The UK’s post-production and visual effects sectors have been issued government-endorsed guidelines to get business back to full strength following the Covid-19 outbreak.
The sectors, which normally turn over in excess of £2bn ($2.5bn) per year and employ more than 17,000 people, have largely remained open throughout the lockdown with the use of remote processes and social distancing at facilities.
The UK Screen Alliance, which represents more than 100 companies, has now published the ‘Guidance for safe working in post-production and visual effects during the Covid-19 pandemic’ to document best working practices already in use. This has been compiled in consultation with companies across the post and VFX sectors, several US studios and industry bodies the BFI, British Film Commission (BFC), Pact and BECTU, as well as the UK government.
But while these sectors had work in their pipelines at the point of lockdown, demand for their services has dropped drastically and has now almost dried up, as the filming of new material has been halted by the pandemic for more than two months.
In order for work to flow back to these companies, filming has to restart as soon as possible and separate guidance was published today for working safely in film and high-end TV drama production, developed by a taskforce headed by the BFC. VFX work required in studios or on location is covered in those guidelines.
UK Screen Alliance CEO Neil Hatton said: “The combined launch of detailed guidance for filming and for post-production is a significant indication that the UK’s film and TV industry is proactively making itself open for business.
“Post-production and VFX never closed. The guidance for post and VFX will be a living document; a statement of current best practice, and it will evolve into a route map back to on-premises working whilst ensuring the safety of our employees, contractors and clients.”
The 33-page document aims to define industry-accepted best practice, reduce confusion, and give consistency across the sector in a bid to reduce the pressure on employers to accept external demands for modes of working, which could be considered unsafe for workers or visitors.
While lockdown measures are starting to ease in the UK, the guidance states safe working conditions can be best achieved by mostly working from home and severely limiting the number of workers and visitors to facilities. Client attendance is also being strongly discouraged and should instead use remote viewing and video conferencing technology.
In the workplace, it is recommended the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning should increase but businesses should make every reasonable effort to enable working from home as a first option. Visitors must not attend temporary edit suites installed at workers’ homes.
Other workplace measures include social distancing of two metres; keeping the activity time involved as short as possible; using screens or barriers to separate people; avoid face-to-face working; and reduce the number of people each person has contact with, using fixed teams or partnering.
All workers should be given mandatory training of the protocols that must be followed and any subsequent changes. Those who begin to exhibit Covid-19 symptoms should be placed in a designated isolation room while private transport is arranged to send them home. Clinically vulnerable people, who will have received a letter to state they are in this group, are strongly advised not to work outside their homes.
The guidelines also state: “The new social etiquette for greeting people is to avoid handshaking, fist or elbow bumps, hugs or kisses. Verbal greetings are enough”. Personal property, such as stationary or phones, should not be shared and regularly cleaned with anti-viral wipes. These include spectacles. Sharing of newspapers and magazines should also be avoided.
Those who do attend facilities – which should display signage at their entrance detailing those who should not enter – should complete a daily health declaration on entry and companies are recommended to consider conducting temperature checks of workers.
Individual technical equipment such as keyboards and graphics tablets should be disinfected at least twice daily by the user while shared equipment such as printers should also be disinfected at least twice daily and wiped after use if they are shared with others.
The guidance also suggests that floor tape markings should be considered to to create 2m exclusion zones between people in edit suites, grading suites, dubbing theatres, reception, despatch, and general office areas. One-way traffic should also be introduced in corridors, where possible.
Where viable, facilities should allocate suites and equipment so they are not shared between different workers and a ‘My Suite’ policy should be considered, where a suite is dedicated permanently to one creative and is not visited by other workers. Moving equipment between suites should be avoided but, if it must be redeployed, should be sanitised before it is moved.
Working from home
When working from home, screens should be positioned so as not to be visible to unauthorised people, either in or out of the property. Non-disclosure agreements may need to be extended to other household members and screenshots should not be taken.
Companies should keep in regular touch with off-site workers to ensure their welfare, mental and physical health, and personal security as they may be experiencing additional Covid-19-related anxiety at this time, according to the guidelines.
Clients are recommended to choose their craft teams of editors, colourists, and dubbing mixers and must be prepared to brief them clearly before trusting them to get on with the creative process alone, checking in when necessary remotely. Attending viewings in person on the premises should only be allowed in exceptional circumstances at the sole discretion of the company.
The guidelines also take into consideration that post and VFX companies take great care to ensure the calibration of their sound and picture monitoring systems and some basic remote viewing systems may not give a wholly accurate representation of the sound or picture quality of the edited material. This is a necessary compromise for speed and convenience, according to the recommendations.
However, in exceptional cases where the only viable solution for critical sound and picture viewing will be for a client to attend the facility premises, such as a projected theatrical colour grade or a Dolby Atmos final mix, only the minimal number of people from the production may attend the session to give sign-off, preferably just one person. Two rooms to separate operators and clients should be considered to conduct the viewing.
For remote voice over, ADR (dialogue replacement) or sound effects, recording sessions with the artist at home are strongly recommended rather than requiring their attendance in the studio. This can be achieved with artists who have their own home studio or simple equipment could be shipped to them to be set up under remote instruction. Where sessions must take place on the premises, a separate studio and control room set-up is suggested for social distancing.
Voice talent should also be instructed to mic themselves up, under socially-distanced supervision, and all such equipment must be disinfected after each session.
Where schedules allow, any incoming physical media should be isolated for 72 hours before use as the virus does not survive this long while cleansing of technical equipment including hard drives, camera cards and USB sticks among others should be done by someone with appropriate training.
David Klafkowski, CEO of post facility The Farm Group, said: “I’ve been very concerned that everyone returning to work feels as safe as they possibly can. Even if the risks are low, employees and clients may well be anxious. UK Screen Alliance’s efforts in the creation of this guidance go a long way in providing this reassurance that our industry is getting back to work while taking the right steps for the health and well-being of everyone.”