COVID outbreak at Will Smith’s company raises questions on production restart

When the COVID pandemic hit, superstar Will Smith launched a Snapchat show about his life under quarantine, “Will From Home.” His wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, also talked about her quarantine life on her Facebook Watch show, “Red Table Talk.”

But their staff at Westbrook Inc. reported to work. Last week, 10 staffers tested positive for COVID-19.

The outbreak is the first significant transmission reported at a production company. It raises questions about the protocols in place to prevent infections, and whether it’s still too soon for production to restart.

Westbrook has given out relatively little information about the outbreak. In a statement issued to Variety on Thursday, the company said that production had halted on one project that involved the infected workers. The company did not identify the project.

Production continues on several other shows, which involve workers who were not infected, a company spokesperson said.

The company said that it had been following federal, state and local guidelines for its productions, including “Appendix J,” the county order that sets out strict requirements for film and TV production.

“We received 10 positive tests and the crew members quarantined and remain in quarantine,” the company told Variety on Wednesday. “All 10 people were retested and have received negative results. We will continue to follow all official guidelines and safety protocols.”

The company also said it is cooperating with a Department of Public Health investigation. It was not clear how 10 people could all test negative so soon after all tested positive, but if true it calls into question the accuracy of the tests being used by productions.

Los Angeles County guidelines require that employees remain home for 10 days after testing positive. The county also requires that anyone who was in “close contact” with a person who has tested positive self-quarantine for 14 days.

The company representative said that “close contacts” had self-quarantined, but did not say how many.

Smith and Pinkett Smith founded Westbrook Inc. in 2019 along with Miguel Melendez, Kosaku Yada and Tera Hanks.

The company is the parent of Overbrook Entertainment, Will Smith’s film production company, which is currently developing “King Richard,” in which Smith will portray Richard Williams, the father of Venus and Serena Williams. The company also includes Red Table Talk Productions, which produces Jada Pinkett Smith’s show, as well as Westbrook Studios and Westbrook Media. Westbrook Studios is working on the reboot of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

The outbreak was reported on the county public health website on Saturday, identifying the location as Westbrook’s offices at 24151 Ventura Blvd., Suite 200, in Calabasas. It was not clear, however, if the workers became infected at that location or elsewhere.

The Smiths have each talked extensively about the virus on their respective platforms over the last few months. In March, Jada Pinkett Smith hosted a discussion about the science behind the coronavirus. She also talked about relationship strains caused by the virus on her show in April.

Will Smith, meanwhile, interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci on his Snapchat quarantine show in April. He also did a Zoom concert with DJ Jazzy Jeff, who revealed that he had come down with COVID-19.

“Will and Jada are both involved in active productions that are all following strict guidelines outlined by the CDC, California State and Los Angeles County,” the company rep said.

The county discloses any outbreak of three or more staffers at “non-residential” settings. The list is heavy on “essential” employers, like food distributors, grocery stores and police agencies.

The Department of Public Health said it was unable to answer a series of questions regarding the outbreak on Thursday.