Step-By-Step Guide For Production Companies Returning To Work from Covid-19

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For the entertainment industry, the coronavirus pandemic has provided an acute awareness of the kind of high-touch, densely populated environments required for movie-and-TV-making. At the same time, as the end of the ban begins to come into view, many are looking for ways to return to working on set.

Some innovative producers, like the Producer Guild of America's Susannah D’Arcy and Todd Grodnick, are preparing to shoot as soon as two weeks after the ban is lifted. Pre-production has consisted of casting via Zoom conferences and onboarding handled with the help of companies like Castifi.

U.S. Productions

Most major studios have tentatively projected some projects starting up again in July or August, with September looking like a more realistic target. In places like Georgia, which is one of the busiest filmmaking hubs outside of California, there's talk of planning crews beginning set construction as soon as June.

The federal government has stipulated the following criteria for the weeks following the lift of any COVID lockdown measures. There is no specific timeline attached to the phases, but all three suggest that vulnerable individuals (elderly and those with pre-existing conditions) should remain sheltered, and gatherings remain limited to a maximum of 10 in phase one, and up to 50 through phase 2.

For productions looking to start rolling as soon as possible, this means skeleton crews will be permitted, and all non-essential personnel will need to be excluded from set. Additionally, many production are switching to leverage digital systems on set, allowing them to pre-board cast and crew, use digital timecards, cutting out physical paper from the process. 

International Productions

Projects which plan to film internationally will need to adjust production schedules to factor in a quarantine time, as cast members or crews flying from the U.S. to another country could be subjected to a two-week quarantine period and another two weeks after returning home.

Filming restrictions have recently been lifted (April 22nd) in Sweden and Denmark, and both countries have implemented strict guidelines to uphold social distancing measures. For instance, interior shoots will require every person inside to be 13ft (4m) apart, and productions now need to “ensure departments can work sequentially,” according to the Nordic Film Guide, which anticipates a decrease in productivity by about 10%. Even though filming is resuming and these countries have seen a decline in the spread of the virus, big crowd scenes are still out of the question for the moment.

As far as catering on set, the rulebook states that buffets and coffee stations are not permitted. All meals must be served as single-serving portions and sit-down meals will be split into two seatings of 20 minutes. Masks should also be provided to everyone on set.

On Set Protocol

Once a production is up and running, it can be expected that everyone on a film or TV production will be required to sign a health waiver, similar to ones they sign covering behavior codes in areas like sexual harassment, to indemnify the productions.

The measures hospitals currently have in place for their first responders can be followed to ensure a safe working set:

  1. Everyone should be tested before they are allowed onto a set. For this, fast-acting antigen tests are currently the best possible option. Using just a finger-stick of blood, the small test strip provides results within 15 minutes, showing multiple lines for a positive reading and a single line for negative. We're anticipating consumer grade tests to become available for purchase by the end of May, early June.
  2. A daily temperature check and hygiene training (sneeze into the crook of your elbow). And for those that have contracted and recovered from the virus, they will be required to demonstrate immunity through an antibody test.
  3. If anyone is exhibiting symptoms, they must be immediately isolated and may not be allowed back on the set for 5-7 days, or more.
  4. Adhere to social distancing guidelines (6ft of separation) when possible. As the nature of acting makes social distancing and wearing protective gear near impossible, BLT crews should be required to wear gloves and face masks at all times. You can purchase N95 masks and gloves in bulk on Alibaba.
  5. Eliminate scenes with large crowds or in tight spaces. Those scenes may need to be created using VFX.
  6. When starting pre-production, use the CDC's Hospital Preparedness Checklist for Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) to help make sure your production is safe (as safe as possible).


Covid 1                                                                   Camera Operator Adam Mendry on set (4/24/2020)

Hygiene Requirements

As productions in the US look to follow suit, many are encouraging health checks upon arrival to set, signing waiver forms, and frequently sanitizing equipment. This should be expected to add up to an hour and a half per person, and should also be factored into shooting schedules. To ensure a safe working environment, here are a few tips:

  1. Wipe down the equipment. Walkie talkies, cameras, lighting, even pencils get passed around, and frequently sanitizing can help prevent the transfer of germs.
  2. Wear masks and gloves at all times. If you need a break from wearing a mask, walk off-set to an isolated area and take a socially distanced break.
  3. Set up hand sanitizer stations at multiple places on set. 
  4. Have actors do their own hair and makeup prior to arriving on-set when possible. A recent article in the LA Times also advocates for hair and makeup departments observing shoots fro iPads
  5. Consider doubling up on roles. New cleaning and safety requirements will most certainly increase budgets, so for filmmakers already strapped for cash it might makes sense to have the director be both the director and the cinematographer, say. 
  6. Set up bagged or boxed lunches instead of buffet style platters where everyone uses the same utensils to spoon food onto their plates.
  7. Hire dedicated cleaning crews and invest in on-set medical personnel. Some productions are budgeting for a coronavirus Production Assistant who's sole responsibility will be to ensure social distancing and sanitizing requirements are adhered to. 

Insurance and OSHA Compliance

OSHA, USITT, and IATSE have recently renewed their alliance to protect the safety and health of workers in the entertainment industry, and are currently working to map lists of safety concerns, find solutions, and implement hygiene protocols. The Directors Guild of America also announced that they are working with other guilds and unions and employers to put together a comprehensive guide their members return safely to work.

While no industry union official guidelines have been released yet, and there is no way to ensure a completely germ-free set, OSHA has released guidelines on how to begin “preparing workplaces for Covid-19”. It suggests developing an infectious disease preparedness and response plan that can help guide protective actions against COVID-19. OSHA also promotes frequent and thorough hand washing.

During production, this could be in the form of hand sanitizer stations placed around various zones of set. OSHA does state that alcohol-based hand rubs must contain at least 60% alcohol.

According to a recent article in Deadline, insurers are unlikely to cover productions for COVID-19 cases when activity resumes, according to multiple sources in the know. Producers all over have filed multimillion-dollar claims triggered when civil authorities — governments — prevented filming from continuing and forcing production shutdowns. When the business starts up, that will now be considered an identified risk, and insurers will not cover it, sources said, just as CDC is warning of a second coronavirus wave.

One workaround is to file for insurance under the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). Enacted in 2002 TRIA ensures adequate resources are available for businesses to recover and rebuild if they are the victims of a terrorist attack, or in this case, a pandemic. PRIA (Pandemic Risk Insurance Act) as the current bill is named, is  currently being reviewed by the US House Financial Services Committee.

It is Castifi’s mission to provide a helping hand, especially when it comes to ensuring the well-being of our community within the entertainment industry. We aim to provide functional resources that can be implemented to cut down on the risk of spreading coronavirus on physical production sets. 

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