Ready, set, go: tips for a coronavirus-compliant shoot

Gaggle has come up with some ways to ensure shoots could adhere to safety rules.

After nearly two months of building shelves, drinking wine and trying to complete Netflix, Boris has thankfully given us a partial nod to go back to work.

Like thousands of business owners, this means we have to figure out what the revised restrictions mean for our staff and our clients. 

As a small comedy production company, Gaggle has a Soho office that, being about two metres squared, can happily be ruled out for anything other than cat-swinging. Plus, until the pubs are reopened, the lustre of Soho has withered somewhat.

Where it gets trickier is on set. The vast majority of film production entails lots of people travelling from far and wide to spend 12 hours crammed into small and unknown environments. The situation worsens when you realise that actors, directors and performers are all fond of hugging and kissing each other. It’s Covid-19’s wet dream. 

To reassure clients and agencies, and to keep our crews and talent safe, we’ve designed a new way of running productions that fit within current government guidelines but won’t adversely affect the quality of the work.

While devising the plan, it became clear that the two main barriers we’re up against are simple human behaviours. 

The first is excitement. Most people we need on set (comedians, performers, camera guys, crew, make-up artists) will all have been doing precious little for the last two months and coming out to play for the first time is going to make everyone quite giddy. This excitement needs to be channelled within the new way of working, not extinguished altogether.

The second is habit. People know how things run on set and have gone through the process on hundreds of occasions. A lot of these behaviours need to change and not just for the first couple of hours of the day.

Covid-19 quiz

All cast and crew will be required to complete a screening questionnaire. By asking the same simple questions as the NHS online triage, it will help avoid hiring anyone displaying coronavirus symptoms. The questionnaire paves the way for the inevitable waiver… a condition of post-lockdown production insurance policies, I’m afraid.

Take me to the head of social distancing

To ensure the basic rules of the set are adhered to, we’re going to need a social-distancing manager. Sounded a bit over the top at first, but for the cost of a day rate for a senior and switched-on person, we’ll be able to avoid the cast and crew from slipping back into old habits. The SDM will be an annoying but necessary presence in preparing the set and keeping everyone in check while the cameras are rolling.

Virtual casting

The casting process can be fairly degrading for performers: getting shepherded into a small room and being asked to deliver a line about how product X is both nutritious and tasty. Asking talent to self-tape doesn’t exactly help this, but it is less of a burden on people’s time. Virtual casting also misses out on actor/director chemistry, so we’ll use self-tapes to narrow down to a shortlist and then recorded video chats with the director will be used to make the final decisions.

The day before the shoot

The production team will need access to the set the day before the shoot. Usually, this would be reserved to pre-light the set and for the director to give his chin a good stroke while the shot list is finessed. Post-lockdown, this will give way to the cleaning and disinfecting of all surfaces and for support roles such as wardrobe and art department to complete their preparation.

A new job for the gaffer

Whether in a studio or location, the set needs to be divided up into areas and marked off with government-issued green-and-yellow gaffer tape. The client-approved shot list will be used to design the floor plan with areas for cast, camera crew and director. Just like a stroll down a supermarket aisle, everyone will know where they can and can’t stand.

Virtual clients

Reducing the number of people on set is a no-brainer and this will apply to clients and agency folk alike. A live feed will be set up so that clients and agency people can tune in to what’s going on on set at any time they choose. This will be complemented by virtual playback that will allow shots to be approved on a rolling basis.

Get used to the word 'no'

It’s important to create the right dynamic on set – with clear lines of communication between the creative director, the client and the director. We’re in a service business and take pride in saying "yes" more than we do "no". However, there will be requests from our clients that will jeopardise on-set safety, so be open to the concept of compromise and work with us on feasible work-arounds.

Sort yourselves out

We’re going to be waving goodbye to the on-set breakfast and lunch spreads. All cast and crew will be responsible for bringing their own food, coffee and water bottles. We’ll be banking the budget allocated for wrap drinks and throwing an almighty drink-up once the pubs are back open.

No escaping the reality that things are going to take longer, meaning costs will go up, but we’re we’re quietly confident that these can be offset by the reduction of on-set personnel, travel and casting studios.

It’s all pretty straightforward and there’s no shortage of other environments (supermarkets, hospitals, factories) that have been forced to rethink how they work. Which puts it in perspective, rather. A reminder, if one is needed, of how lucky we are and what a privilege it is to do the job we do. 

Tom Bazeley is founder and managing director of Gaggle

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