The British Film Commission Production Guidance is an exhaustively detailed document which attempts to anticipate every conceivable Covid-19- related challenge for filmmakers working both in studios and on location during the UK’s present social distancing rules. They will be regularly reviewed.
The protocols are going to require time and patience on behalf of filmmakers but, if adhered to, they will also enable production to resume in as safe an environment as possible.
Here are some of the key points from the document:
Increased red tape
Film sets are now going to have to deal with far more red tape than ever before. There will be strict systems for pre-registering all essential visitors to set and socially- distanced queueing procedures to sign crew in and out. Daily symptom checks will be undertaken with cast and crew, and “the whole production may be halted for group testing if a person who has wide contact has symptoms or tests positive”.
If crew members do show symptoms, they will be sent home or to their accommodation or placed in designated isolation spaces if they have to wait for suitable transport. Those who have been in close contact with suspected cases will be required to self-isolate.
Productions will be expected to provide appropriate medical PPE for essential emergency response. There will be a lot more cleaning and disinfecting going on at every level of every production.
No more crowding around the monitor
For obvious reasons, the sharing of personal and professional equipment will be strictly discouraged. Crew will be kept apart wherever possible. Nor will sets be full of call sheets and production memos. The trend now will be toward paperless working.
Nor will child actors be sitting on the edge of set, doing their homework or having tutorials, between takes. All work that can be carried out outside should be, including video conferencing rather than in-person meetings.
Training for everyone and strict monitoring
Worker induction training must be conducted online by all cast and crew. This includes social distance and hygiene requirements as well as an emphasis in the training on mental health and well being.
Heads of department are recommended to undergo supervision and enforcement training while first aiders are expected to add Covid-19 updates to their training. Accessibility and inclusivity are also foregrounded in the guidance.
Productions will have a brand new crew member – a Covid-19 health and safety supervisor. There will also be monitors and dedicated staff to enforce protocols and oversee symptom testing.
However, the producer or line producer/unit production manager will remain ultimately responsible for the health and safety of the cast and crew.
Sets to become lonelier and quieter places
Any physical contact, even fist and elbow bumps, will be discouraged as part of the physical hygiene rules. There will be staggered call times, remote working wherever possible and far less interaction between departments.
Stars in quarantine
Cast and crew from outside the UK will have to adhere to the UK government’s quarantine requirements – which will mean 14 days in sanitised isolation from June 8 onwards. These will be reviewed regularly.
More trailers for the cast
Trailers sometimes used to be seen as status symbols. Under the guidance, they are useful spaces for enabling social distancing. Producers are being encouraged to allocate individual cast trailers where they can.
Impact on stunts and intimate scenes
Even more rigorous guidelines are recommended for stunt performers, for whom maintaining social distances will be especially challenging. This includes: specific testing regimes for stunt performers and cast who work with them; stopping non-stunt crew having contact with stunt equipment; and rigorous cleaning of equipment like safety harnesses and catch rigs.
The guidance published today recommends avoiding face-to-face positions and having a strict testing regime if close proximity is required. However, although only key performers will be allowed on set at any given time, there are no specific guidelines for intimate scenes except that intimacy coordinators must still be allowed on set if needed, and cast and crew should follow recommendations for fixed teams.
No more buffet lunches
The days of traditional craft services lunches are over - for now. The government guidelines on catering mean buffets, platters and communal food areas are not allowed. Instead food must be pre-ordered if possible, come in pre-packaged, single-service portions, and be eaten during staggered break times that could run continually throughout the day. It is recommended that one crew member be assigned to handle all pre-packaged snacks.
Costumes, hair and make-up
The guidelines specify that where possible cast and supporting artists should manage this themselves, but they also recognise that on large-scale productions, having cast members fit their own costumes and do their own hair and make-up is going to be impractical. It will also be impossible to enforce social distancing rules or avoid face-to-face contact in some scenarios.
In these cases, as well as adhering to hygienic measures, it’s about additional prep time, having access to cast “well in advance of shoot day” to be full prepared for the shoot day, creating fixed teams, and – on set – assigning one on-set costumer per actor.
For hair and make-up artists, perspex screens between stations are recommended, no food or drink allowed at the station, and using disposable brushes and applicators for every cast member.
More applicable to large-scale productions, the recommendations are for on-set VFX crew to be limited on set to the visual-effects supervisor, virtual production supervisor and essential technicians, while it is advised that motion-capture performers be provided with two suits for alternate use (one to be cleaned overnight), set up and adjust their own markers and head-mounted cameras, and for all cyberscanning to be scheduled in advance on the call sheet.
No more Cecil B de Mille-like crowd scenes
The guidance isn’t great news for casting and extras agencies. There are calls to avoid social crowd scenes where social distancing requirements can’t be observed and to use “existing industry technical solutions” (presumably CGI) to reduce the number of supporting artists required.
There will be a delicate balancing act between individual productions and the staff at the studios where they are based. They will need to agree together clear demarcation of Covid-19 safety responsibilities including cleaning and will be required to share information about Covid-19 cases. Studio canteens and cafes will run on a takeaway basis only for now.
A sea of perspex
Perspex and plastic screens will be heavily used to keep departments and technicians separate from each other. There will be no unnecessary handling of camera equipment, camera cards, cases, props and any other equipment.
Filming in public spaces might be restricted at certain locations. Among the host of instructions for location shooting is the requirement to allow a 72-hour dressed set quarantine period if appropriate sanitation is not possible.
Measures are being put in place to ensure all personal data harvested by producers about their cast and crew is protected and not retained for any longer than strictly necessary.
A confidential reporting system will be put in place so cast and crew can raise concerns about non-compliance.