After months of studio shutdowns and stalled productions (watch Colin Rich’s affecting video essay below on lockdown life in Los Angeles), the film and TV industries are looking to reopen their doors—at least partially. The question then becomes how to safely resume operations, and how on earth do you make a movie without congregating?
In Los Angeles, Horror studio Blumhouse and Universal Pictures are working on a format “that could become a blueprint for COVID-19-era productions,” according to Kim Masters. “This would involve a bare-bones setup—bring your own sandwiches—without insurance to cover a coronavirus outbreak. Low-budget horror productions will be familiar with the use of minimal cast and crew. (And virus outbreaks.
A slightly sci-fi system is being devised by producers Brian Kavanaugh-Jones and Chris Ferguson, whose “Isolation Based Production Plan” includes the use of “quarantine pods” to ensure the safety of cast and crew. “Pod 1 would be the on-set cast and crew, Pod 2 is base camp (makeup and hair, catering) and Pod 3 is set design/prep,” notes Kate Aurthur.
Each pod would have its own “quarantine supervisor” responsible for enforcing quarantine and disinfecting protocols. “They will also be regularly disinfecting and cleaning common surfaces throughout the day,” explains the proposal. “The quarantine supervisor will also check in with each crew member in their pod and check their temperatures.”
UK broadcasters have published a new set of guidelines for safe TV production, emphasizing that “the number one priority remains the safety and well-being of production teams and those who work with them.” Again, the protocols include reducing your number of staff and minimizing travel, as reported by Jenny Priestley.
The Czech Republic has also issued new regulations, including regular testing of actors for infection and maintaining sanitation standards both on location and in studios. Scott Roxborough adds that “onscreen talent will not be required to wear face masks.”
Meanwhile in Iceland, a country with a relatively small number of confirmed COVID cases, production resumes for the Netflix series Katla. “Color-coded armbands determine who is allowed to go to which area in the production, and no more than 20 people are permitted to congregate,” explains Jordan Hoffman. “Strict boundaries prevent people from wandering where they don’t need to be, with hawk-eyed security monitors ready to shout ‘two meters!’ if anyone gets too close.”
In Australia, for the production of Children of the Corn, producer Lucas Foster “divided his set by job function, and “a nurse, a paramedic and a doctor were present daily,” reports Debra Kaufman. “Cast and crew fill out wellness questionnaires at the beginning and end of each day and have their temperatures checked. In one challenging night sequence, “the actors were dressed in neoprene suits both to keep them warm and to offer them another level of protection when they came in close contact during the scene.
“For 80 days, Foster isolated with in the same location with ‘his entire cast and crew together, including the guardians for more than 25 child actors … [and] an actor’s dog,’” Kaufman continues. “Foster reported that, ‘the extra precautions added at least 20 percent to the initial $10 million budget of his indie film.’” To read the full article, click here.
Wherever you are in the world, health checks will be essential on film sets for the foreseeable future. “This isn’t just about production processes or procedures though, as it also depends on government assistance as well as private health innovation,” argues the team at ProVideo Coalition. “Without a rapid, inexpensive way to test all individuals that enter a set each day the idea of production ramping to pre-COVID levels is unlikely. How can we be sure that we are safe to be on a job if we don’t know if the person we are working next to is healthy?
“Though rapid, inexpensive testing is an almost certain outcome of this pandemic, the more likely short-term solution to ensuring health on set is to sequester cast and crew on location for an extended period of time,” the ProVideo Coalition article continues. “This might mean we will see cast and crew placed in a sort of production-related curfew for a number of weeks to ensure they remain healthy. It would also mean closing sets to any outside visitors for the duration of each shoot.”
This level of security and consensus-building should help allay any fears about the unsafe resumption of production… or worse, a proliferation of Zoom-based features.