By Rosalind Knight
Many film shoots and recordings came to an abrupt halt due to the coronavirus in the first half of 2020. This had huge implications in the UK, where the film and television production industry supports more than 180,000 jobs. It also contributes more than a whopping £12 billion to the economy every year.*
Thankfully, the pause didn’t last for too long. Many family favourites have started filming again under strict safety rules and protocols to keep their teams safe.
Eastenders have been using perspex screens to divide actors safely on set. The soap has brought in real-life husbands, wives and partners to stand-in for other actors in close-up kissing scenes. Meanwhile, Strictly Come Dancing have formed bubbles to keep their dancers safe and well for the frequent rehearsals and live shows.
But what about small-scale filming and production? If you don’t have a big budget, a spacious studio and a raft of health and safety experts to hand, how can you film safely? This is even more of a consideration during the winter months when outside film shoots are getting harder thanks to the cold, wind and rain.
We recently filmed a series of films for Devon County Council to help recruit healthcare assistants. These featured interviews with some inspirational health and care workers, who told their stories about what makes them pleased and proud to do their jobs. And in the final films, there isn’t a face mask in sight. So how did we film it safely?
Here are our top tips, based on this experience, for any businesses that want to create film and video content safely during the coronavirus pandemic.
Five tips for filming safely (on a budget)
1. Know the restrictions and leave plenty of time to plan
This is so important! If you allow enough time upfront to plan, it will make your film shoot much easier on the day.
We developed the film script and the treatment in line with coronavirus restrictions. This meant that everything was shot safely, and that the message and tone of the films matched government guidance.
As an agency, we needed client approval for our creative decisions, so we made sure that all decisions by the Devon County Council team were made early on. This allowed us plenty of time to plan the mechanics of the shoot.
When all these decisions take place, your pre-production meetings, client briefings, presentations etc should be done remotely.
2. Choose a location that you can make safe
Make sure you film somewhere that’s large enough for everyone to stay socially distanced, i.e. two metres apart. We filmed at our offices in Exeter. All our other staff worked from home during the shoot to minimise the number of people who were in the building and using the facilities.
We had our offices professionally cleaned before, during and after the shoot. Throughout the day, we cleaned the set and the rest areas with antibacterial wipes.
If you can find a building like ours where you can open the windows, that can also help to keep fresh air circulating.
3. Keep your film crew to a minimum and think digital
Keep the size of your film crew to a minimum. Aim for the smallest number of people you can that still allows you to be safe in other areas, eg handling and moving equipment. Our camera op provided lighting and other equipment that he could rig without an assistant.
We were working to a tight budget and schedule, but we made time for a recce and pre-light prior to the shoot day. This gave the director and the camera op time to meticulously plan the production and ensure everything would be socially distant.
We used a boom microphone secured on a stand to avoid contact with our interviewees and maintain a two-metre distance. Note that if you are planning to use radio mics, you will have to disinfect them before use and return. You’ll also have to ask the speaker to fit the mic themselves.
Technology is your friend when it comes to social distancing. We streamed interviews to our creative director and the client so they didn’t have to be present in the same room.
Make all your paperwork digital, including call sheets, risk assessments and release forms.
4. Protect your actors or interviewees
You don’t need to rely on perspex screens and camera tricks to keep your film stars safe like the Eastenders crew. But there are some simple ways you can help others to stay safe. No one should be asked to put themselves at risk on the way to or from a film shoot.
Schedule the arrival and departure times of speakers or actors to ensure that no one overlaps. Ensure there are enough car parking or secure bike spaces so that people don’t have to travel on public transport if they don’t wish to.
5. Provide a safe working environment for everyone, with best practice in place
Once you’ve done your risk assessment and you’re actually on set, keep reminding people about best practice. You might feel like a nag, but this situation is still new to everyone. Reminding people of the rules helps everyone to follow them and stay safe.
For us, this meant:
- Providing hand sanitiser at the entrance and asking everyone to sanitise their hands when they arrived
- Supplying face coverings for those who can wear them and asking all production and crew to wear them at all times. Interviewees removed their masks only for socially-distant filming
- Putting hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes in every room
- Keeping soap dispensers topped up in the bathrooms
- Leaving windows open where possible.
Filming on a budget can be done safely and securely. It just takes time, commitment and attention to detail to make it work. But we think that’s more than worth it for the results you can achieve with film.
Guidance for the film industry
If you’re looking for film-sector-specific guidance, the BFI has pulled together a collection of resources offering advice, guidance and support to people working in the screen industry during COVID-19.