Adjusting a C-stand, swapping a lens, carefully tweaking that toy dinosaur prop just ever so slightly so it catches the light. These are all things we, as filmmakers, actors and producers have taken for granted the last 100 years, but those elements will not be the same for the foreseeable future.
As the lockdowns across the country start to loosen up, and production starts slowly ramping up, we’re entering a new era of filmmaking, one that’s smaller, more nimble and ultimately safer. No — it doesn’t mean that your production is going to go full Dogme 95, but it does mean that the life on set we know and love is gonna be a bit different.
Over the past two and a half months, Quirk has gone from a full-fledged animation studio to UGC content hub to finally making our way back to set. We’ve had extensive discussions with filmmakers, consumed the latest union guidelines, workshopped on set safety with ActionOSH, reviewed OSHA requirements, and most importantly, made sure we were on the same page with everyone we’ve worked with since, and have come up with the following ways to work safely on set moving forward.
Location, location, location: Multiple studies have pointed to outdoor, well-ventilated areas as potentially less risky in terms of transmissions. Outdoor locations allow your crew to have adequate space for physical distancing (this is why they invented the 100mm lens). In a country of 330+ million, not all areas have been hit the same when you look on a per-capita basis. Consider hiring a local crew in areas that are much less impacted than others.
The dreaded COVID-19 waiver: Filming will likely be accompanied by a liability waiver to protect the production company from being sued in the event of an outbreak. When reviewing these waivers, keep two things in mind. First, make sure the waiver doesn't impact your workers' compensation and health benefits. Then, make sure the production company is clear and up-front about the safety protocols it plans to follow. This is the time to be vocal and hold your production partners' feet to the fire...or the hand sanitizer.
Meet your new crew member: the COVID-19 monitor: Much like pyro scenes include fire marshals, and puppy scenes include animal monitors, the future involves a COVID-19 monitor. These are independent, third-party experts focused entirely on COVID-19 safety to protect the crew. On our sets, we have friendly reminders every hour to wash hands, as well as backup PPE, Clorox wipes, and hand sanitizer readily available to all. In addition, the monitor will shut down a set if safety procedures and sanitation aren’t being followed.
Car culture is back: Areas where cast and crew can travel in their own cars will return to work first. For smaller productions, crew members who own their own gear are critical. G&E teams with their sprinter van, the DP with their own Alexa package, the art department with a station wagon full of everything they’ve compiled over the last 10 years will be ready to get on set sooner.
Nobody touch my gear! Keeping gear apart is essential, which is one of the reasons we see owners/operators as having a leg up in the short term. And it’s not just touching gear, but making sure each department enters a space one by one, and clears before the next team comes in. Wipe down all props before passing it to talent.
Goodbye craft service: One of the notorious (and most loved) parts of film set culture will not be around in the short term. Instead, consider giving your crew a $20 stipend to bring their own snacks/coffee and personal water bottles to set. Catering companies are going to need to adapt to preboxed, individual meals. On larger sets, staggered lunch times will help.
Slow down: With longer loading times, a smaller crew, and a strong safety-first approach, the entire film day is going to take longer. Load-ins until the first shot will go from a few hours to 3+, wrap and cleanup will take longer, and setups between scenes will be twice as long. Pre-light days with minimal crews can help. Crew, client and production company should work with the expectation that they may need to cut shots, and not sacrifice safety over quantity.
Wardrobe, hair and makeup (HMU): These are some of the hardest hit elements of a film shoot, since they involve so much contact between talent and department. In the short term, look for wardrobe stylists to move remotely, order multiple looks for talent and ship directly to their house to bring on set. For HMU, the recommendation is one personal stylist per talent, using masks, new brushes and a face shield to protect both talent and makeup artist. For smaller productions, having talent show up camera-ready is the safest option.
Remote directing and video village: Technology that could have been implemented years ago is now here to stay. Whether you are using LiveView to broadcast across the globe, or low-tech hardware that tricks your computer into thinking the video village feed is a webcam so you can blast your production out over Zoom, technology is helping keep the crew count low.
If this all sounds daunting, it is. But it’s also achievable. We may not have TV spots with 100+ person pool parties, and those fancy Miami nightclub crane shots we’re going to have to put on the back burner for a bit, but the craft of telling stories through film is not going anywhere.