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Covid - realities on a job

I have just finished a short job, not a normal feature, but upto 100 people in studio for a week. I thought it may be useful to share a couple of Covid-related notes as we had a full-on highly experienced and qualified yet very pragmatic safety consultant who works on a lot of big stuff around the world, including a lot of shows you know!

1) One way system - hard to enforce but worth enforcing. People moan about it but need to get over it, and they're lucky to be working.
2) Masks - 100% of the time indoors, unless eating. Keep windows open indoors to keep airflow, transmission is dramatically higher indoors. Yes, it will get cold, wear warm clothes. And have hand sanitiser everywhere and encourage incessant use. Think Lady Macbeth. Reduce cross-contamination.
3) Eating - 2 people to a 6' trestle table (unless in a bubble), shifts for dining, compostable portion boxes and cutlery.
4) Bubbles - each team should only associate with their own team where possible. Minimise crossover. There's no reason costume and grip (for instance) should even know each other exist ;-) This is important for room capacity.
5) Room Capacity - rooms have a safe-ish capacity which cannot be exceeded, which should be clearly labelled on the door. That will certainly mean bubbles taking it in turns to work, not all at once. This will slow down production A LOT, so re-write those scripts to get the location count right down.
6) Internationals - Film industry has a quarantine exemption for internationals arriving (from everywhere but those 6 countries on the exemption list) which should be arranged via BFI. You should probably get a proper "legal opinion" based on whatever the latest news is when you shoot, as it changes quickly, and frankly it will be helpful for any insurance claims should they be needed.
7) Insurance - the government underwriting of covid-related costs has opened and details are here. It may be too complex for smaller films to afford to engage with.
8) Testing - if you are not quarantining people in hotel rooms for 2 weeks, you might want to consider testing as people enter bubbles. Private PCR testing is appx £185 for end-of-next-day results, and 1pm results £295. You will either need to visit a centre or it may be worth getting a call-out for appx £300 extra. Test results do not exempt people from quarantine or taking other proactive safe steps, but may be required by your insurers.
9) Daily testing - forehead scans to test for fever are cheap and easy. Fever is just one symptom, but it's an easy one to catch. You can get inexpensive non-contact forehead scanners which give a straight green/red alert.
10) cleaning - we had cleaners dedicated to walking around everywhere and sanitising at least hourly. Bannisters, door handles, loos, etc. Round and around.
11) Declarations and passes - check every single person as they arrive every day, temperature, plus get them to fill in a declaration (paperless, ideally!) to self-declare they have no new cough, have no reason to believe they have been in contact, no loss of smell or taste, etc. Passes - change colour daily (so make them disposable eg cardboard lanyard passes or tyvek wristbands). People should be able to see each other that they declared that morning on arrival. If someone is missing a pass/clearance beware of them and tell them to check in and declare and get their temperature taken. I found using a QR code linking to a form on a site like ClickUp handy. If anyone is filming before Christmas I am happy to set up what we used for your production also, or at least give a demo. Don't forget GDPR, so keep the minimum required information and have it destroyed after 14 days.
12) Have a plan. What happens if someone cannot make a true declaration that they are clean and have been distancing? What if someone gets ill during the day? What if someone refuses to wear a mask or keeps cutting through a room over capacity? Someone high up needs the power to threaten and follow through, whether sending them home if there's a safe way to do so, or apply discipline for non-compliance, regardless of how that compromises the production. The liability implications are too huge not to, and most people are just glad to be working, but there's always someone who doesn't feel the rules apply. As a production, have someone mentally standing by to step into a role if you need to replace any person for any reason.

Of course each job will differ, but this is a dump of pretty much the simplest, cheapest steps you should consider. PCR testing is a good idea, but bloody expensive and don't get me started on how bad our public infrastructure for it is compared with the mainland. Swedes can get a walk-in test in the middle of town for the price of a couple of beers, here you're lucky for key workers to get a test, but I'll try not to go on. Larger productions have on-site testing "labs" set up.

The other steps are frankly more important anyway to prevent transmission and to stay on top of things. The fever scan is, I think, well worth the cash - it picked up a guy on the warm side of normal who was perfectly healthy feeling, but didn't come into the building. Next day he called in that he had a high fever and other symptoms and didn't come in.

Anyway just a bit of a dump of what we did and how, and maybe a spur for anyone else's notes/ideas.

  • Wow !

    I'm grateful that I don't have to deal with such a challenge right now. Really impressed that you're able to navigate a process that allows highly populated production to exist whilst this nuisance continues.

    1 year ago
    • I won't say it was easy, nor perfect, but enough people are hungry enough to work (and not die) that they will follow the rules!

      1 year ago
  • Many thanks, Paddy for sharing such important, essential experience, excellent informative contribution. Completely agree about your point of re-writing, we are presently two thirds through the production of our latest indie feature Host, we have already changed and shot scenes previously written as internal to external locations, which I believe benefited the production. The following shot was originally written to take place in a study, this is the revised replacement Covid-19 version.

    Also, planning to shoot some larger previously planned internal scenes now in parts/sections against green screens also too, re-drawing planned storyboards that included wide angles to now use tighter two or three shots (for scenes shot in locations with limited space). Also now very carefully offsetting arrival and departure times of cast, working with the minimum number of crew, indeed whatever it takes to work to avoid having too many bodies on set at the same time to best stay safely productive.
    Regards Ray

    1 year ago
    • I love having that as a walking shot in such an iconic and dynamic location - it's one of the things "Spooks" and high-end drama do well, so much free production value and a creative way out of a problem!

      1 year ago
    • I'm looking forward to seeing this Ray!

      1 year ago
  • After covid killed the big project I was working on I sat down and wrote a new script designed entirely around being able to shoot under covid conditions.

    In my case it turned what would have been a straightforward adaption of a classic work, (a project at the back of my mind for a long time) into a comedic commentary on the arts, authenticity and social media, and frankly, a much better script than the one I'd have written under normal circumstances!

    Constraints can aid the imagination :-)

    Ray - your scene exactly shows this. Trafalgar Square is so much more THIS IS A MOVIE than almost any internal location could be.

    1 year ago
    • Yes, I like constraints to spur creativity! It's like they give you a shape to write into. And after all, we're in the illusions business :)

      1 year ago
  • Hi Paddy

    Was the production you were working on still providing catering for cast & crew? Remember hearing something about sports commentators and presenters having to bring their own lunches to work now...

    1 year ago
    • Yes we did, 2 services a day each of upto 80 pax. Food was cooked fresh on site, although remote and hotbox would also be fine, since it was all served in compostable boxes with vegware cutlery etc. Dining room had 2m distancing, so 2 pax per 2m trestle (one each end). It meant running shifts in catering with table wipe-downs in between diners, and staggering diners. Basically reducing anything that gets touched more than once (so condiments in sachets, etc)

      1 year ago
    • Has working around Covid made that production significantly more expensive?

      1 year ago
    • @John Lubran I would say it costs more time than money, so yes in that you can get less done in any time.

      Unit/location moves become dramatically more time consuming. If you can get everyone rigged in a location then you can shoot it with slow inconvenience, but to load in and out you can't just throw people at the job to speed it up, or have lights and set dressing rigging together.

      1 year ago
  • Hey @Paddy great discussion point. Thanks for that. I'm an intimacy coordinator, and we are facing a whole host of additional issues! I'm based in South Africa, but only recently, so am still connected to the UK, and we've been in discussions with the International Intimacy Coordination community on managing intimate scenes and kissing, which are now being re-introduced all over the world. Bubbles, quarantine and hydrogen-peroxide mouthwash, and super detailed risk assessments seem to be the way forward for us. Here, I don't think there is any insurance available to cover the risk. I wrote some guidance on my company website for production and for actors as things were developing - are you ok if I incorporate some of your ideas above into my lists? You can see what I've got here: (there are a couple of drop downs as well), I'm happy to reference you, however you'd like to be referenced. Let me know.

    1 year ago
    • Hi Kate,

      You are extremely welcome to incorporate anything you like, attributed or not as you prefer!

      Our government is finally just starting to offer cover for covid-only cost contributions, heavily capped, high excesses, and quite expensive, as it needs to sit on top of all your regular insurance policies! It's certainly better than nothing, but it is far from a perfect solution.

      I'm also very interested to hear your take as an intimacy coordinator, I think we all are, so the more we share, the better we can all come through this! :)

      1 year ago
  • One thing is sure. Doing a steadicam while wearing a mask and face shield is horrible!

    1 year ago
  • @Paddy thank you so much for sharing such an in-depth account of a film production in today’s world.

    I’ve been wanting to produce a film for a very very long time, but due to personal circumstances have been unable to do so.

    I now have the opportunity to take voluntary redundancy from my work which will give me the opportunity to fulfil my dream. BUT COVID is scaring me off!

    Is there a living to be made by an independent producer with very little practical experience?

    Is there any investment for independents due to folk being cautious with their finance?

    Even if an independent film is made, will it be bought due to restrictions in exhibition?

    I really want to take my redundancy and run to make a film, but for the first time in my life I’m questioning whether I should give up and stick to my 9 to 5!

    1 year ago
    • People make money as producers, absolutely. You very much trade on your reputation, so coming in with no experience does limit your earning power. Investment is just about impossible to get at the best of times - people only invest if they are confident of making a profit, and they can't be confident if you're still untested. Then right now, there's basically fuck all investment or production right now, insurance opened back up this last week, and even then it's expensive and inconvenient at the lower end. Film is ALWAYS a HUUUUUGE financial risk - I would be more inclined to stay employed in such an insane landscape (Covid plus Brexit) and then join an evening class/enthusiastic amateur group to find out how you like production. Everyone is always looking for producers since the glamour jobs are the "creatives".

      That said, I've done something similar and I do make a living in production, but it took time to learn my trade, and I mix up films and events for variety. By all means take the plunge, but beware it isn't by any means an immediate transition to the same money as you get used to as an employee!

      1 year ago
    • @Paddy Robinson-Griffin thank you for such a sure and honest reply. I've always thought exactly what you've replied, but was wishfully hoping that I was being overly pessimistic and that things weren't as bad as I thought they were.

      I guess I'm going to have to think long and hard whether to take the risk of redundancy and see if I can find *that* script that could possibly get me that elusive financing. I have a month to make my decision.......

      1 year ago
    • @Alpesh Gor Despite everyone telling you that the script is the most important thing, you'll have noticed that a lot of shit scripts get produced, and a lot of good scripts go unproduced. Therefore that's balls. You can have the best script in the world, but without the contacts and track record, it'll remain on paper. Just in case it affects your decision, make sure you have the contacts in place. There are production companies like Goldfinch who actually do raise finance for select breakthrough projects, but considering just how slow it is to finance a film, especially right now with investors being scared off by closing cinemas and indies not having a parent streaming platform to bail them out, it might be worth making sure you don't just eat through your nest egg waiting for it to happen.

      Obviously, do as you please, but that's something you can get underway right away whilst you're looking for the right project. If it's any help, we were going to be shooting in February this year with in-principle agreed financing (with a different company) and finance is still not closed. Even getting someone to cashflow the tax credits is hard in the current environment, and that's the least risky film investment anyone can make!!

      1 year ago
  • Hi Paddy, thank you for your reply. Having read a few posts on here and in my own thread, it's seeming more and more likely I'll be steering away from my initial thoughts of throwing in the day job just yet.

    Im my head I knew the realities. But my path was being led by my heart. A dangerous thing... especially in the current climate!

    1 year ago
    • The chance of losing money is always high with film, which is why tax incentives are so important, to buffer the risk. But on 5-figure productions, the cost of administration pretty much offsets the benefit.

      Perhaps an option might be to lend your money against a tax credit ("cashflowing") which is the safest investment in film as they go, and you do get a credit and a bank-beating premium. Make sure a real tax accountancy has a letter of recommendation. If that's something you might fancy, PM me and I can point you towards someone looking for cashflow of £1M or so, but every grand or few counts. It can also be a way to get on set in a VIP capacity on a larger project than your own, or have the asking power for a job.

      I can't say it's risk-free and you'd be mad not to take advice from a trusted financial ally, but if I was looking to make money in film, that's the ONLY way I would invest, and it would, like I say, get you on site and talking with the production, get your IMDB credits, and mean you could kick-start a film world career.

      Or TBH this still is probably not the ideal time since the risk of cancellation is high, which could delay your return if the tax credit was only partial due to an incomplete film (if it was unbonded and unable to complete)

      1 year ago