Although the film industry is expected to cut back on on-set staff available, organizations like the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services are compiling detailed instruction manuals on how exactly film crews should resume production while minimizing harm.
The manuals account for anything that could go wrong on a film set. Things like whispering on the set should be replaced with hand gestures. Plastic water bottles are not recommended either. Almost anything that could go wrong is considered in the Producer’s Guild safety manual, even a 10% emergency budget increase for miscellaneous COVID-19 related scenarios. A mental health plan is considered.
Elyusha Vafaeisefat, a film professor at Fullerton College, understood those challenges firsthand. He was on the last day on set for a feature film when shutdowns began.
When they resumed production in August, changes had to be made. A dream sequence, which was meant to be filmed in a bar, was then filmed in the director’s backyard.
“Before we even moved forward, we had to meet with all the cast and all the crew and say, ‘hey this is what we want to do if you’re not comfortable, there’s nothing against not wanting to come,” said Vafaeisefat. “No one said no; everyone was really excited because a lot of them are used to being on sets all the time, so they were really itching to be there.”
Keeping everyone safe required meticulous planning, organization, and accountability. People were still familiarizing themselves with the new rules. Even the higher-ups on Vafaeisefat’s film set needed to be held accountable when it came to following proper procedures and guidelines.
Keeping film crews safe is not just about keeping camera operators, directors, and actors safe. A film set can also have makeup artists, catering, and costume designers all on set, each with different needs and different levels of contact with the crew.
This means communication is key. Everyone needs to know what they are doing and at what time. If people are moving around within a large group, there is a greater chance for person-to-person contact.
Safety is making a significant impact on the way sets are hiring people. The Producer’s Guild Association official safety guide warns against hiring those who pick up multiple jobs. Cast and crew should limit their contact with those on their set only. However, the guide proposed bonuses to those who were willing to stick to one set.
Studios will now have to account for shorter days to keep crews well-rested and healthy.
The safety meetings and hand washing will take up extra time, and insurance rates are rising. Many organizations have well thought out plans, however, the real question is if they can be carried out without placing undue burdens on smaller production companies.
COVID-19 has already taken a toll on the art world. Cineworld, the world’s second-largest cinema-chain has already closed its doors. Hundreds of other theaters wonder if they might survive. Stage Theater in Fullerton has shut down as well.
Film professor Jay Goldstein predicts that the pandemic will go on for at least 18 more months, and people will be wearing masks for much longer than that.
Production companies have prepared for what is said to be “the new normal.” Detailed plans have been set in place for all members on set, and many large productions have already resumed filming.
Vafaeisefat said, “This won’t be our last pandemic. In the industry, not even just in film but everywhere in the world, how are you prepared for the next one?”