Though the demands of production will eventually return, our industry is currently in a state of paralysis. While some have been able to properly establish social distancing to move forward, productions of all sizes have slowed down or come to a halt entirely. The demand for these projects will eventually return and will likely be even greater than before, but what will it look like to get productions up and running again? When will it start? How can we be safe on set when even a small production has dozens of people collaborating and sharing equipment?
The questions are endless and complex but we’ll eventually get to a point where we’ll have to figure out some answers, imperfect as they might be. The need to do so is proven by the fact that in March alone, video streaming increased by 85%! People across the world want and need this content, so how can media & entertainment professionals give it to them without endangering ourselves, our loved ones and our community?
Personal Protection Equipment Becomes the New Normal
Perhaps the most obvious change that we will likely see will be a mandate across the industry for personal protection equipment (PPE) on all sets. As laid out by deadline.com in a recent article, anyone working a job will need to wear face masks and gloves to limit the potential spread of this disease. Talent will likely need to be kept at an even greater distance from crew to limit potential exposure. Anyone who is around non-replaceable personnel will need to be covered so as not to spread infection that would halt a production in its tracks.
The widespread use of disposable, and reusable, masks and gloves will likely become another line item on all productions budgets right along side the normal expendables. However, shortages of medical-grade masks will increase as different industries mandate employees wear masks. We at Filmtools have already started to transition our sewing team that would normally be focused on building sandbags, pouches and flags to instead mass-producing washable cotton blend face masks.
We are seeing demand from all around the industry as individuals, production companies and corporations prepare for a new normal that includes covering faces at all times.
Health Checks and Curfews
There will also be a need for health checks to determine if cast and crew are carrying COVID-19. This isn’t just about production processes or procedures though, as it also depends on government assistance as well as private health innovation. 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. 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.
Is Isolation Shooting An Option?
Variety recently laid out a plan put together by two producers that centered on how to restart production with a pod-based approach. Essentially, their proposal suggests placing a pared down cast and crew into a heavily cleaned and isolated space such as a hotel for a two-week quarantine. When their isolation period is over the cast and crew will be split into three pods:
- Pod 1 – cast and crew on set
- Pod 2 – base camp (make-up and costume)
- Pod 3 – set design and prep.
Though this concept could work for small to medium-sized productions, it is unlikely that major motion pictures and shows could afford to sequester the number of people they typically need.
One major potential conflict with this plan will be with the trade unions. Across the industry, unions have strict crew minimums, which means that any plan meant to limit the number of crew members on a set will directly affect the mandates set forward by many unions. Will unions strike? Will they give up hard-fought for rights to help jump-start production? Those are potential answers to possible solutions, so we’d need to know a lot more before we could even begin to ask all of the necessary questions.
Local Shooting Becomes Much More Common
Potentially, the biggest loser from this virus will be international shooting locations. Challenges associated with the stresses of safe travel, access to healthy local crew, potentially devastated international economies, the impossibility to ensure location cleanliness, and many other variables will almost certainly incentivize producers to mandate that productions stay local where they have more control over all of those details. Additionally, the loss of most kinds of insurance will further incentivize any head of production to keep their project as close as possible.
Of course, that’s directly related to one of the potential big winners amidst all of this, as we might soon see a boom for small, private shooting locations. The desire for more control over a location could enable anyone who owns or manages spaces like a warehouse to give productions everything they’re looking for when it comes to having control over an environment. The desire for even more control over a production is going to become a new normal for us all.
A Silver Lining?
This new normal in production is not going to be easy for anyone, but this industry is resilient. If you need further proof of this check out Michael Vernon’s recent article on how the industry has dealt with crisis in the past.
Through this all we are seeing the strength of our community. It’s not all doom and gloom, because even though we’re all locked inside, filmmaking challenges have been issued to test our creativity. The production quality of Zoom meetings has never been better and many are using video to help others get through the pandemic. Additionally, resources like moviola.com have offered opportunities for all of us to further our skills with free filmmaking courses.
Current projections indicated that we might see a measured reopening of the economy very soon, which means we’ll be defining that new normal in production sooner than you think, even if we have to do so through a mask and at a safe social distance from one another.
In the meantime, stay safe and healthy and we hope to see you back on set soon!
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