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Indie Film Production Safety Guidelines in the COVID-19 Era

Disclaimer: I am not recommending that filmmakers go back into production during a pandemic and potentially put people at risk. This article and podcast is reporting what production communities around the world are doing to re-open film production in their area safely. There is no magic bullet but these are some guidelines to keep in mind if you plan to film during the COVID-19 era.

Every day I wake up and feel like I’m living in the “Upside Down” from Stranger Things. We are living in a once in a generation event and the world will never be the same. The film industry, like so many others, is taking it on the chin, and COVID-19 is the fist that is doing the punching.

Our entire industry can’t wait for a vaccine and effect treatment to re-open. The economic toll is too great for the millions of film industry workers, not to mention the thousands of support companies that make a living off the industry. Everyone in Hollywood has been scrambling to put together safety guidelines to put people back to work in a safe way.

“We can’t sit around for 18 months waiting for a vaccine. We have to find a way out without pharmaceuticals, and that’s repeat testing, taking people out of circulation, and then contact tracing, so it’s an interesting analogy.”
– Elizabeth “Betz” Halloran, Center for Inference and Dynamics of Infectious Diseases

As indie filmmakers, we too need to figure out how to keep that film engine going but in a safe and responsible way. I was riding around my neighborhood in Los Angeles yesterday and I saw a group on young filmmakers shooting an indie film. They were NOT social distancing. They DID NOT have masks on, not even the crew. They were shooting like the world hadn’t changed at all.

I do understand the want and need to keep shooting. Trust I do, but it is irresponsible for you to endanger yourself, your talent, your crew, or anyone because of a lack of basic precautionary measures.

This is why I decide to address this issue because I know indie filmmakers are going to shoot regardless of the risks. I don’t want our artist passion to hurt anyone so I’ve gathered a collection of multiple film production safety guidelines from around Hollywood and the world as a potential blueprint for indie film productions.

Hollywood Studio’s Proposed Production Safety Guidelines

Indie Film Hustle was able to obtain an internal film production safety guideline document from a MAJOR Hollywood studio. This is a great overview of what Hollywood is planning on doing to protect its community and reopen production.

The one thing you will notice after reading all the ideas and guidelines laid out by the studios and film commissions around the world is that film production will never be the same again. These extra steps will slow down the production day and going over 10 hours, which is standard on any film set, will be extremely rare especially if it is a union production.

Here is a brief overview of the document.

Distance

  • NO VISITORS: Absolutely no personnel is permitted on set, the production office, any stages, or construction mills that does not need to be there.
  • Only essential cast and crew will be allowed on the premises.
  • Maintain 6 feet apart unless absolutely necessary.
  • Avoid any unnecessary physical contact and touching your face.
  • Increase physical space between cast and crew members. No crew member should be near cast, unless they are part of the Hair, Makeup, Sound, or Wardrobe Departments. All should be masked and gloved when near talent.

Sanitation

  • Sanitation Stations: Hand sanitizer should be visible & available in all areas of set, production office, and stages.
  • Cast and crew should also be required to frequently wash their hands with soap and water.
  • Provide disposable, disinfecting wipes so that commonly used surfaces can be wiped down before each use.
  • Provide gloves, and respiratory protection (e.g. masks) for cast/crew to wear, when not on camera.
  • Individually wrapped Catering and Craft Service.
  • A cleaning service should be engaged to clean the production office, mill, stages daily.
  • Sets, props, wardrobe, workstations, and other commonly touched items should be disinfected frequently.

Enforcement

  • If you’re feeling sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, stay home, and immediately inform your supervisor.
  • No admittance for symptoms of respiratory illness, including fever or cough.
  • Conduct health/body temperature checks of cast/crew and anyone entering set, office, etc.
  • Increase health personnel to monitor, test, and keep awareness high.
  • Video village is for certain crew only, all 6 feet apart. It should be cordoned off from any non-essential personnel.

Change

  • Both the Company and its Production staff need to continue to focus on what is the current necessity for cast/crew safety & comfort, rather than any former customs/practices.
  • We are entering into a new era in film production in which flexibility and compassion need to be in the forefront of everything from development through delivery.

Australia’s ‘Neighbours’ Sets Safety Protocols

Deadline detailed the popular Australian show Neighbors On-Set safety protocols. Here are some ideas to keep in mind for your productions:

  • The studio space has been divided into quadrants, with three production teams isolated from each other and only three actors allowed to cross between the groups. Because of that setup, if someone gets sick, only the group whose member is affected will be suspended and the shoot can continue with the other two groups.
  • There will be a nurse on set, and everyone entering the site will have their temperatures checked
  • Male actors will have no make-up, female actors will not be touched up
  • There will be no physical contact between actors including kissing, holding hands or intimate scenes
  • Actors will also practice social distancing, with camera trickery used to make them look closer together
  • There will be no outside extras, with crew members already on set doubling as background performers.

What the Porn Industry Can Show Hollywood in the COVID-19 Era

The mainstream porn industry has been dealing with mass testing ever since the HIV/AIDS outbreak in the eighties. Performers are tested every 14 days and need to pass in order to work on set. On any porn set, you’ll find gloves, masks, and alcohol wipes. This is the standard operating procedure for production on set.

“In many ways, what they are doing is a model for what we are trying to do with COVID,” said Ashish Jha, a physician who directs Harvard University’s Global Health Institute.

The adult film industry figured out a way to work while protecting their cast and crew from a potentially deadly virus. I hope Hollywood will take notes and not dismiss the ideas because they came from pornographers.

Sweden and Denmark’s New Rulebook for Film Production

It looks like Sweden and Demark’s film production has opened up with some major changes in how they shoot. These are the main consequences of COVID related requirements at this time. This is a simplification of the more comprehensive requirements set out below.

Summary

  • Production must enable the required social distancing of 6 feet.
  • This means leaner crews and planning to ensure departments can work sequentially. This will cause a small decrease in productivity. We’d estimate this at about 10%, but it will depend on the shoot in question.
  • Maximum number of people on set is limited at 50 (Sweden only)
  • For interior shoots, every person inside at any one time requires 4m2
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY – As we all know, every film shoot is different – So when it comes to creative and what is permitted in front of camera – We all need to apply common sense and a commitment to minimizing the spread of COVID-19, in what we think we can responsibility execute on a case by case basis.

Maintaining Social Distance

  • It is required that people can maintain a social distance of 2 meters while working.
  • For interior shoots – The maximum amount of crew permitted entry at any one time is based on the size of accessible space on the shooting location. Each person requires a minimum of 4 m2 for unfurnished space and 6m2 for furnished space
  • For all shoots, the maximum amount of people allowed on set in total is 50 (Sweden only)

Minimizing the Number of People On Set

  • The number of crew on set should be kept to the minimum required.
  • Agency and client are likewise encouraged to send the fewest possible number of representatives.

Entry to Set

  • To the extent possible – call times should be staggered so that each department is given access at timed intervals, to prevent crowding on arrival to set.
  • Anti congestion measures pertaining to public transport are not deemed to be required, as most people are expected to travel by car.

Optimizing Workflow

  • To the extent possible – work should be coordinated in such a way that a minimum of people are given access to space at any one time. For example – electrical should not start work until the art department is done and has exited.

Promoting Hygiene On Set

  • All people on set are required to adhere to health authority guidelines on hygiene and behavior required to minimize the risk of spreading the disease.
  • Alcoholic hand sanitizer is to be made available at points of entry and common areas.
  • Information on how to maintain proper hand hygiene is to be supplied to all people present on set – both in the form of official print materials from the health authorities and as part of the morning briefing.

Cleaning Requirements

  • Production is responsible for frequent cleaning of contact surfaces – this includes door handles, surfaces, bathroom fixtures, and any equipment handled by more than one person.
  • Any workstation used by more than one person needs to be cleaned between each user.

Regarding Illness

  • Anyone exhibiting mild or severe symptoms of COVID-19 is not permitted entry to set.
  • A dry cough, fever, muscle pain, and sore throat are considered to be symptoms of COVID-19.

Information

  • Information regarding the risk of spreading COVID-19, and what behavior is expected from everyone on set is to made visible in common areas. This includes agency and client.

You can read the entire document here

European Film Commission Network’s
“Ten Commandments of Safe Filming”

  1. Tests for acting and related professions. All actors should prove their state of health with a negative test in the form of a swab.
  2. Personal Protective Equipment. Basic protective equipment can be divided into three categories: face masks (protects others), respirators (protects the wearer, but can spread the infection) and rubber/latex gloves.
  3. Personal disinfection. If the scene being shot is extensive, crew members must carry pocket disinfectant wipes or a 30 ml. bottle of personal disinfectant.
  4. On-site organization. It is necessary to take into account — especially in the first months — more space requirements for the use of locations in a public space, so that crew members can be separated. At the same time, sufficient space must be available for the crew to eat so they can be spaced from each other.
  5. Temperature measurement. Every crew/cast member should undergo temperature measurement with a contactless thermometer before the start of the shooting day and before entering the shooting location.
  6. Catering. It is necessary to make sure food can be distributed in a takeaway fashion, when each crew member moves away from the catering after taking their food, so the social distancing rule can be adhered to. 
  7. Securing the location. It can be summed up as: when a crew is scouting locations for the very first time you have to assume the place is infected, whereas when you are going to shoot there, cleaning crews should have gone in beforehand and cleaned everything.
  8. Necessary documentation. Now, in addition to risk assessments pertaining to pyrotechnics, stunts, and helicopters, risk assessments addressing the coronavirus will be required.
  9. Management during filming. Measures adopted to secure any possible contagion must be coordinated at the filming location by a film safety specialist or occupational health and safety manager, or a trained authorized person who will be responsible for coordinating and supervising the anti-contagion measures.
  10. Waste management. Disposable face masks, gloves, etc. must be treated as hazardous waste. 

You can read the entire document here

Film Florida COVID Production Guide

Below you will find Film Florida’s COVID Production Guide

  • Eliminate director’s chairs for plastic chairs as they are easier to disinfect.
  • Once production starts, the director should limit takes to make sets more efficient and result in less standing around/congregating time.
  • Consider a temporary clear barrier between actors while establishing marks and positions and remove at the last moment.
  • Consider utilizing larger tents with portable A/C or heat in lieu of trailers/motorhomes.
  • Eliminate “open calls” and give everyone assigned window to arrive.
  • During in-person group auditions, actors can wear clear face shields and gloves, or maintain social distancing.
  • Attempt to limit the number of people in a passenger van to 2 passengers at one time.
  • Use gloves and mask when looking through garments in rental houses and retail stores.
  • Disinfect jewelry and glasses in between use.
  • Face shield should be worn by the Make-up Artist or Hair Stylist.
  • Use disposable make-up kits and brushes and dispose of the kit after each application.
  • Possibly assign brush/combs to each actor so as not to cross-contaminate.
  • Label mics with the name of the user.
  • Utilize boom-only audio when possible
  • Have one individual put up and take down all location signs.
  • If distributing hard copy scripts/sides, dispose of paper after each reading.
  • For intimate scenes, talent should have to test negative for the virus and show results.

You can read the entire document here

Moving Forward

There is no perfect way to protect everyone that is part of film production from COVID-19. The balance of staying home to protect yourself and not making money to pay your bills is a very delicate one.

If you absolutely need to put a film production together to shoot any kind of content please be safe and responsible about it. I hope the ideas I laid out here and in the podcast can help you come back in a safe way. No one should feel unsafe on a film set.

Please share this article and podcast episode with your filmmaking colleagues. Be well and stay safe out there.

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