Post-COVID, some pandemic-policies should stick around

(Valiant Pictures’ Adam Zimmer)

2020 was an incredibly challenging year for production, across advertising, TV and film. These teams are not considered essential workers, neither federally nor on state levels.

Thus, when the country was on complete lockdown, there was a 3-4 month period with essentially no work, which caused great hardships for production companies, thousands of crew members, talent, and all the talented artistic, creative minds within our industry. 

We can’t heave a sigh of relief with 2020 in the rearview, however. Advertising and filmmaking industries have made huge safety strides, and when live-action shoots fully return, these changes shouldn’t necessarily revert. With new jobs created across health and safety, and little-used tech now the biggest stopgap measures on set, we must accept that crafting entertainment has changed on a fundamental level forever–and in some ways, perhaps for the better.

Keep Compliance On Sets

When work was (thankfully) able to resume, production responsibilities increased significantly. First, we faced a learning curve to figure out the safest and most efficient testing available.

Coordinating with crew and talent prior to shoots to arrange mandatory PCR, or Rapid Result COVID-19 Testing, added safety concerns production never had to deal with before. This puts production in charge of protecting the lives of crews of all sizes from a worldwide deadly pandemic, which levies a tremendous amount of stress on our shoulders. 

On my sets, we were fortunate enough to research and hire highly qualified production-friendly medics and COVID-19 Compliance Officers. Their responsibilities entail morning temperature checks, administering Rapid Testing, disinfecting the set regularly, and thoroughly monitoring to make sure the crew is masked up and keeping 6-10’ apart.

When we worked with talent like athletes and actors, etc., who had to remove their PPE for shoots, we had to take an extra level of safety precaution to ensure they could resume their jobs off the set.

As it proved to be effective in protecting the safety of everyone in production, it isn’t a role we should dismiss once herd immunity is achieved. Beyond other complex viruses like Influenza, we’re not sure yet if mutations and other strains will continue to emerge. Compliance Officers and medics should continue keeping sets and teams safe from as many transmittable diseases as possible, thereby making shoots efficient and reducing the need for sick-day time away. 

Save Travel and Time with Zoom

There are significantly more costs involved for each shoot, with all the new required safety protocols. The costs of the Medic, CCO, PCR, PPE, extra tables and chairs to spread crew out for catering, and so on and so forth, pile up.

We have really had to get creative to execute a shoot with all the additional expenses, while trying to keep the highest quality production value. We don’t ever want to be in a position when protecting lives comes down to budgets. 

Zoom has obviously played a major role in all productions. On the downside, sending a live feed to an agency and/or brand client requires a strong connection. Occasionally we film in very remote areas with no WiFi or cell reception, holding sets at the mercy of a cell phone provider when it comes to bringing in WiFi units.  

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That said, budgetary considerations already restricted the number of agency and brand representatives allowed on sets, depending on the shoot location. Clients can only pay for so many plane tickets, after all.

Despite Zoom and audio hiccups, any number of eyes can monitor a feed from afar on shoot days for live feedback. Instead of emailing high-bandwidth files back and forth, we can revise and shoot additional takes as-needed in real time.

Zoom isn’t perfect–anyone who’s sat through a meeting can tell you audio issues abound, and shooting those extra takes occurred purely based on the client not being able to catch a line of dialogue. But Zoom has also been among the industry’s biggest teachers: not everyone has to come to set in-person to stay caught up on a job’s progress.

Working While Sick

In retrospect, it’s wild to think that I and everyone I know has come into their workplace with a cold at least once. It didn’t seem like a big risk if it showed how reliable and dedicated to a project you were. We talked about work-life balance, but the pandemic forced us to walk the walk. In 2021, and hopefully for many years after, the protections surrounding being sick, mandatory sick days and enforcing them, will stick. 

I understand the temptation–despite the added pressure on production to deliver, on top of an already massive plate of logistics, we all feel blessed to be working. But so many people have lost their lives, livelihoods, or businesses as a result of COVID-19, and it’s a tragic thing to witness such hardships for everyone. 

We are all looking forward to the steady rollout of vaccines, excited for the day this pandemic will end. Until then, we will do our due diligence to protect every person risking themselves and their loved ones on set.

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Yet, even after this is all ‘over,’ it feels foolhardy to write off the experience as a permanent fixture of our past when its lessons and dramatic changes can, and sometimes should, influence the trajectory of our industry for years to come.

Adam Zimmer is the West Coast Executive Producer, Valiant Pictures