As the U.K.’s film and TV industry looks to restart, a crucial 10-day consultation period is underway on production guidelines that are now circulating across the industry. (Excerpts of the guidelines are published below.)
More than six weeks on from the March 23 lockdown, industry figures such as John McVay, head of producers’ trade body Pact, warns that restarting business “is not like switching a factory back on.”
“A lot of people are saying, ‘You should just do what Denmark or other countries did,’ (but) every country is different. Just because Denmark does it one way, it doesn’t mean it will work here,” McVay tells Variety.
The route to get cameras rolling again has required a complex network of British Film Institute-led working groups on high-end film and TV production, exhibition and distribution, broadcasting and independent film — all of whom have spent more than a month compiling best practice protocols that have now been issued to various industry orgs for consultation.
The Inward Investment Recovery Group, led by the British Film Commission, focuses specifically on high-end TV and film, and has set a May 15 deadline for industry responses that will feed into final proposals shared with government to inform a dedicated set of “principles and protocols.”
An early draft of the exhaustive 27-page protocols, seen by Variety (for a condensed list of specific measures, please see below), shows measures in place for health and safety training and awareness; supervision; COVID-19 testing and health checks; physical distancing, PPE and mental health; transport; quarantining for international cast and crew; accommodation; on-set cast and crew; catering and craft services; workspaces; equipment cleanliness; limitations on face-to-face meetings; stunts; crowd shoots; studio operations; and construction and workshops.
John Barclay, head of recorded media at actors’ union Equity, tells Variety that the government will “slowly, and probably in stages, allow a return to productions across the audio-visual industries” based on the various protocols. In the interim, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to set out plans for an easing of lockdown restrictions on Sunday (May 10).
But the question remains: when can production — particularly premium scripted production — resume in earnest? And how?
Alex Boden, chair of the Production Guild of Great Britain and whose producing credits include Netflix’s “Cursed” and “Sense8,” says that until government guidelines are firmed up, “We can’t even consider bringing a small crew together.”
“It’s all about regulations on social distancing and potentially wearing PPE, and seeing how that translates to a working environment on a set, in a studio and on a location,” says Boden. “We will need that extra layer of experts who may need to be trained.”
Boden predicts few producers are “absolutely confident (they) can start up in the next few weeks.” A number of industry insiders estimate production will take four to six weeks of preparation to get back up and running. One U.K.-based studio executive notes, “It’s July at the earliest, if that, except for maybe very limited scenes.”
Streamers such as Netflix, however, are gearing up to hit the ground running. Variety understands the SVOD has producers, line producers and financial controllers already starting work on certain productions to ensure there is “no gap in output.”
Susanna White, chair of the film committee at industry org Directors UK, whose own credits include “Nanny McPhee” and “Parade’s End,” says the directing process will “certainly take longer.” “We won’t be returning to film sets in the way we knew them with dining buses and lots of people crowding round a monitor. It’s going to have a very different feel to it.”
All execs agree that even with protocols now in early stages, insurance remains a major sticking point for the industry. Pact’s McVay is leading the charge on a pan-industry group looking at insurance and notes, “Even if we get back to work and we’re all doing protocols properly and professionally, if the government says, ‘Oh, you’re all locked down again,’ where does the burden fall?”
“If you’re a big U.S. entity, you might be able to soak that up and be fine, but if you’re a British company, it’s very hard to think about doing a major drama series that’s going to cost you millions and millions of pounds if suddenly you have to go through another suspension,” says McVay.
An array of options are being considered, including a dedicated fund that can insure productions or “the government effectively (setting) up as an insurance company itself,” says McVay.
Read on for key excerpts of the British Film Commission’s draft protocols for production:
COVID-19 Health and Safety Training
– COVID-19 Safer Working induction training must be undertaken by all crew members at least two days prior to shoot commencing.
Supervision, Enforcement & Communication
– Allocate a dedicated COVID-19 H&S Supervisor to the production, with authority to stop unsafe working practices. Allocate a COVID-19 H&S Coordinator to each department to enforce protocols.
– Hire staff, or train designated crew members, to carry out COVID-19 health and symptom checking. Optimize the number of COVID-19 trained medical personnel on set based on crew size. Site signage/posters reminding crew of required good practice
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Testing / Health Check
– Ensure pre-employment screening is completed for all cast and crew.
– Ask all crew members to complete a health questionnaire at the start of the job
– Designate a medic (or trained marshall) to take each crew member’s temperature ideally twice daily.
– Do not allow anyone with a high temperature to work
– If a crew member shows COVID-19 symptoms, send them home or to their accommodation by private transport
– Cast or crew who have been in close contact with a suspected or known case of COVID-19 should stay at home until safe to return
– Be aware that the whole production may be halted for crew-wide quarantine or testing if a crew member who has wide contact with cast and crew, such as the Director or 1st AD, shows undiagnosed symptoms or tests positive for COVID-19
Physical Distancing, PPE, Personal Hygiene & Mental Health
– Adhere to physical distancing (2m apart) wherever possible – placing markers across sites.
– In a communal workspace, try to allow 4m2 space per person in clear areas and 6m2 space per person in areas that are crowded with equipment or furnishings
– Where 2m distancing cannot be upheld, limit numbers and time spent in close proximity and avoid standing face-to-face (work shoulder-to-shoulder or back-to-back instead)
– Make responsible use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to help communal and personal protection
– Set out best practice personal hygiene for crew, including regularly washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or using hand sanitizer
– Avoid physical contact with others (even fist/elbow ‘greeting’ bumps)
– Provide adequate handwashing and incidental cleaning equipment
– Consider facilities that reduce queuing or touch, such as extra toilets and handwash basins, or keeping doors wedged open.
– Adopt a managed, secure process for access and egress from individual production zones.
– Ensure the mental health and wellbeing of all cast, crew and ancillary staff is given sufficient priority.
– For international air travel, use airlines which are operating appropriate physical distancing and hygiene practices.
– For domestic travel, use private self-drive transport where possible (e.g. cycles, motorcyles, own car).
– allocate ample parking spaces at sites for crew; use privately hired transport such as taxis or minibuses if private transport is not available or viable; set maximum occupancy limits to vehicles to observe physical distancing; limit shared vehicles to members of same department if sharing is unavoidable
– Use public transport only as last resort, avoiding peak times where possible
– Use local crew where possible, to limit travel time
Quarantining for Inbound Cast/Crew from Outside the UK
– When bringing international cast and crew into the UK, arrange health checks (including ‘fast test’ if available) as soon as they arrive and after any quarantine period, if applicable; ensure UK Government guidance on quarantine is adhered to immediately upon arrival
– Provide appropriate isolation accommodation for cast/crew arriving from outside the U.K., making sure it is sanitized by a production-approved supplier prior to occupation
– Avoid the need for temporary overnight accommodation wherever possible.
On-Set Crew, Cast & Supporting Artist Numbers
– Adopt remote working practices where possible and allow only designated ‘essential’ crew members on set
– Consider organising departments into smaller cohorts and keep them separate to minimise the knock-on impact of one member developing symptoms
– Think about: staggering call times; limiting access to communal work areas to one department at a time; allowing extra time to swap over where required; and allowing additional prep, shoot and strike days accordingly
– Keep interaction between departments to a minimum.
– Conduct dressing, pre-lights, etc. well in advance of the shooting crew arriving to keep crew from those departments separate
– Whenever a department finishes its tasks on set, any shared areas or equipment to be wiped/cleaned
– Consider using a shift system to help manage numbers and avoid excessive working hours to support crew well-being and immunity
– Limit use of daily crew (‘dailies’) and do not allow visitors wherever possible
– Make use of remote-monitoring technology to reduce the number of people present on set. Work with Producers, Writers and other Executives via video call wherever possible
– Avoid having a large video village and spread monitors around instead
Unit Base/Facility Vehicles
– Allocate individual cast trailers, no sharing
– Partition craft and technical trailers with perspex or clear plastic screens to segregate operators/workstations by at least 2m
– Keep all trailers clean — sanitize them before use and if/when occupants change
Catering & Craft Services
– No communal food preparation, storage areas or serving, e.g. buffets or platters
– Use single-serving, pre-packaged food
– No unwrapped food or snacks to be left out
– Use single-serving drinks
– Use single-use cutlery
– Maintain physical distancing (2m) during meal breaks for queuing and eating
– Stagger meal and break times to avoid congestion in eating area
– Use a one-way system for navigating the eating area if possible
Workspace Cleanliness, Sanitization and Inspection
– Dedicate staff for cleaning and supervision, equipped with COVID-19 awareness training
– Take extra measures to clean and disinfect all working, waiting and other communal areas regularly through the day
Personal and Hired-in Equipment Cleanliness, Sanitization and Inspection
– Ask crew not to share personal items (e.g. phones/iPads, chargers, pens) wherever possible and to take responsibility for regularly sanitising their own personal equipment with disinfectant wipes
– When hiring-in equipment, try to minimise shared use.
– Have extra radios and headsets, and dedicate a member of each department to be responsible for them for duration of shoot, (e.g. disinfecting, name- labelling, charging)
– Consider using other methods of playback as well as video monitors on set to help keep crew apart, e.g. use individual iPads
– Avoid using cash and favour payment cards and online purchasing wherever possible
– Where possible, deliveries should be made 72 hours in advance of when they are required and stored in a sterile and secure location
– Where not possible, implement a sterilisation procedure to receive, disinfect and hand over items
– Allow extra time to process deliveries and, if necessary, extend equipment hire period in order to carry out the sanitisation process
– If equipment is shared, it must be regularly disinfected (including packing cases, handles, props, etc.) and always before it is used by a different crew member
Limiting Face-to-Face Meetings/Meeting Etiquette
– Adopt inclusive remote-working technology and avoid in-person meetings during prep and shoot unless absolutely necessary
– Where face-to-face meeting is essential, adopt clear protocols such as: use well ventilated spaces; ensure participants sit or stand at least 2m apart, preferably not directly face-to-face; avoid the need for sharing or passing around items (e.g. pens, printouts, iPads); view drawings, plans and other documents digitally; set a clear advance agenda and keep meeting time to a minimum
Crowd Shoots and Supporting Artists
– Try to avoid physical crowd scenes where possible or adjust to reduce the number of supporting artists required, e.g. using CGI/plates/green screen
– When working with supporting artists: locate holding areas as close to the shooting location as possible, to keep transit time as short as possible; allow extra time to receive supporting artists on site due to health checking and COVID-19 briefing
– While shooting: adhere to 2m physical distancing wherever possible; keep supporting artists in place for as little time as possible (no more than 10 minutes if they are less than 2m apart); try to avoid face-to-face positioning
– Consider using supporting artists who belong to the same household in crowds/backgrounds; placing crowd shoots as late as possible in the schedule; asking supporting artists to wear own clothes and do own hair and make-up, if viable
– Agree clear demarcation of responsibilities between the production and Studio Operations
– If multiple productions overlap, work together to organise schedules and logistics that allow for best use of available space and facilities on site
Construction, Workshops & Off-Set Services
– Compartmentalise services as much as possible to minimise contact with any other department and lower the risk of cross-contamination. For example: use dedicated runners for collections; povide drop-off/collection points for items to limit contact; pre-fabricate as much as possible in-house, only assembling and painting on site
– Partition workstations/benches with perspex or clear plastic screens to segregate operators and use appropriate PPE if close-proximity working is essential
– All power tools should be used by a single person only, no sharing of such equipment – if equipment is shared, it must be regularly disinfected and always before it is used by a different operator
– Consider splitting construction crew into separate early and late shifts
Art Department, Set Dressing & Props
– Allow Art Department crew to work alone on set until dressing is complete before any other departments undertake their tasks
– Limit handling of key props to prop master and relevant cast
– Allow time for additional cleaning and disinfection of props, furniture and other set dressing when they have been handled, leaned against, etc. by other cast or crew members
Camera (inc. Grip/Crane)
– Agree a process for safe handling of items such as camera cards and cases when passing to DIT, e.g. Limit the number of people handling them; wipe down cards and card cases on handover; wash hands before and after handling them
– Try to allow camera placement to take place without any other department working in close proximity
– Where possible, use remote monitoring, remote focus and other solutions that allow operating at distance
– In order to limit the number of crew on set, consider keeping the Costume Designer and Truck Costumer at unit base dressing cast; undertaking as many fittings as possible during prep or off-site to avoid additional costumes and people coming to base; allowing a representative of the Costume Department on set only for period or speciality costume (e.g. military) where accuracy is essential
– Keep physical contact between cast members and costume crew to a minimum, with both wearing PPE when close proximity is unavoidable
– Where possible, cast should receive their costume in a screened-off cubicle and dress without assistance
– To help reduce cross-contamination risk: Separate individual cast members’ costumes in plastic bags; Hang cast members’ own clothes inside a clean plastic cover; launder costumes frequently and cover individually in plastic covers after cleaning; Consider the use of PPE when appropriate, e.g. when handling costumes
Director & ADs
– To reduce face-to-face contact, the Director should use remote video conferencing for all meetings and prep
– To reduce the number of people from this department on set, consider using a wide-angle camera to show the Director’s rehearsal to crew via phones; allowing only the Director and 1st AD on set; Keeping the 2nd AD at unit base to call cast and prepare for on-set crew, as called by 1st AD
– Distribute call sheets and sides digitally by the 2nd AD to eliminate physical printouts
Hair & Make-up
– Keep hair and make-up stations at least 2m apart to allow appropriate physical distancing
– Consider a procedure to limit chair time, e.g. ask cast to shave at home; as few looks as possible per day; ask cast and supporting artists to remove own make-up where possible (following protocol); ask supporting artists to do own hair and make-up where possible – Build in extra time for HMUAs to: change PPE / wash hands between each cast member; disinfect equipment, station and chair between cast members
– Increase equipment hygiene, e.g.use PPE to set up stations; use air borne sanitising sprays; keep makeup in sealable containers; use disposable brushes and applicators; put hair pins/grips and brushes into antiseptic washes on wrap
– Introduce use of aprons or overalls for HMUA, to be washed daily
– Consider processes to limit cross-contamination risk, e.g. allocate own makeup kit, brushes, hair products and equipment to each cast member, to be sterilised each day and only used on them
– Wherever possible, allow electrical crew to work alone on set until lighting is complete before any other departments undertake their tasks
– Assess whether location can accommodate additional workspaces for essential crew and services; working areas can be securely isolated from public; exclusive use can be given for entire period of use; if not using a Unit Base, ample private parking to be provided where possible.
– Set clear protocols and allow extra time for prep, shooting and strike on location, including: deep clean of the location by a professional cleaning contractor at the end of each day; provide alternative accommodation to location owners for the duration of the shoot, where appropriate