After months of shutdown, countries like Australia, Spain, and the UK are starting to give live-action film and TV productions the greenlight. To make sure work is done safely, governments are releasing guidelines for getting back to business.
These protocols are largely aimed at live-action producers looking to resume filming on sets with cast crews, but a number of the rules from each country are also applicable for animation studios and other creatives in the kids industry who may be returning to offices for post-production work.
This guide will be updated regularly as more countries approve and release their guidelines.
Australia’s COVID-Safe Guidelines were developed by an Australian Screen Sector Task Force, and are aimed at all production companies and individual creators in the country who are returning to work.
The 42-page document lists mandatory measures, including minimizing the number of people on set, restricting all non-essential visitors, physical distancing of at least six feet, and when this isn’t possible using PPE. Productions also need to set up hygiene stations (with either soap and water, or hand sanitizer) on sets or at workplace entrances, and supply workers with disinfectant to sanitize their equipment, workspaces and personal property (phones and glasses).
All workers will also have to complete COVID-19 infection control training to learn about hygiene protocols, physical distancing requirements, information about COVID-19 symptoms and a reminder now to attend work if when displaying symptoms.
The guidelines also outline some optional measures, like transitioning call sheets, updates and documents from paper to digital, staggering and limiting rehearsals, and providing designated spaces for those on standby. Productions should also stagger meal times, provide hands-free water stations, and mark the floor where crew and those on stand-by could wait while physically distancing.
Canadian provinces are all beginning to ease restrictions, with each providing its own guidelines. Manitoba, the provincial home of kids producers like Dacapo (Lego Bionicle: The Journey to One), was the first to release protocols, which were created by a committee of several local prodcos with input from the government, industry guilds and unions.
Like other countries, producers need to ensure physical distancing of at least six feet whenever reasonable, and minimize risk with PPE when the distance can’t be maintained. Employers are also responsible for sharing all of the required protocols with cast and crew, as well as providing training for everyone on how to use, reuse and dispose of PPE safely. Other guidelines include having a single entry point into offices and sets, and keeping the number of people in any one location to a minimum.
As much as possible, productions and prodcos should limit the number of face-to-face interactions by continuing to facilitate telecommuting, and having pre-production, production and rehearsals all done virtually. There should also be no sharing of food or personal items, and washrooms should be limited to one person at a time.
By law in Manitoba, employers must designate a health and safety representative if they have 10 to 19 workers, and a committee for a crew of 20 more, which are meant to ensure all workers are following these best practices. It’s been the case for years to hire a rep, but now they’re duties must expand to COVID-19 production awareness and management.
French province Quebec, meanwhile, rolled out its measures earlier this week, allowing film and TV production to resume June 8. The guidelines include physical distancing of six feet whenever possible, providing PPE to everyone when it’s not, as well as the suggested use of teleworking whenever possible. There should also be physical barriers installed between work stations if they’re too close to be separated (like in sound recording rooms). Vehicles should also only ever be half-full to avoid people being too close together. Handwashing stations should be set up, and sanitizer when it’s not available.
Ontario, a provincial production hotspot for Canada, is expected to release its own guidelines later this week.
New Zealand’s film sector health and safety body ScreenSafe has developed COVID-19 protocols that were endorsed by the national government last month. The government org released both a standards document that outlines the minimum requirements for those in the industry, which includes ensuring workers have access to sanitizing stations, and that as people leave a set or office that they are checked out and records are kept for contact tracing purposes, if needed. Commonly used areas and surfaces need to be cleaned daily and at the end of each shift, and where possible people should be encouraged to continue to work from home.
ScreenSafe suggests that production companies ask for input and feedback from workers to ensure they engage with the protocols.
The Spanish Film Commission published its rules for safely filming in May. The measures and recommendations in its Good Practice Guide are not mandatory by law, but outline best practices for creating safer working environments.
Some of the biggest points in the guidelines are that all cast and crew should be tested for COVID-19 15 days before they return to set, recommending that people self-isolate after testing, with a signed affidavit confirming that they followed those guidelines.
Once production begins there should be daily temperature checks using a non-contact thermometer before workers enter a set. Like other countries, cast and crew should maintain social distance or use PPE when that isn’t possible, and wash their hands regularly. The recommendations also stipulate that people should avoid sharing devices, like smartphones. Enclosed rooms should be cleaned and disinfected prior to filming, and sets and frequently touched surfaces should also be cleaned daily.
Productions should offer information to all staff on the insurance in place for COVID-19, as well as provide information about the nearest hospital with an emergency department. Prodcos are responsible for making sure everyone follows the protocols and are encouraged to bring a health professional to set if they deem it necessary. deciding if there should be a health professional on set.
Remote working should become the norm for all pre-production and post-production phases, the guidelines state, highlight specific instances of casting, locating scouting and any meetings. Producers should guarantee that workers can travel safely between their residence and the workplace, arranging transport between locations if there is a risk of spread on public transport. Stage cars should arrive with a disinfectant guarantee from the supplier and be disinfected after every use.
When eating, disposable cutlery—preferably eco-friendly—should be provided, and anything reusable needs to be carefully washed in hot water. Catering stuff should also be provided with the necessary clothing, single-use waterproof gloves and protective masks to avoid spread.
Productions should also designate an individual or team to ensure daily precautions are followed.
UK national film agency The British Film Commission released its rules on June 1, advising cast and crew who are at higher risk of severe illness to work from home. The Commission also said prodcos and studios need to ensure employees have access to mental health resources to help cope.
All cast and crew need to be trained on keeping safe at work amid COVID-19, and this training needs to cover hygiene requirements, social distancing, accessibility and inclusivity during the pandemic, and awareness around mental health. Productions also need to train supervisors so they can make sure these rules are enforced.
Before production begins, there needs to be remote briefings for cast and crew about the virus, signage posted that reminds crew about best hygiene practices and records kept on cleaning, symptom checks and non-compliance issues.
When bringing international cast and crew into the UK, productions should limit in-person contact with the cast and crew to phone and video calls during the 14-day quarantine periods.
With child actors, non-family chaperones will need to follow social distancing rules. On top of this, prodcos should consider kids’ level of understanding around the precautions, and need to make sure they (who might not fully appreciate the importance of the rules) are following all of the guidelines.
Producers should avoid face-to-face positioning, ensure the required social distancing is kept up, and that supporting cast are on set as little as possible.
Ideally, a specialist contractor should be brought in to clean and disinfect all working, waiting and other communal production areas (offices, washrooms, waiting areas). Tools and machinery should be used by a single person, and if it must be shared it needs to disinfected before and after its use.
The US is slowly starting to reopen for work, with production hotspots Georgia and California leading the charge as some of the first states to roll out guidelines.
California issued its guidelines on June 12, which outlines strict rules for the music, TV and film industry. Among key points are that any employee who can carry out their work duties from home must be directed to do so. All off-camera cast and crew set must follow physical distancing of at least six feet.
A member of the production or staff needs to be designated as a COVID-19 compliance officer, who will be on-site whenever possible to establish and enforce the protocols. Workplaces must provide all PPE and other infection prevention resources, including hand sanitizers, mobile hand washing stations, face coverings and gloves. All off-camera staff must wear facial coverings throughout the workday, and all cast and crew should stay on location during the workday, including all breaks. There also needs to be regular, periodic testing of the cast and crew during production to mitigate the risk of spread. On productions with short filming schedules, all work should be planned to avoid any close physical contact between cast and crew whenever possible. If audiences are present, they should be limited to 100 people or 25% of the maximum occupancy of the space.
If a production exec knows of three or more cases of COVID-19 within the work place within a two week time period, they must report this cluster to the Department of Public Health. Symptom checks are conducted before employees may enter the workspace, and temperature checks should be done if feasible. All information gathered from this must be kept private or be stored in a secure manner.
All workstations need to be kept six feet apart, and employees should wash their face coverings daily.
These guidelines followed Georgia’s best practices, which were released in may in May. The first state to establish official safety guidelines for film and TV productions, Georgia outlined some basic steps, including mandatory frequent hand washing, wearing PPE, avoiding physical contact and sharing anything (devices should be bagged individually). In offices, elevators should only be limited to those who can not take the stairs, and employers need to ensure there’s adequate ventilation.
While building a production, casting should be done remotely. Open casting calls are still verboten, but actors asked to come in to audition need to be provided a specific window of when to arrive, and they should be encouraged to wait in their cars until their scheduled time.
Shots should be framed to allow for the greatest social distancing possible. Each cast member should receive their own script, and all equipment, including mics and transmitters, should be disinfected before and after each use.
Photo courtesy of Jakob Owens, Unsplash.