her current work for Apple TV in NYC, and, Toby Pruett whose five feature films as Director of Health & Safety at Miramax have sent him across the globe and made him a black belt in COVID compliance. Off the bat, they agree that there’s no reason to hold a wrap party in person these days, particularly because wrap parties are not sanctioned by the studios at this time. Yet wrap parties seem to persist…
What’s wrong with wrap parties?
Wrap parties are potential super-spreader events. In fact, the wrap party has become so synonymous with COVID-19 outbreaks, we at SetMD have felt compelled to spew some hardline advice. Namely, don’t go or find a safer way to celebrate. Take your shindig virtual – as you’ll see, it can be fun! The reason being? In-person wrap parties take all the ingredients for transmissibility and stir them into the same messy pot.
For one, it’s a celebration. Alcohol makes mask awareness lax, there’s dancing, singing, hugging and, of course, the unavoidable close talker. Remember being cornered by that PA who prattled on about Ghostbusters for forty minutes at the bar? Or how about your epic karaoke rendition of Wrecking Ball at 4 AM? “Singing, screaming or being loud can increase the respiratory droplets that become airborne,” Maureen explains. “We know COVID-19 builds up in poorly ventilated areas, especially when people are talking or singing loudly.” And, the truth is, anyone could unintentionally bring the virus as a plus one. “We have finished a big production that often takes many months,” Maureen says. “People have worked on it together fifteen hours a day, every day for months. They become a family. They want to celebrate and that’s difficult to do while being masked up and maintaining physical distance.”
“On a well-structured production no one enters each other’s bubble, but in a wrap party everyone enters everyone’s bubble and sometimes the outside public crashes through those bubbles. That wild element poses the greatest risk,” says Toby Pruett, the former Director of Health & Safety at Miramax. Since the studios don’t sanction wrap parties, no protocols currently exist to make them safe. There are no personnel to check vaccine or test status, enforce social distancing and PPE, or even plan ventilation strategies to ensure proper air circulation. We understand there’s nothing less sexy than a bunch of COVID sticklers prying you apart on the dance floor (or telling you to mask up when you’re busy blowing air kisses at Jon Hamm). That said, it’s likely the only way to reduce the risk of being isolated rather than starting your next gig.
Are there repercussions for a wrap party?
But what’s the big deal? “I know there are a lot of people saying Omicron is ‘milder’,” Maureen says, “But we really should change that language to ‘less virulent’ because with the increased transmissibility of Omicron, so many more people are going to get infected. It’s put cast and crew at risk for COVID especially those with co-morbidities who may become very sick.”
To add insult to injury, or rather, unemployment to infection, wrap parties lead to a lot of people out of work for five to ten days (if not more). “Sadly,” Maureen says, “all of that great work to keep people safe can all be in vain if people go and have an indoor wrap party.” For six or seven months, a tremendous amount of time and money is poured into keeping people well and working on set, but, as Maureen says, “They have the potential to unwrap all the good they’ve done with a wrap party.”
If you thought being sick and jobless was miserable, wait until you meet the attorneys! Subverting studio and local regulations with a wrap party can lead to investigation. For instance, The Matrix Resurrection production notoriously ran afoul of German authorities in November 2020 by disguising a wrap party as a “party scene” in the film. While ostensibly ending with a mere slap on the wrist, one might assume it took Matrix-like skills to dodge that legal bullet. For Maureen, this reflects poorly on those in the film industry who have been fortunate to work through a pandemic when many others have lost their jobs.
Is there a safe way to hold a wrap party?
- Take your wrap party virtual. “You still make the connections, you feel safe in your home, you can celebrate,” says Maureen. You can raise a glass of production-provided champagne on Zoom. In the likelihood that Zoom triggers memories of production meetings, use one of the many virtual event platforms that have sprung from the pandemic, such as VDA.
- Introduce oversight. On the off chance that in-person wrap parties are sanctioned by the studios and local authorities, please take preventative measures. Most importantly, hire a health and safety team to monitor the event. They can check the test and vaccination statuses of attendees as well as screen for symptoms. Hold the party outdoors or make sure the venue is properly ventilated to limit transmissibility. Enforce mask mandates. Keep the guest list short.
- Take advantage of “Exit Testing”. According to Toby Pruett, “exit testing” is a final test for all zones upon completion of principal photography. “It covers the rear of the production or studio. If you test negative then it releases the company of responsibility.” By scheduling a wrap party within 48 hours of the exit test, you can keep the party within the Return to Work Agreement testing cadence.
- “Wrap-id” Testing. While this may be overkill, screening with rapid on-site options such as antigen or molecular tests will add some peace of mind for party-goers. Both Maureen and Toby agree there must be some form of testing before setting foot on the party premises.