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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
European Film Commission Network’s
“Ten Commandments of Safe Filming”
- Tests for acting and related professions. All actors should prove their state of health with a negative test in the form of a swab.
- 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.
- Personal disinfection. If the scene being shot is extensive, crew members must carry pocket disinfectant wipes or a 30 ml. bottle of personal disinfectant.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Necessary documentation. Now, in addition to risk assessments pertaining to pyrotechnics, stunts, and helicopters, risk assessments addressing the coronavirus will be required.
- 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.
- Waste management. Disposable face masks, gloves, etc. must be treated as hazardous waste.
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.
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.
Alex Ferrari 0:52
Now I don't know about you guys, but every day when I wake up, I feel like I'm living in the upside down from Stranger Things. I mean, we are living through a once in a generation event, which is this COVID-19 Coronavirus thing. And not only is it kicking the ass of the planet, but our industry is really taking it in the chin. Now I know there has to be a balance between staying safe and you know quarantining and not going out to work. But there's also the other side of that coin, which is like, if we don't work, we can't pay our bills, we can't pay our rent, we can't buy food, and so on. So it is this fine balancing act that the entire world is truly trying to to perform. And our industry is no different. You guys know, I live in Los Angeles. And I'm seeing it firsthand, you know, driving by, you know, the studios like Warner Brothers and Disney and seeing all of their production trucks sitting there not being used. It's a ghost town by Warner's and Disney and Paramount when you walk you drive by it's just like, there's nothing there. It's really scary. I mean, I think the estimates around 750,000 direct employees here in Los Angeles employs meaning crew members who are not working because of the shutdown of production, not to mention the immense amount of support companies and facilities and services that help the industry and rely on the industry from the local restaurants that you know, we buy food from, to more complex services that help us create the projects and the productions that we do. So there is been a lot of talk on how we can really reopen How can production go forward in a COVID 19 era. You know, I hate to tell everybody listening, but if you don't know this already, the production world the film industry will never ever be the exact same way it was before COVID-19 hit us. The way production is handled from this point on will change. And as indie filmmakers we too need to figure out how to keep that film engine going. But do it in a safe and responsible way. I was driving around yesterday in my neighborhood, and I saw a group of young independent filmmakers shooting an indie film. And it wasn't like with one or two people there was probably about seven or eight actors clustered together, waiting for a take. And there was the director, the DP and maybe a producer and someone else trying to get the shot and they were obviously stealing the shots and they didn't have permission because right now In Los Angeles, there are no there is no permitting allowed, you know, the film office is not accepting applications for film permit. So if you want to shoot something, you got to do a guerilla style. And you guys know me, I'm all about guerilla style with my last film on the corner of ego and desire. I basically did guerilla style and stole the entire movie from the Sundance Film Festival when I was there. So I'm all about doing what you got to do to get your shots. But the problem was that they weren't out there making their movie, The problem was that none of them had masks. None of them were doing social distancing. It was a very irresponsible way to shoot a project. Now, this is one of the reasons why I decided to do this episode and write this immense 3000 plus word, Article detailing all the ideas and guidelines that are being put down by film Commission's and countries around the world, including Hollywood to give independent filmmakers an idea of what they can do if they want to continue shooting. And I agree with a lot of the medical experts in the world, they're saying we can't sit around for 18 months waiting for a vaccine, we have to find a way back to production without pharmaceuticals. And that is about repeating testing and taking people out of circulation and then contact tracing them while we wait for the vaccine or effective treatment for this virus. Now I completely understand wanting and needing to shoot, trust me, I do. But if you jump into production, recklessly, you're endangering yourself, your talent, your crew and every human being that comes in contact with any of those people. So I gathered a collection of multiple film production safety guides from around Hollywood and the world as a potential blueprint for indie film productions moving forward. Now, I was able to obtain an internal film production safety guideline document from one of the major Hollywood Studios. And this is a great overview of what Hollywood is planning on doing to protect its community and reopen production. Now I'm gonna throw out a few things that a few key points in that document that I think will be very helpful to independent filmmakers on their productions. There's absolutely no visitors allowed on set. Absolutely no personnel that is not permitted to be on set or in a production office or any of the stages will be there. Only essential cast and crew will be allowed anywhere near the set. Maintaining six feet apart is absolutely necessary. Avoid any unnecessary physical contact or touching your face, increasing physical space between cast and crew members. No crew should be near cast, unless they're part of the hair makeup, sound or wardo departments and even then they need to be masked and gloved anytime they're near talent. Hand Sanitizer should be visible and available in all areas of their set production offices and or stages. Cast and Crew should also be required to wash their hands with soap and water as many times as possible. Production needs to provide disposable disinfecting wipes that are commonly used for surfaces to wipe down every area before use. Production needs to provide gloves and respiratory protection IE masks and or goggles for cast and crew to wear. When not on camera. individually wrapped craft service and catering products will have to happen kind of like a airport, there's going to be no more buffets, there's going to be no more open craft service tables, where there's open donuts and things like that that's gone, everything has to be individually wrapped, including utensils have to be individually wrapped. A cleaning service should be engaged to clean the production offices, the set anywhere that the crew is going to be. All sets props, wardrobes, workstations and other commonly touch items should be disinfected frequently. Now if you're feeling sick with a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, stay home and immediately inform your supervisor. You cannot allow anybody to come on set with sips systems of respiratory illness, including a fever or cough. You have to conduct health and body temperature checks of the cast and crew and anyone entering set an office or production area. Increase health personnel to monitor tests and keep awareness high. That means there's gonna be a new crew member on every set, which is basically a nurse a health practitioner someone it depending on the size of up Production might need more than that. But you'll need someone there whose only job is to check, recheck test retest to make the call if someone's got to be pulled off the set or something along those line, video village is only going to be available to certain crew only director dp
script supervisor only people who absolutely need to be there and even then they have to be six feet apart. I know that's gonna be very difficult for a lot of people on set because they all like to hang around video village and just chill, those days are gone. And a show in Australia, called neighbors set safety protocols out they were one of the first to do so. And here's a couple of their ideas of what they're doing. The studio space is going to be divided into quadrants with three production teams isolated from each other, and only three actors are allowed to cross between these 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 are nurses on set and everyone entering the site will be tested for temperature. male actors will not have any makeup and 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'll be no outside extras or crew members already on set doubling as background performers as you remember. And if you've ever been on a set, a lot of times background extras are treated like sheep and herded together. Those days are gone as well. Now I think there is another area that we can learn from which is the porno industry. I know a lot of people like what the porn industry Yes, the porn industry, the adult film industry has had to deal with testing and retesting for viruses since the outbreak of HIV AIDS in the 80s performers are tested every 14 days and need to pass it in order to work on set. On any porn set. You will find gloves, masks, alcohol wipes, it is standard operating procedure for any mainstream adult film set. Now some interesting ideas from Sweden and Denmark about film production in the COVID-19 era. Now of course they're talking about social distancing of six feet. But one of the big things they are saying is that crews are going to be have to be a much much smaller maximum number of people on set is limited to 50. Only. For interior shoots every person inside at one time acquires a mask on. One Another thing you could do is stagger call times for each department. So time intervals to prevent crowding on arrival on set. No two departments should be on set at the same time if at all possible. So if electrical is there setting up art department should wait or vice versa before they enter the set. Now I also came across the European Film Commission networks 10 commandments of safe filming in the COVID-19 era. Their 10 commandments is as follow test for actors and related professionals all actors should prove their state of health with a negative test in a form of a swab. Number two personal protective equipment basic protective equipment can be divided into three categories face mask to protect each other respirators to protect the wear and rubber or latex gloves. Number three personal disinfection. If the scene being shot is extensive crew members must carry pocket disinfectant wipes, or little bottle of personal disinfectant on site organization, it is necessary to take into account especially in the first months more space requirements for the use of locations in public spaces so crew members can be separated at the same time sufficient space must be made available for crews to eat. So they're spaced from each other temperature measurement number five, every crew and cast member should undergo temperature measurement with contact less thermometers before the start of each shoot day and before entering shooting locations. catering number six, it is necessary to make sure that food can be distributed in takeaway fashion. Number seven securing the location before you go to any location you have to assume that it is infected. So you have to send a cleaning crew in prior to cast and crew arriving and clean it top to bottom. Very deep cleaning and then when you're done for the day, you have to do the exact same cleaning again. Number eight necessary documentation. In addition now to risk assessments pertaining to pyrotechnic stunts, helicopters The Coronavirus will have to be taken into consideration when doing any of those actions on set. Number nine management during filming, you will have to have a film safety specialist or occupational health and safety manager, or a trained authorized person who is responsible for coordinating and supervising the anti contagion measures. And number 10, waste management, disposal of face masks, gloves, etc, must be treated as hazardous waste. We are living in the upside down guys, this is this is scary. I know a lot of the stuff I'm talking about is just mind blowing. But this is the world we live in today. And you have to also take into consideration that everything that used to take an hour will now take two or three, production will slow down, which in turn will become more expensive. So this is just the rules that have been set in place for us to be able to create our art as filmmakers it is what it is, and everyone's going to have to be dealing with it and work. And that's going to have to be taken into consideration. When scheduling a movie scheduling a show, there's going to be added time because things will take longer to do because you've got to do it in order to keep your cast and crew healthy and safe. Now in the article at indie film hustle.com, forward slash 389. I list a ton of other areas as well with links to articles, and other things that other people are doing a really great one is Tyler Perry right now is one of the only production companies or only, I think productions period in the United States that they're going to be launching I think in a week or two, where he is going to be able to shoot 22 episodes of a show, which is a full season of a show in two and a half weeks. And because he owns Tyler Perry studios in Atlanta, he is able to basically quarantine his cast and crew on the backlot where they're not going to leave for that time period, they'll be staying in houses inside the property lines of the studio and not moving. So that's great for him. It's not really something that Hollywood can do here because no studio that I know of has sleeping accommodations, or like a camp style production studio backlot where people can sleep over and basically live there for weeks and weeks on end. But a lot of people are thinking outside the box, because you have to guys, because there is no perfect way to protect everyone in a film production in this COVID-19 era. 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 that I've laid out in this episode can help you come back to film production in a safe way. There should be no one that feels unsafe on a film set, it is a stressful area, a lot of times, and this is just adding a completely new level of stress, people are really going to have to be on their A game when shooting on a production set moving forward. And guys, I really don't know, nobody knows where we're going to be in 30 days in 60 days, in the end of the year at the beginning of 2021. We don't know, I personally feel that there will be some sort of resurgence. Because we've you know, the countries the US is opening up
a lot. And you know, science just dictates that more people are interacting with each other, they're going to get sick, and they're going to spread the disease. So I don't know if I don't think or don't count on production windows being open indefinitely. They might end very well like be closed again this year. So in air, if you're in an area where you can shoot and you can shoot safely understand that that window, it has a time limit on it, in my opinion, it will probably close again, I hope it doesn't, but it probably will close again before the year is out. So if you have something to shoot, then you could do it safely. And you put these parameters in place. do so. But we haven't even talked about insurance and production insurance and how that's going to work out I don't even know how insurance companies are handling this. Because the production has to protect themselves against liabilities. Imagine if you are a producer and you put your cast or your crew member in harm's way to get the shot, which you know, according to history has happened a few times in Hollywood and then on a production set and they get sick and God forbid they pass because of it or infect another family Family members, somebody else that passes and is directly responsible because they were working on a film set. This is happening around the country, guys. I mean, at meatpacking plants at Amazon, it's a problem, it really is a problem. So if you are going to do production, and you have to do it, hope this does help. Be very, very cautious because no movie, no video, no series is worth anyone's life, or anyone getting sick with this virus. It's just not worth it. Thank you so much for listening. Again, the show notes to get links to all these documents are at indie film hustle.com Ford slash 389. And again, if you have any ability to donate a little money to feed America, that would be amazing. Because even if it's $5 for every $1 you put in there able to have 10 meals with feed America. So your dollar goes very, very very far. So even if you donate $5 $10, it does help a lot. I've donated a bunch already to them. And at the top of every one of my websites, you will see a donation link. But you can also just go to indiefilmhustle.com/help and make a donation it you know, I've been seeing the lines of people at food banks around the country. And this is a way that you can help. So I know guys, it's we're we're going through a lot as an industry as a species as a planet. But in our small corner of the world in the film industry, we are going through a lot there's a lot of uncertainty. There's a lot of I don't know what the hell's going on. I don't know what's happening with film festivals with film distribution with movie theaters with Hollywood in general. There is so much uncertainty and fear going on right now. So I hope again that this episode helped you a little bit on your filmmaking path. And also guys, I have decided to put a special area on indie film hustle that is dedicated to COVID-19 enter the Coronavirus and updates and things that are happening in our industry will be there. So if you just go to indiefilmhustle.com at the top, you can click on blog, and you'll be able to have the whole section. So all our articles, podcasts episodes, videos, that we're talking about COVID-19 or the Coronavirus will be there in an organized fashion so you guys can keep up with everything that's happening to our industry and how COVID-19 is affecting it. I've been bombarded by the tribe asking me questions about COVID-19. So I feel that this is something that you guys need, and hopefully it will be of help to you. Thank you guys, as always keep that also going. Keep that dream alive. Stay safe. Now Talk to you soon.
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- DONATE to Feed America to help with people affected by Coronavirus
- COVID-19 Information
- Tyler Perry Lays Out Plan To Safely Restart Production At His Atlanta Studio
- The Porn Industry Has A Lot of Safety Tips for the COVID-19 Era
- Film Florida COVID Production Guide
- European Film Commissions Network – COVID Guidelines
- SAG/AFTRA, DGA, and IATSE