The doors are starting to crack open and people are starting to slate their films for production. It’s scary out there, but with the right attitude and the proper safety precautions, we could be able to go back to getting our movies shot.
Listen, it is of the utmost importance to keep your crew safe, ALWAYS! Now, more than ever, as producers, we must take more steps during prep to ensure our crew is healthy and protected while they work. SAG, IATSE, the DGA, and the other guilds have issued detailed *guidelines*on how to move forward. Providing personal protective equipment for everyone, maintaining strong social distancing protocols on set and regular COVID-19 testing for all personnel are just a few of the many rules we must learn to follow with perfect precision.
We all remember the days of busting through 14-18 hours without breaking stride. That is not the best approach to production post-COVID. Not only will those hours compromise your crew’s physical wellness and ability to fight off infection, it will also extend each crew member’s exposure to one another proportionally. As an industry, we should seriously rethink our standard work hours. There are more arguments for this outside of protecting against the disease, such as proper work/life balance, proper rest and safety while commuting to/from set. I know there’s a lot of money being spent and our instinct as studio executives and producers is to drive the absolute most amount of productivity into each workday as humanly possible, but sometimes the dollar doesn’t outweigh the person… know what I mean? An extra million dollars for another day or two of shooting doesn’t seem like much to the friends and family of a crew member fighting for their life in the hospital, not to mention the person in the hospital bed…
Test Often, Disinfect, Wear Masks
Get your cast and crew tested as often as possible. There are strict guidelines set out by the unions. Follow them! There’s a zone system and each zone has a minimum testing requirement. Three times a week for crew on set and once a week for crew working within the larger production footprint. You’ll also need to test your crew working off-site. Create a system for identifying who is supposed to be where and hire security to monitor the boundaries between zones. This level of organization will be necessary, so be prepared for a whole new layer of on-set logistics.
Make sure to disinfect your sets, props and equipment regularly. Not only should you hire a team of cleaners, you might also consider medi-fogging. Medi-fog is a proprietary medical disinfectant fog that disinfects big spaces. It is great as an overnight solution to hit the reset button on your location’s microbial cleanliness. You’ll also need a health safety supervisor and other health crew to manage the disinfecting schedule and testing services. Be prepared to get to know the functions of a completely new department.
Also, have everyone wear masks and face shields… duh.
Increase Your Contingency Budget
Crew sick leave, additional filming, re-shoots… it’s all going to happen more often now. Increase your contingency so you’re not between a rock and a hard place if your director gets sick. There are a lot of costs we aren’t anticipating fully, since this is completely new territory for producers, so the best way to be prepared is to sequester a portion of your budget for COVID contingency spending.
This note is for the screenwriters out there. Write small! Gone are the days of 500+ extras, huge set pieces that weave through a big-city, crew standing shoulder to shoulder on a soundstage… It’s time to think small. What about a story that takes place outdoors with two characters? That can get the greenlight more easily than an indoor basketball movie. Studios are extremely cautious these days with what they finance, so hedge your bets and write out risk. Hopefully, if and when things get back to normal, we can go back to writing in a bunch of extras in confined spaces… because who doesn’t love packing extras into confined spaces?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are a lot of stars who aren’t willing to work right now. If you absolutely have to get your movie shot during this period of uncertainty, then manage your expectations when it comes to casting. You might be looking at your second or third rung of choices for your leads. It’s not great for getting distribution if you’re an indie movie, but it’s better than letting an opportunity to make your feature pass you by. Cast small, focus on your story, turn your unknown leads into stars 🙂
Safety. Safety. Safety.
Check Back Soon
This is an evolving situation. Check back soon since we’ll be updating this article as new information comes down the pipeline. Leave comments if you have additional thoughts!